Island Antics: “An Outcast of the Islands”

The wonderful Carol Reed film from 1951, An Outcast of the Islands, is an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad novel (no, I haven’t read it).  Critic Charles Thomas Samuels is right that it’s “the story of a charming hedonist whose fundamental egotism turns wicked under the pressure of his environment.”  The hedonist in question, Willems, is played by Trevor Howard, and there is no miscasting.

Staying at an outpost near the coast of Indonesia, Willems suffers because he cannot satisfy his intense desire for a girl named Aissa (Kerima) without betraying Captain Lingard (Ralph Richardson), his benefactor.  A betrayal takes place because one unworthy man, Willems, is hated by, and himself hates, another unworthy man, Captain Lingard’s son-in-law Almeyer (Robert Morley).

Man as a wreck.  The failure, due to sin, to win sympathy.  When two people—viz. Willems and Aissa—do not share a culture but do share isolation.  This is what Outcast is about.  It is a fascinatingly shot outdoors drama, too fast moving but also explosive. It is a pleasure to see Howard, Richardson, Morley and Wendy Hiller, histrionically authoritative, in verdant Sri Lanka, where much of the enterprise was filmed.  It is an unusual and disturbing movie.

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