I really liked this thought-provoking drama and Trevor Howard’s fantastic performance.
The story takes place in Sierre Leone in 1942. Harry Scobie (Howard) is a policeman. As the story starts, he boards a ship and discovers an illicit letter written by the captain to his daughter in Germany. The captain begs for mercy and Harry decides to destroy the letter. This is the first time he strays from the straight and narrow and sets the stage for his gradual downfall. Right after this, he finds out he has been passed over for promotion.
Harry is very unhappily married to Louise (Elizabeth Allen). Louise is a devout Catholic and Scobie is a convert to the faith. She looks to be almost impossible to live with. Instead of saying what she thinks and feels she is constantly screaming at her husband with accusations about what he feels. Her main problem, however, may simply be that she is beyond sick and tired of living in Sierra Leone, where she does not have a friend in the world. She begs him to get her out of there but they don’t have the money.
Harry goes to investigate the suicide of an inspector. While there a Syrian black-marketeer tries to strike up a friendship and offers Harry a loan at low interest. Harry rebuffs him but when he gets home to Louise and finds her in the same state, he gives in to get money for her to sail to South Africa.
Then Harry has to go away to supervise the landing of a bunch of passengers who had spent many days at sea in a life raft after their ship was torpedoed. Among them is Helen, a young Austrian newlywed who lost her English husband in the incident. Harry begins an affair with her. When Harry’s wife comes back, a young friend tells her of his suspicions about Harry and Helen. Louise wants Harry to go to mass with her and take communion. But Harry cannot make a full confession because he has no intention of giving up Helen. So the tender-hearted Harry is stuck between hurting Louise, Helen, or his relationship with God.
I thought this was one of the best performances ever from Trevor Howard. You really felt for him throughout. The story raises a host of ethical and moral questions and will leave viewers with plenty to think about. I thought Harry “solved” his problem in the absolute worst possible way. I will say no more.
It has come to pass that the name Graham Greene in the writing credits, either for the source material or the screenplay, almost guarantees I will like the resulting film. Highly recommended.