Peter O’Toole stars as the title character in “Lord Jim,” a 1965 film version of the Joseph Conrad novel. O’Toole plays a disgraced British naval officer who attempts to redeem himself by helping an island village defeat a warlord called The General, played by Eli Wallach. As one of Conrad’s tragic figures, Lord Jim doesn’t fare too well, but he remains eminently responsible for his own misfortune.
I find humor in Conrad’s story, but this film ignores any kind of comic relief. That’s despite having O’Toole, Wallach and James Mason in the cast, who are more than capable of providing at least a little irony and a lot of laughs. But O’Toole’s Lord Jim stays earnest, and a little too mopey and self-absorbed. The movie, directed by Richard Brooks, provides excellent color cinematography by Freddie Young, and remains watchable throughout despite its long length (154 minutes). I also like the performance of Daliah Lavi, who capably plays O’Toole’s love interest.
Jim starts out as the most promising officer in the British Navy, and great things are expected of him. He looks like a leader with the bright future of as a captain of his own ship. Jim gets a position as a second officer on a ship called The Patna taking pilgrims to Mecca. When The Patna begins taking on water, the Captain, Jim and the crew abandon ship — leaving the pilgrims onboard. Later, as Jim pulls into port, he sees the saved Patna being towed to safety. The British Navy calls Jim before a court, where he’s censured and released. This propels Jim to go on a long period of drifting around until he meets a businessman who appoints him as his representative at a remote island trading post.
When Jim arrives on the island, he immediately becomes involved in a rebel movement against The General, the cruel landlord who tortures and terrorizes the population. Jim brings a barrel of gunpowder to the island for the fight, but The General’s men capture him and subject him to torture. An ingenious plan aids his escape from The General, and he then leads the rebel army to a resounding victory. The victory over The General shows the cleverness of Jim, so a later decision that seals his fate seems ill advised and quite rash. Peter O’Toole is a wonderful actor but there is a difference between playing a noble gentleman, as he did in “Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and playing a seaman with a vast need to restore his reputation. O’Toole’s role required more emotion in this one.