Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Lord Jim" Film Betrays the Book

Cleveland Press July 29, 1965

A work in which conscience is the motivating force -- rather than patriotism, or love, or greed, or lust -- is a difficult thing to put on film. Writer-director Richard Brooks has tried and missed.

While Conrad devotees may soundly damn Brooks for tampering with his novel, movie fans generally will find in "Lord Jim" a well-acted beautifully photographed, though overly-long and melodramatic motion picture.

Peter O'Toole is cast as the young seaman Jim, overly romantic with dreams of glory, whose future is blackened by an act of cowardice during a moment of fear.

HE IS SERVING aboard a rotting tub of a ship that is transporting 800 passengers on a pilgrimage. During a heavy storm it looks as though the ship may sink. The other officers -- seedy and disreputable -- take off in a lifeboat and though he doesn't want to abandon the passengers, he becomes panicky and jumps.

Disgraced, he wanders the ports of the East, working at any menial job that comes along, searching for his second chance.

So far, so good. It even resembles Conrad.

NOW suddenly this made-on-location (Indochina) movie takes on that made-in Hollywood stamp.

In a small sailboat Jim is transporting several barrels of gunpowder when a saboteur sets the whole works on fire. Should he jump? No, sir -- not again. He smashes in a barrel of beer, puts out the fire, saves the entire harbor from being blown up and enjoys the cheers of the populace.

An aging trader (Paul Lukas) smiles benignly on this hero and offers him money which Jim disdains with an enigmatic look. But while he will not accept money he will do the man a favor -- he will get rifles and gunpowder up the river for him in face of certain death.

AN UPRISING will begin in just a few hours and the downtrodden must have arms in their fight against a feudal warlord (Eli Wallach). Jim gets through, hides the ammo, is captured by the general and is tortured. He screams but he won't talk.

It looks as though he's a goner when he is rescued by -- wouldn't you know it -- a beautiful girl (Daliah Lavi).

Jim is a merchant seaman who is also an expert on artillery, explosives and tactics and so he leads a successful uprising, becomes the village leader and lives with the girl.

THE IDYLL is shattered by the arrival of more villains intent on heisting some jewels in a cops-and-robbers episode. Jim grants a truce, offers the villagers his life if anyone is hurt. Someone is and he loses as Brooks suddenly becomes faithful to Conrad once more.

O'Toole is good but he is running the risk of becoming type-cast as a neurotic hero. Much of the time it looks as though Lawrence of Arabia had given up the desert for the sea.

In such roles O'Toole is forever the man with a glazed look, a little mystical and a trifle confused.

SUPPORTING ROLES are beautifully done -- Lukas as the kindly, old man; Curt Jurgens as an avaricious weakling, a hammy Eli Wallach as a heavy-handed villain; a smooth-talking James Mason as an offbeat villain; and Akim Tamiroff in a typical Tamiroff role.

Daliah Lavi is a good deal better than actresses who show up in epics of this sort. She would be far better yet if she had something more to do than assume a vacant stare.

The photography is spectacular -- sunset on the water, fog rolling in over the harbor, a storm at sea, the scenery lighted by torches.