US Release Date: 08-13-1963
Directed by: Peter Brook
- James Aubrey, as
- Tom Chapin, as
- Hugh Edwards, as
- Roger Elwin, as
- Tom Gaman, as
- Roger Allan, as
- David Brunjes, as
- Peter Davy, as
- Kent Fletcher, as
- Percival Wemys Madison
- Nicholas Hammond as
James Aubrey as Ralph in Lord of the Flies.
Having recently read the classic novel by Nobel Prize winning author William Golding for the first time, I decided to watch the film versions. This 1963 adaptation was the first attempt to put it on the big screen and the result is rather uneven. The story is still powerful but the production values seem low and the acting by many of the boys is downright amateurish. It never comes close to matching the impact of the book and those who have never read it will miss much if this is their only exposure to the tale.
The plot is simple. A group of English school boys are evacuated during a war, the details of which we are never given. Their plane crash lands on a deserted tropical island and there are no adult survivors. The boys range in age from roughly 5 to 12. While at first they do their best to form a society with rules and a purpose, as time goes by their civilization breaks down into violence.
Ralph, one of the oldest and more mature of the boys, is elected leader. Jack, the head of the school choir, was his only competition and so it is decided that he will remain in charge of the choir who will now become the hunters. The fattest and weakest boy is nicknamed Piggy. With his asthma and thick spectacles, he is picked on by the others, but his intellect and rationality make him Ralph's advisor and Jack's enemy. The last of the main characters is Simon, a quiet boy prone to having fits.
Each of the boys represents something. Ralph represents honor. Jack stands for the dark side of human nature. Piggy for reason and Simon for spirituality. The longer the children are on the island, the more powerful Jack becomes, crushing spirituality and reason before him. In the book, these relationships are more clear, while in the movie it's quite easy just to see them as boys.
Quite a bit is lost in the translation from page to screen. So much of the book comes from the character's inner monologues and no attempt is made to reproduce that in the film. Simon suffers the most from this since he rarely speaks. One important scene from the book really suffers because of this. When Jack and his hunters kill a pig they leave its head stuck on a pole as an offering to the beast that they believe lives on the island. As the pig's head rots, it draws flies, becoming the title character. Simon is drawn to it when he sees it, repulsed and fascinated by it he has an entire imaginary conversation with it that is important to the story. In this film version Simon (played by one of the worst actors in the film) simply stares at it for a few seconds.
For most of the boys this was their first and last acting job and their inexperience shows. Much of the time they come across as boys pretending to be savages and not very well. Their performances aren't helped by poor editing.
There are two scenes of shocking violence in the story but we only catch glimpses of them here, which reduces their impact. There is also an incident with a corpse, which I won't give away, that is handled very poorly. Shooting in black and white doesn't help and there are also too many day for night shots.
It's a testament to the power of the story that despite all of the weaknesses I found I still enjoyed this movie. It's a pale imitation of the book, but it captures just enough of it to make it worth watching. I'm curious how someone who'd never read the book would react to it. Would they like it more because they wouldn't have the book to compare it to, or would they like it less because they wouldn't know the backstory from the book to deepen the characters?
British school boys become savages in Lord of the Flies.
I have read the book and it honestly doesn’t stand out in my memory as being that much greater than the movie. To be fair quite a few years have passed since then and I may not remember all the changes or omissions done in the translation from page to screen. But I have much more vivid memories of images in this movie than I do of the inner thoughts of the boys from the novel.
Unlike Scott I liked the black and white cinematography. It gives the movie a low-budget, gritty feel that holds up well. The camera work is decent and the acting is purposely amateurish. The director, Peter Brook, wanted boys that would act natural and I think he succeeded. They also improvised much of the dialogue. Incredibly some 60 hours of film was shot that was eventually edited down to just 90 minutes.
Scott, I think reading the book raised your expectations unrealistically and the movie therefore failed to live up to your imagination. Movies and books are such different art forms. I think they did a good job of telling the story visually without delving into the psychological aspects, which work more effectively on the page where you can read the character's thoughts. At any rate it is much better than you say it is and far superior to the color remake.
The story is a very visual one that is filled with obvious symbolism and imagery. These very civilized British school children revert to savages. Scott, again I disagree with you. The boys dancing in their tribal war paint around the fire on the beach at night is a classic scene. They are just boys pretending to be savages, so what is wrong with it appearing that way? And the sight of Simon staring at the rotting pig’s head is more disturbing to look at than to read about.
I like the fact that the choir boys (who are not normally associated with being tough) become the hunters and the first of the boys to turn wild. The last vestige of their civilized former life is evidenced by the fact that they sing as they march through the jungle. Lord of the Flies tells a disturbing story that retains its ability to shock. The ending, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, is brilliant.
Simon, Ralph and Piggy
The first thing I noticed was just how on the cheap this film was made. How the boys get to the island is shown through photographs and drawings during the opening credits. As Scott pointed out, the production value does seem low. The most notable annoyance is in the editing and sound dubbing. They are horrible. Often we hear a boy talking, but the camera is on someone or something else. I am not sure if this was done to avoid some bad acting or dubbing, but either way it lessened the film production. Another headache is provided by the overly dramatic soundtrack, with it's blast of horns or drums that make you think something important is about to happen. The amateurish acting, purposely bad or not, is distracting. One early scene has the camera pan down a line of boys as they state their name. One boy looks directly into the camera. This film is one of the worst examples of movie direction I have ever seen.
I have never read the novel this is based on but enjoyed the story and moral lesson that without order there is only chaos. Early in the film, Jack declares to the rest of the boys, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English! And the English are best at everything!" Yet, it is Jack who leads his choir into savagery once he discovers he is able to hunt and feed himself. When they act like savages at the bonfire on the beach, they reminded me of rabid WWE fans caught up in the events of something they know is not real, but are too wrapped up in the moment to be rational.
The moment the hunters come for Piggy's glasses is truly frightening. "Piggy, where are You? We're coming to get you Piggy." After what happened earlier, you are not sure what all they intend to do. Although they are just two boys fighting over a pair of glasses, "You're a beast, and a swine, and a bloody, bloody thief!" The scene where Ralph confronts Jack, holds a great amount of tension, which only grows in intensity. I never read the book and as such was never sure what was going to happen to these boys.
Although the film makers may have not been top notch, the story is so solid as to make it a worthwhile watch. The ending is brilliant. It is like the boys suddenly see God and in that instant are made self aware of all their sins. I should definitely read the novel.
As a last note, one boy in the cast did continue to act. Nicholas Hammond went on to play Freidrich Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965) and played the first live action Spiderman on television.
Photos © Copyright British Lion Film Corporation (1963)