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  • Benjamin May

Lord Jim (1965) Review

It is sometime in the late 19th century, and Jim is an up-and-coming merchant seaman. After rising through the ranks under Captain Marlowe, Jim is injured and stranded in Java. After recovering, he signs on with the first available ship: the SS Patna, bound for Mecca with hundreds of pilgrims. During a storm, the crew abandon it, thinking it will surely sink, and in a moment of weakness; Jim joins them. Back in port, they realise the ship was saved, and Jim's guilt impels him to turn himself in. After a public humiliation at an official inquiry, Jim becomes a drifter in the Asiatic waters; determined to one day restore honour to his good name.

Written and directed by Richard Brooks- and based on Joseph Conrad's novel of the same name- 'Lord Jim' is a grandly photographed adventure that is enjoyable, though doesn't live up to its source material. Despite Brooks' best efforts, he fails to recapture the psychological intrigue and headily atmospheric nature of the novel. His version of the story is more of a straight adventure piece, missing the subtle, profound examinations of guilt and honour that made up the dark heart of Conrad's tale.

This is not to say the film isn't worthwhile, however. Though it culminates with a dull battle sequence, and the pacing is sluggish in places, 'Lord Jim' still engages and entertains. Brooks' dialogue and characterisation is strong, while the portrayal of the colonial attitudes of the time is striking and powerful. Despite the fact that his handling of the novel's themes feels lightweight, the central message about redemption and dignity still comes across; albeit a little watered down.

Furthermore, Freddie Young's immersive colour cinematography gives the film a crisp look and an epic feel. He successfully captures the contrast between the different settings of the film, from the bustling port of Java to the exotic, remote village of Patusan. His utilisation of various camera angles and movements creates dynamic, dramatic scenes, whether it be the stormy night on the Patna, the tense trial of Jim, or the final showdown. Young's consummate work enhances the mood and tone of the film, making it a visually stunning spectacle.

Conversely, Alan Osbiston's ponderous editing lends proceedings a sluggish pace, which is most evident in the latter half of the film. Though just under two and a half hours, 'Lord Jim' feels more protracted than it should have. On the other hand, Bronislaw Kaper's score is atmospheric and stirring, giving life to even the most lethargic of scenes, complementing the fine work of the aforementioned Young.

Also worthy of praise is the cast, led by a pitch-perfect Peter O'Toole. There were- and still are- few actors who could inject the same degree of intensity into their performances as O'Toole did, time and time again. As Jim, he enthralls with his obsessive desire to clear his name of dishonour, and his co-stars prove to be equally impressive. Eli Wallach does typically fine work as the villainous warlord The General, while Curd Jürgens steals every scene he's in as the duplicitous, drunken Cornelious. Moreover, James Mason's turn as the oily, cut-throat bandit Gentleman Brown may make your skin actually crawl; and is the main highlight of the uneven latter half.

In conclusion, Richard Brooks' adaptation of Joseph Conrad's 'Lord Jim' is a mixed-bag if ever there was one. Though Conrad's fascinating tale of guilt, honour and redemption is slightly truncated, it is not totally lost in translation; and the film still packs a narrative punch. Freddie Young's cinematography is captivating, while Bronislaw Kaper's score is stirring and the performances are of a particularly high quality- especially that of star Peter O'Toole. At the end of the day, though it goes through some choppy waters, 'Lord Jim' is still a cruise you should embark on.


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