Kerima in Outcast of the Islands (1951)


(director: Carol Reed; screenwriters: William Fairchild/from the novel by Joseph Conrad; cinematographers: John Wilcox/Edward Scaife; editor: Bert Bates; music: Brian Easdale; cast: Trevor Howard (Peter Willems), Robert Morley (Mr. Almayer), Ralph Richardson (Capt. Lingard), Wendy Hiller (Mrs. Almayer), Kerima (Aissa), AV Bramble(Badavi), Dharma Emmanuel (Ali), George Coulouris (Babalatchi), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Vinck), Frederick Valk (Hudig), Annabel Morley (Nina); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carol Reed; Studio Canal; 1951-UK)
It’s intelligently handled and has a few sparkling moments that are unforgettable.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed Brit filmmaker, known for his suspense dramas, Carol Reed(“Odd Man Out”/”The Fallen Idol”/”The Third Man”), is seemingly at home with this loose interpretation of Joseph Conrad’s complex character study set in the exotic Far East. Though visually beautiful and well-acted, it stubs its toe when it doesn’t fully measure up to the great Conrad novel, as it fails to fully explore what the author was trying to say about his unfailing outcasts. The screenwriter, William Fairchild, is not up to focusing on Conrad’s keen observations about human frailty without becoming distracted with too many passing incidents and the largely psychological story seems to run amiss. Reed is never given the chance to make the narrative coalesce because of the script’s slackness, though it’s intelligently handled and has a few sparkling moments that are unforgettable (as great, perhaps, as could be found in any classic film).

The cocky, weak-willed, untrustworthy Englishman, Peter Willems (Trevor Howard), is a trader in Singapore, who gets the sack because he can’t turn a profit. This leads the misguided Peter to hook up with successful trader, the trusting Capt. Lingard (Ralph Richardson), someone who knows how to deal with the natives and even cares about them. Lingard saves the rascal from the police, after he was involved in a swindle and after Peter’s dubious failed attempt to drown himself. Lingard mercifully takes him to his secret island outpost of Sambir. There Peter meets the captain’s hypocritical exploiter priggish trader son-in-law Elmer Almayer (Robert Morley), who is married to the captain’s sensitive daughter (Wendy Hiller). The couple have a daughter (Annabel Morley, Morleys own daughter), and live a pompous bourgeois life on the Malayan island. The villagers treat the outsiders with respectful suspicion, while Peter sneers at these phony pretenders.

While on the island the flawed Peter lusts after the sexy native girl Aissa (Kerima), who utters no dialogue, the daughter of the blind chief (A. V. Bramble). For the venal Peter, lust replaces greed as his vice. Her tribe are the allies of Lingard’s rival, who are led by Ali (Dharma Emmanuel). They blackmail Peter into revealing the safe secret route into the treacherous lagoons surrounding the trading port of Sambir, which the old captain has mistakenly shown his untrustworthy young protégé. The beautiful Aissa becomes Peter’s chance for love and at the same time the reason for his doom. When the rival tribe, through Peter’s double-cross, find their way into Sambir, they go ruthlessly primitive on Almayer and roast him over a fire.

The under-appreciated film is a great artistic challenge, and the artistic quest, even if sometimes unrequited, is not tainted by any commercial interference in its making.

Though set in Borneo and Malaya, it was shot mostly in Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon).

Outcast of the Islands was nominated by the British Academy for Best British Film. But it was poorly reviewed by some critics and flopped at the box office, and unfairly put a major dent in Reed’s artistic reputation after scoring with three major international hits in a row.