I’ve been moaning about not being able to buy a DVD of Carol Reed‘s Outcast of the Islands (1951) off and on for the last four years, and now it’s finally available this month via Amazon UK.

The irony is that I saw it on the tube so many years ago that i can’t remember much of it, but I have a recolleciton of something exceptional. I remember Trevor Howard, of course, who plays the lead. The story mostly takes place in Malaysia. I don’t remember the particulars. I’ve never read the Conrad book, but I’ve been told it’s a bit grim. Ralph Richardson and Wendy Hiller costar. The striking black-and-white cinematography is by Ted Scaife and John Wilcox.

Pauline Kael called Outcast of the Islands “a marvellous film (drawn from Joseph Conrad’s work) that relatively few people have seen. It’s probably the only movie that has ever attempted to deal in a complex way with the subject of the civilized man’s ambivalence about the savage. It also contains some of the most remarkable sequences ever filmed by the English director Carol Reed; it’s an uneven movie, but with splendid moments throughout.

“Trevor Howard is superb as Willems, who makes himself an outcast first through contemptible irresponsibility and through betrayal of those who trust him, and finally and hopelessly when, against his will, he is attracted to the silent, primitive girl, the terrifying Aissa (played by Kerima). Willems is wrong in almost everything he does, but he represents a gesture toward life; his enemy, Almayer (Robert Morley), is so horribly, pathetically stuffy that his family unit (with Wendy Hiller as his wife and Annabel Morley as his child) is absurdly, painfully funny.

“With Ralph Richardson, whose role is possibly ill-conceived, and George Coulouris, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Frederick Valk. The screenplay is by William Fairchild.”