The better the novel, the worse its screen version.

Good books make bad films. Like many people, I was presented with this tiresome adage during teenagehood by an elder and better. The intention was consolatory, if I remember correctly, an attempt to curb my disappointment after watching The Leopard, and witnessing the listless magnificence of Lampedusa's prose squeezed through tiresome exercises in self indulgence. Even the endless soft-focus shots of Claudia Cardinale couldn't save Visconti's dreary attempt to excise all insight from the original novel.

Still, I remember being suspicious of the proposition, and never more so than after first watching Richard Brooks's film of Lord Jim, a swashbuckling, Boy's Own adventure of high seas and gunpowder that explodes into a meditation on stripped-down selfhood and original sin, all grist to the mill of my young, Catholic mind. I read the book almost immediately afterwards and was delighted to find that Brooks's many inventions and interpolations proved no trouble. Images and sounds from the film - such as Peter O'Toole's mysterious but defiant, watery-blue eyes, and the dry timbre of Jack Hawkins's narrating voice - remained present as an unobtrusive mirror to Conrad's descriptions.

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