Lord JimReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 12/29/04 20:07:34
Imagine if you will a film like Lawrence of Arabia. It's grand, it's huge, it's written to perfection, it's performed impeccably, directed with aplomb. Really, there isn't a whole lot you could say that was wrong with the finished product because the production was handled in such a way that the quality of the piece was never seriously in doubt. Now take a look over Lord Jim, a hackneyed Lawrence of Malaysia starring the same lead, but featuring a lesser budget, a woeful director, some hammy acting, and the kind of original source material that was really never intended for the world of film. Lord Jim is a misfire, and no small one at that, but that's not to say it isn't worth watching for purely historical reasons...Jim is a First Mate on a ship back in the days when sailors actually swung around on ropes. He's quite the accomplished man of the sea, in fact, at least if the ham-fisted flashback/narration/opening montage is to be believed. Taking on an entire mutiny, single-handed, armed with nothing but a sword, it's the kind of start that looks borrowed from any number of Errol Flynn movies.
But Jim's not a hero forever. In fact, soon he's hated by all and sundry as an accident on a boat full of Muslims on their way to Mecca sees him and a few compadres hit the lifeboats, assuming everyone else is done for. Only they're not, and when Jim finds out that he fled for no good reason, he turns himself in and defends himself in a courtroom. Dubbed a coward by the government and spurned as a coward by the ocean-going community, he takes off for Asia where a guy can eek out a living going from boat to boat, as long as he doesn't seek fame, fortune and a steady paycheck.
It's here, however, that Jim is given a second chance at honor. Ferrying a load of beer and explosives, a fire starts on the front of the boat, and rather than jump for it, the stubborn Jim decides to fight the flames by sacrificing the barrels of beer. Dubbed a hero by all who witnessed the act, Jim suddenly finds himself recruited to help the natives against an evil European general who seeks to enslave them.
Okay. Got that? Sounds like an interesting three acts? Well it isn't. That's more or less the first act and a half right there, and Lord Jim doesn't cram in any less during the second hour of its running time. A cheaply made 70mm effort designed to fill the Cinerama theaters that were popping up all over America around the time of its production, this film hits more speedbumps than a drag racer in a gated community. Peter O'Toole tries valiantly to make it all meaningful by throwing every ounce of internal distress into his role, and co-starring appearances by Eli Wallach (as the nasty old General), James Mason and Paul Lukas don't let the side down, but Richard Brooks, the guy behind the scenes who should have turned that decent start into gold just wasn't awake at the wheel.
Brooks had just come off several successful films, including Elmer Gantry, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Professionals and Blackboard Jungle, so it stands to reason that he'd be expected to be able to handle a film such as this, but the uneven storyline, the terrible dialogue, the all-over-the-place direction and a cast of supposedly Malayan extras that look like they just came off a samurai movie, all point to the suspicion that the source material was simply too big to bring to film.
As a historic moment in film history, sure, it's the stuff of theses, but as pure entertainment, there's just too much going on, and none of it going on to any real standard of quality. The sea-based scenes look cheap and nasty, the scenes filmed in Malaya, Hong Kong and Cambodia are completely absent of the sort of searing beauty you'd expect for a film that was destined to be shown on the biggest of big screens, and the guts of the Malayan-based finale seems to have been shot on a soundstage, or at the very least a location that was as far from the south seas as possible.
Renowned actor/director Juzo Itami (Tampopo, A Taxing Woman) shows up late in the film as the leader of the native people Jim is attempting to defend, which makes for a neat "hey, is that who I think it is" moment, but an appearance by lauded character actor Tatsuo Saito at the film's finale is given some of the worst dubbing ever put to film, thus ripping any semblance of heart and soul out of the climax of the production and making the entire thing laughable.Two parts Apocaplypse Now mixed with four parts Lawrence of Arabia, with a little Errol thrown in, a ruthless edit, both in script and final product, would have seen this become a much easier film to recommend. But as it stands, other than to see Peter O'Toole delivering from the gut yet again, there's not a lot behind Lord Jim that warrants a rental, let alone a purchase.
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