19 June 2001 | rfkeser
Tropical trouble for luminous Nancy Carroll
This early talkie, like a pencil sketch of the famous Maurice Tourneur silent, preposterously reduces Conrad's "Victory" to a Nancy Carroll vehicle. But don't blame her: she gives a characteristically warm and nuanced performance, the best in the film, as a downtrodden violin-player in an all-girl band in Surabaya (now, why didn't Joseph Conrad think of that?),
William Wellman directs in rough-and-ready style, emphasizing leering melodrama, yet produces few pre-code thrills. The weakest link here is Wellman favorite Richard Arlen, even more awkward than he was in WINGS; playing Heyst as Joe College in a tropical white suit, who just happens to enjoy living alone on an island, he drains the central role of conflict and complexity.
In this company, the villains have ample room to shine: Warner Oland works hard at threatening the leading lady's virtue (as does most of the cast), but only Gustav von Seyffertitz, in a stylish black cloak and using Bela Lugosi's vowels, suggests the corruption and wit of Conrad's creation.
The tropical flavor of Surabaya comes down to hula dancers and Hawaiian music, but Archie Stout provides some effective lighting and keeps his shaky-cam moving. While the plot resolution will please only fans of routine Hollywood endings, Nancy Carroll at her peak is always worth a look.