[box cover]

Lord Jim

"If I were police commissioner of the world, I would put Richard Brooks in jail for what he did to Lord Jim." Orson Welles wasn't the only voice of dissent that assailed this bungled 1965 big-screen transfer of Joseph Conrad's novel, but his was probably the harshest. Guided, it would seem, by the specious notion that great literature requires stubbornly literal adaptations, Brooks trips up his lavishly produced pass at Conrad's classic in the first hour with uninventive passages of tiresome exposition before breathing life into the classic yarn with a frequently rousing second-half that, despite the tedium of what's come before, is largely worth waiting for. That it all bears little resemblance to Conrad's dour aesthetic is probably a good thing, since psychological complexity, even in the celebrated Elmer Gantry or In Cold Blood, was never Brooks's forte. Actor-of-the-moment (i.e., in 1965) Peter O'Toole is saddled with the central role — a promising young seaman who dreams of brave, swashbuckling exploits, only to see them dashed in an act of cowardice when he abandons ship at the urging of several crewmates in the midst of a violent storm. Unable to live with his cravenness, Jim goes public with the crew's dishonorable actions, raining shame down on all of them. Jim then consigns himself to shoveling coal and other menial tasks in and around an East Indian colony. It's here that he performs a feat of marginal bravery, extinguishing a fire aboard a skiff loaded with gunpowder and pilsner. This draws the attention of a principled trading magnate (Paul Lukas), who enlists Jim to help him contend with sabotage being carried out under the orders of the far-less-principled Cornelius (Curt Jurgens) and a river pirate known only as The General (a shorn and quite intimidating Eli Wallach). Pursuing one of their saboteurs deep into the jungle, Jim gets himself captured by The General's men and is subjected to torture by the ruthless leader of the insurgency. Jim, though forever calling up the memory of his tarnished past, actually performs admirably, withstanding the ordeal and eventually leading the oppressed natives in a successful siege of The General's heavily guarded fortress. He is at last a hero, winning the affection of a beautiful brunette of few words (Daliah Lavi). But Jim's success serves only to enrage more powerful elements, most notably the vile Gentleman Brown (James Mason), whose résumé of misery is merely implied (though Mason capably fires one's imagination through his deliciously subtle portrayal of abject evil). At last, the conundrum put before Jim ceases to be one of proving his manhood through uninhibited action. Rather, he's confronted with the realization that he might be risking innocent lives for the selfish assuaging of his guilty past. Brooks's lifeless and clumsy tending to the backstory aside, Lord Jim's central flaw is one of performance, and while O'Toole is demonstrably capable of essaying characters with conflicted psyches, he's unsteady on his feet as the enigmatic Jim. As if pointedly avoiding the bombast of T.E. Lawrence, O'Toole speaks almost exclusively in hushed tones, even (and quite distractingly) in moments of fierce action. Still, Brooks partially redeems these shortcomings with a couple of bracing battle sequences, one of which, in its staging of woefully outgunned natives defeating a formidable enemy, must have been studied by George Lucas in preparation for Return of the Jedi. (The victory celebration is awfully similar to the since-omitted "Yub-Yub" song sung by the Ewoks.) Meanwhile, the picture only remains watchable in the early going thanks to Freddie Young's evocative cinematography, which is never less than wondrous. Columbia TriStar presents Lord Jim in a fine anamorphic transfer (2.20:1) with decent Dolby Digital 3.0 audio. Extras are confined to a few theatrical trailers, two of which, as if to underscore this film's failure, are for David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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