Saturday, September 1, 2012

148. LORD JIM (1965)

I put off seeing this Richard Brooks film for many, many years, for the same reason I had no interest in seeing LAWRENCE OF ARABIA for most of my life: because it looked, from a distance, as though the roadshow-sized adventure would overwhelm the human element. However, in both cases, a human story is told; in the case of this Joseph Conrad adaptation, it's the story of a ruined man, shamed and robbed of his self-respect, who finds redemption in an alternative way of living and is given a second chance. Furthermore, it offers the human element of a superb cast, with the likes of Akim Tamiroff, Jack McGowran, Christian Marquand, Walter Gotell, Andrew Keir and John Richardson buried deep within its minutiae.

Like Brooks' BITE THE BULLET (1975, which I'll be reviewing here as #152), this film has the length of an epic, yet the feel of a somewhat diminished one. Some characters of obviously greater depth and promise are dashed off as mere sketches and rewarded with single soliloquies, like Daliah LavĂ­'s "The Girl", while some great actors (James Mason, for example) seem to have signed on for the promise of having more to do. Indeed, Mason's second-billed role as the pirate Gentleman Brown -- the most decisive encounter of Jim's (Peter O'Toole's) life -- is introduced quite late and must always share the screen with fellow scoundrels Curd Jurgens and Eli Wallach. A great deal of expense appears to have been thrown at ships and period settings that are used as brief illustrations rather than properly lived in and inhabited, but the Cambodian locations used in the second half of the film are appropriately alien and haunting.

Originally photographed and released in 2.20:1 70mm prints, LORD JIM tends to be shown on cable and other outlets today in 1.78:1 pan-and-scan transfers at best, which is what I watched. It was recently reissued on DVD-R through Warner Archive in a transfer that should be truer to its intended impact. The miniature work involving the ships (credited to Wally Veevers and Cliff Richardson) is wonderful, and one reason the film remains potent is that all of its spectacle involving actors takes place in real space in real time; if remade today, a lot of this would be done with CGI and it would not feel one-tenth as engrossing, dangerous or heroic.  


  1. Hopefully this film will someday get a decent blu-ray edition with all the accompanying bells and whistles beyond the recent Warner Archive transfer.

  2. It's a Sony Pictures Choice Collection release that can be obtained through the Warner Archive. And not a bad film, though one that Brooks himself felt was unrealized. As for Mason, in the Brooks bio TOUGH AS NAILS he's reported as saying that "he knew the picture was in trouble when his own parents left the theater during the break," before his appearance in the film.