A man occupies a position of trust with a merchant in an East Asian port. He’s sacked when he’s caught stealing, but he pretends to commit suicide and a captain he befriended agrees to take him to a secret trading post.
If you know British director Carol Reed only for his classic mysteries like The Fallen Idol and The Third Man, you’re in for a treat with this brilliantly eccentric cult film—a favorite of Monte Hellman! Based on a novel by Joseph Conrad, it a feverish and sinister tale of tropical colonialism.
This is a horror of ill mindedness, a self possessed idea that makes for a film that people must find hard to watch today. Still strangely interesting how colonialism and trade, mixed with exotically charged sexuality spirals down a vortex of humanity and desire. Reeds study of Conrads ennui goes upstream to waste away ones life due to wrong ambition providing for poor life skills, getting in the way of decent valor.
A story of sexual obsession & professional jealousy, the cast is uniformly excellent. But the real stars are the villagers, especially the children. It's an ethnographical peek into a world that may no longer exist. As in "Fallen Idol", Reed also gives us a kids-eye view. Blissfully amphibian, they live more in the water than out, often making fun of the adult seriousness. This film stayed on my mind days after.
Rarely seen, rarely talked about--and an astonishingly powerful subversion of
the narrative film form of the time that will leave you stunned in admiration
the moment after it ends...and you feel its power still oscillating. Is it even a
better film then THE THIRD MAN? Well...yes.
One of the most mesmerizing films I have ever seen. It needs to be rediscovered. Trevor Howard, Robert Morley and Kerima are all memorable. It has a powerful ending as well. Howard is one of the perfect film actors along with Trintignant, Mastroianni, Holden and von Sydow and a few others. UPDATE 8/15/16: I just saw it again. This movie has to be rescued.
2.5 Not much character development here. Plot seems to be counting on audience to be horrified at idea of white Englishman "going native" and forgetting racial purity ideals by having affair with a non-white woman. Not a big deal these days. Willems is a rotten character from the beginning, so his stealing doesn't come as a shock either. Good performances by Howard, Morley, and Richardson. Great hammock scene!
Worth a look for Trevor Howard enthusiasts (I have to admit a louche interest in his semi-dressed islander state) but nowhere near the formal rigor of Third Man or Fallen Idol. As with the Fallen Idol the children's performances rival the adults'... and looking at that would be the best (most charitable) angle to read from.
part of this is boring...part is pure adventure. Howard is superb as an amoral man who always finds a woman to blame and in the end they both hate him because of his insipid weakness. Morley's daughter is so precious as Nina...Wendy Hiller steals every scene she is in. The cast is impeccable, the ending is uninspired.