When his employer realizes that lighthouse keeper David Charleston (Michael Redgrave) hasn’t been cashing his paychecks, an inspector and David’s friend Streeter (James Mason) take a trip out to Thunder Rock on Lake Michigan to check on him. Living and working on Thunder Rock is not easy; it’s a very lonely job. David seems to like the isolation, though. He has no need for money, he doesn’t read books to keep himself busy like other lighthouse keepers do, and he doesn’t even want to take his mandatory leave. Streeter worries about David spending so much time alone, especially after David tells him he’s been seeing ghosts.
Ninety years earlier, there had been a shipwreck that claimed the lives of several immigrants from Europe. When David read about it in the lighthouse records, he became haunted by these people. He sees their ghosts, but the only one that realizes he is dead is Captain Joshua Stuart (Finlay Currie). As he learns more about the pasts of these people, he realizes that each of them had come to America to run away from something.
David himself was running away from something when he came to Thunder Rock. He had been a journalist in Europe, but after being censored for writing against fascism, he left his newspaper job to give lectures and write books to warn everyone about the rise of fascism. But after being worn down by an apathetic public, he decides to get away from it all, leaves Europe, and becomes a lighthouse keeper. When David tries to tell the ghosts that they shouldn’t have given up their fights so soon, even they see the hypocrisy of that sentiment. But with their help, David realizes he needs to get back out into the world and keep spreading his message.
I’d say Thunder Rock was good, but not great. Michael Redgrave was excellent and I loved the atmosphere of the movie, but I was a little disappointed by how little James Mason was in it. In fact, if I had known how little James Mason was in it, I probably would have chosen another movie to write about for today. When I read the synopsis, I was expecting something along the lines of The Uninvited or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but Thunder Rock isn’t as strong as either of those. Some might find the anti-fascism message pretty heavy-handed, but you have to keep in mind that it was made in England in 1942, so it is very much a product of its time. Although not a great movie, it would be a good one to watch on a rainy day.