Lord Jim

Joseph Conrad's novel Lord Jim was the subject of a well known film made in 1965, starring Peter O'Toole and James Mason, and also of a less well-known silent film, made in 1925, which was shown yesterday as part of the National Film Theatre's Conrad season (I wrote about two versions of Victory in my last post).

Jim is a young officer on a ship, the Patna, transporting pilgrims. When the ship begins to sink the Captain and officers - including Jim - abandon the pilgrims to drown. However they survive, and Jim, in disgrace and having lost his seaman's certificate, wanders until he settles in the East Indies. He becomes a trusted adviser to a local chief: the natives name him 'Lord Jim', and he wins the love of Jewel, a woman of 'mixed race'. A crew of pirates tries to take over the village but is captured. Jim intercedes on their behalf and persuades the chief to release them on a promise that they will leave peacefully: but the pirates renege on the agreement and murder the chief's son. The chief blames Jim, who allows the chief to execute him.

The silent version - only the second film ever made of a Conrad novel and here receiving its second public showing in the last 75 years - was directed by Victor Fleming, and starred Percy Marmont as Jim, Shirley Mason as Jewel, and Noah Beery as Captain Brown, the head of the villains. The film is well directed, though fairly obviously shot on the studio backlot, and sticks closely to the plot (though simplifying the early stages); fortunately no-one felt the need to tack on a happy ending. Percy Marmont gives a good performance, though at 42 he is really to old to be playing the young, idealistic Jim with his dreams of being a hero. Marmont's Jim carries an easy authority, and though his moment of cowardice stains the rest of his career his later - and fatal - misjudgment comes over as stupidity rather than the result of his wounded idealism. Shirley Mason is not very effective as Jewel (who, it is made clear, is white - thus avoiding a mixed-race love affair). The characters of the cowardly captain of the Patna and the leader of the pirates are run together and well played by Noah Beery (the half-brother of Wallace Beery who appeared in Victory), though this removes the dramatic value of the original villain being educated and intelligent: here he is merely an ignorant brigand. There is a certain amount of over-acting from some of the other characters, but on the whole the film is well made and reasonably faithful to the original.

I thought Percy Marmont seemed familiar: a little research showed that his film career extended to the late 1960s, and he appeared in several Hitchcock films, particularly as the heroine's father in Young and Innocent (1937).

Posted: Tue - November 6, 2007 at 09:15 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM