IOSEPH CONRAD was one of very few authors who always defeated the voracity of my youthful appetite for reading. Every few years I would try another, but without progress. "Lord Jim", "Outcast of the Islands:. "Under Western Skies", I do not remember which. I stuek in them all.
So they were never the classics of my youth—except by repute. They overshadowed my reading years like a range of mountains which were "there," unclimbed. So I cannot help approaching Richard Brooks' film of Lord Jim ("U", Odeon, Leicester Square) with some of the same awe. All the arguments for not judging the film by the book I accept gratefully. I believe them to be valid. But beyond a certain degree of familiarity it is difficult altogether to discard one's knowledge of a book. Conversely I find it diflicult to discard my ignorance of Conrad.
An additional doubt may cloud judgment of the film. It is the question of how much people in this pictorial age of "instant" communication by cartoon, poster and television, still do read Conrad, how far they can still plod through such dense packed verbiage; and thus how far Lord Jim will be received by audiences in the know, or by spectators who know as little of the original as I do and may possibly care less.
Richard Brooks. the director. has made it clear that for him the film has been a labour of love. He has spent three years writing the script as well as directing the movie. Such an attitude at least cornmands respect as well as attention.
When I looked upon the vast screen for the process listed as "Super Panavision 70 Technicolor" and watched the misty green-grey regular spray of the shipwreck of Patna my heart sank. Storms at sea are almost as conventional dramatic cliches as thunderstorms in Act Two on the stage.
Then of course I remembered that the sea was the trouble with Conrad. There was a difference, too, about this storm.
For the young skipper of . the Patna knew quite well the heroism that was expected of him as a captain. He must go down with his ship. Suddenly he finds he has jumped into a lifeboat.
He is tried for abandoning his ship (which apparently did not sink after all) and disgraced, sets out to lose himself.
Jim's adventures take him apparently deep into the interior of an Indonesian (?) island. There a tea-trader known as "The
General" (Curt Jurgens) rules a small empire of more or less savage tribes. The general has Jim tortured but presents him with a beautiful girl (Dahlia Lavi) as comforter.
The girl manoeuvres Jim's escape by a complicated process by transferring bodies (1 was never sure whether dead or only stretcher cases) in what looked like winding sheets. Much of the action takes them through Buddhist temples, jungle and water, and Jim even conducts a war with small forces against the general's much larger, noisier, clumsier side. The costumes, weapons and the people make this the most beautiful war 1 remember seeing in pictures. Some of the scenes, from fighting to signalling with rockets, are truly spectacular. I lost track of the human story under all the adventure.
Those who enjoy spectacle, noise, fighting and a measure of cruelty in an exciting setting will probably find a good deal
to enjoy, and take the film simply as an exotic adventure story. If so, then Conrad's work probably would provide an unending source of material for films—especially in this phase of continuing male casts. Peter O'Toole gets a good deal of pathos but not much variety out of the part. Of the rest of the eminent cast 1 thought Paul Lukas as Stein, the benevolent father-figure, and Eli Wallach as a Lord High Executioner and torturer, came
PET ER O'T001-E.
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors ("X", Studio One) catches out another of my blind spots. In general, I can find no pleasure in horror films, which strike me as a peculiarly perverted and wretched form of amusement.. This one I found quite an exception.
The formula of a weird fortune-teller in a train in the first
4 place allows for any sort of mumbo-jumbo in the occult. The voodoo episode, with its assault on a foolish rationalist, is particularly pointed. While the fate of the critic pursued by the amputated hand of an artist he had destroyed is effective enough to give any critic quite a twinge. The cast—with Peter Cushing as the doctor, Max Adrian another doctor specialising somewhat in those dreary creatures, vampires, Christopher Lee as the critic and Michael Gough as the artist—is exceptionally good. Altogether the concoction is of such good quality that it makes it the first horror film 1 could think of saying I enjoyed. THE one man that all television talks producers are longing to meet is the instant wit—the man who pours out a relentless river of valuable information and opinion on every subject from philosophy to stamp collecting. And of course the truth is that no such man exists. Unfortunately both Not So Much a Programme and The Eamonn Andrews Show arc founded on the belief that he does and can be found . . and week after week they illustrate that he can't.
The latest answer to this discovery has been most marked in Not So Much a Programme, where all idea of conversation and to and fro has been abandoned. The participants are plainly trotting out answers to conversational hares which have been started for them earlier in the day.
Duplication of ideas is obviated by asking the participants to rehearse their answers with the producer or some other BBC official for some four hours before the show goes on so that if one was going to give the same answer or same anecdote as another he can be asked to pick something else, If these were purely interview programmes this might be an excellent idea—certainly an improvement on some of the religious programmes lately, when not only do the questions appear to be unrehearsed but often the whole subject is tackled without apparent shape or purpose. But in a programme where the exchange of ideas between a number of people is inheeent in its format, to reduce them to mouthing prepared mots is to surrender too soon.
Both the religious feature programmes this week chose that old favourite, Africa, as their theme. The BBC's Meeting Point was about service on the Ivory Coast, and Sunday Break took another slug at South Africa, coming down heavily in favour of sanctions against that country. Meeting Point was possibly the more constructive of the two. It was the story of people who wanted to do something purposeful in terms of Christian action.
Sunday Break's White On flack Equals Grey took its theme from the British Council of Churches report on the future of South Africa. And it tried fairly hard to be fair to South Africa.
The "vox pops"—street interviews—showed how very much public opinion in this country is swinging towards more sympathy with South Africa. although this evidence was made a little suspect as all these interviews appeared to have been recorded near the St. Paul's tube station in the middle of the City. And even the most fanatical supporter of the City could not claim that it contains a reasonable cross-section of opinion. The interviews with South African immigrants were rather frightening. The way one suggested that black Africans can live on a plate of porridge for a week could have unnerved even Dr. Verwoerd.
Interviews like that speak for themselves. and it was not necessary for the producer to succumb to the temptation of intercutting his film sequences between white South Africans sipping afternoon tea and black Africans being herded and beaten in compounds.
All that remains is for our religious programmes to show the same courage in presenting life in Britain that they show in presenting the failings of South Africa.
One would have thought that the BBC and programme companies could with equal justification investigate whether Christian laymen in Britain were giving the sort of lead expected of them in a commercial society and whether the clergy were doing enough outside their responsibility for the converted. One does rather get the impression that we are better at presenting other people's faults than we are at presenting our own.
PROGRAMMES FOR NEXT WEEK
SUNDAY: 10.30 a.m. (Radio Eireann)—HIGH MASS from the Jesuit House of Studies in Dublin.
II a.m. (ATV)---MASS from St, Joseph's, Epsom, 11 a.m. (BRC-1) SEEING AND BELIEVINCi—Dom Edmund Jones, 0.S.B., joins discussion on "the soil of prayer". 12.30 p.m. (Radio Eireann)—THE MASS AND THE PEOPLE — discussion on the liturgical changes.
6.15 p.m. (ABC-TV)—STORYT1ME—story of Abraham.
6.35 pm. (ARC-TV)—AIJOUT RELIGION—replies to viewers' questions about family problems, 6.45 p.m. (BBC-l)--'SUNDAY STORY—"The Day l Forgot About the Kellys" 8.05 p.m. (Home)—THE MAN BORN TO BE KING Dart 3. MONDAY—FRIDAY: After the last programme (A.rv, Mid lands)—EPILOGUE by Fr. P. J. O'Mahoney, MONDAY—SUNDAY: After the last programme (Southern Independent TV)—COMMUNITY, visit to St. John the Baptist Catholic parish, Brighton.
TUESDAY: 3 p.m. (Home)—THE MAN BORN TO BE KING, repeat.