As writer/director/producer, Richard Brooks can’t quite pull off his hat trick of turning Joseph Conrad’s dense novel into a linear action-adventure vehicle for Peter O’Toole. The contour of the story remains (ship’s officer disgraces himself jumping off a sinking ship that doesn’t sink, then tries to find redemption away from the civilized world), but Brooks tends to demonstrate when he only needs to imply, falling back on narration & extended philosophical speeches that try for a literary tone, but only over-clarify. With Freddie Young lensing, the film is shot-by-shot handsome to look at. But when Brooks puts the pieces together, it’s 1+1=1. And by the time O’Toole starts to lead his little army of local indigenous peoples against baddies Eli Wallach & Curt Jürgens, he’s become such a natural warrior, and grown so mechanically clever improvising fighting equipment, he might be playing Lord Jim MacGyver. Taken in that spirit, the film is stirring, romantic adventure, if more Robert Lewis Stevenson than Conrad.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: James Mason’s agent got him co-star billing for about 20 minutes work in the last act. He’s very effective as a particularly unscrupulous ‘gentleman’ scoundrel, but not even Mason’s purring tones can sell the deterministic ending Brooks wants us to buy.
READ ALL ABOUT IT/DOUBLE-BILL: DICK CONTINO’S BLUES, a short story in James Ellroy’s 1994 collection HOLLYWOOD NOCTURNES is a modern LORD JIM story just waiting for film treatment. The cowardly act comes out of the Korean War and the heroic redemption comes about during the making of the crappy, but enticingly titled DADDY-O/’58 which may, at one time, have been out on VHS.