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He's in the Navy, Not Parliament
by Jon Schuller

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The movies have been deluged, from the earliest days of the Silent Era, with films about soldiers and sailors. The fact that wars are an almost daily occurrence, somewhere in the world, makes for an endless supply of stories and legends. And it isn't just about the formal military services either. Films about amateurs fighting on land and sea have been part of the cinema's fabric of bravery and death. For example, Action in the North Atlantic was a 1943 Humphrey Bogart film about the Merchant Marine in World War II. In my own family, my Mom's cousin, Walter, was a captain of a Liberty ship, delivering supplies to Murmansk, Russia in 1941. His ship was torpedoed after they set sail for America. Regardless of when or where the story takes place, movie audiences have been addicted to this genre, especially after the end of World War I.

In February, 1965, an English movie starring Peter O'Toole is released, with James Mason, Curt Jürgens, Eli Wallach, Jack Hawkins, Daliah Lavi and Paul Lukas. It's Lord Jim, based on the 1900 novel by Joseph Conrad.

Let's travel back to the beginning of the 20th Century when Great Britain's Navy was the most powerful in the world and her ships and
sailors were tasked with protecting her far-flung Empire. Supplying those same ships, men and colonies was an equally large merchant navy, with dedicated and loyal men like Jim. He's been given a promotion to First Officer by Captain Marlow (Hawkins). But he suffers an injury and must be left behind in Java; he is desperate to return home and signs on as an officer with a vessel, the S.S. Patna, which doesn't look seaworthy. It's overloaded with pilgrims trying to get to Mecca. During a monstrous storm, the officers abandon the ship, and, uncharacteristically, so does Jim, leaving the pilgrims to drown. But once in port the officers see that the Patna survived and they disappear as fast as they can. Jim, however, confesses his guilt to a board of inquiry, and, disgraced, loses his commission. He becomes just another homeless drifter, wandering from port to port, the pull of the sea still as strong as ever. He takes odd jobs just so he can survive and one day, while working on a cargo boat loaded with gunpowder, he saves the ship and its deadly payload from sabotage. The cargo's owner, Stein (Lukas), rewards Jim by offering him a chance to make some money by watching over a dangerous
consignment of the same gunpowder and rifles; it's to be delivered to Stein's friend who is fighting bandits in his native country of Patusan. The bandits are led by The General (Wallach).

Jim is determined to complete the mission no matter what obstacles are in front of him. His sense of duty and honor is powerful and no matter what he does, the image of the SS Patna is never far from his memory. He must erase that shame and the dark stain on his name. He gets a small boat with two men aboard. One of them tells Jim – after they're on the water – that he works for the General and kills the other sailor, then jumps overboard. Jim hides the cargo but is captured.

He is tortured but won't give in. The agent who works for Stein, Cornelius (Jürgens), confesses he too works for the General. Jim is finally rescued by Jewel, the Girl (Lavi) and taken to safety. There he meets the chief's son, Waris (Juzo Itami) and they plan an attack on the general's compound. The fight is costly and bloody but Jim prevails and they win. Jim becomes a hero (again) and one of the natives tells him he is now the "Tuan" – the "Lord" because of his bravery. The general's treasure isn't found.

He
settles down with the girl but a plot is hatched to get the loot by Cornelius and Schomberg who hire a killer-for-hire, "Gentleman" Duncan Brown (Mason). Brown and his men come into the village, are detected and agree to leave. Jim offers himself as a hostage if anyone is killed during the exchange and Waris dies. Jim is asked to leave by Waris' father but he says no, it's his fault. Jim is honor-bound to accept responsibility again. The chief executes Jim in the morning.

The film wasn't a huge success and the critics weren't kind. But, I love Peter O'Toole and his talents come through as Jim, going from his formal, regimented naval life, with a guaranteed future, to a vagabond's life, with no values or foundation. His own life becomes forfeit as he fights and dies defending others: this is his ultimate mission as he saw it. Others kept interfering in his life and, even when he finally found love and a peaceful existence with a beautiful woman, again, someone destroyed what little he had. The entire cast is first rate and this second film about Lord Jim (the first in 1925) is wonderful. This is one of my favorite movies and the main theme is memorable. I firmly believe you'll enjoy it.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

A Different Perspective on War

Some Movie Scenes Still Make Me Emotional

From 12 To 1

Another Sign That the Times Were Changing

Two Different Neighborhoods, Yet So Alike

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for over 26 years.I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 47 years (as of December 22, 2015) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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