New York Noir: The Heart of Darkness

Hudson River - New York

Orson Wells in 1939 under contract to RKO developed a screenplay for a film adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1899) , which sadly was never made.

Film scholar James Naremore in an on-line article discusses the book and the development of  Welles’ script, which sets the  story in the present day and makes Conrad’s narrator, Marlow, an American.

“The screenplay opens in New York on the Hudson river, with Marlow’s voice speaking of a ‘monstrous town marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in the sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars’, while a series of lap dissolves show lights being turned on across Manhattan at dusk—the bridges, the parkways, the boulevards, the skyscrapers. The camera tours the length of the island accompanied by a montage of sounds—snatches of jazz from the radios of moving taxis; dinner music from the big hotels; a ‘throb of tom-toms’ foreshadowing the jungle music to come; the noodling of orchestras tuning up in the concert halls; and finally, near the Battery, the muted sounds of bell buoys and the hoots of shipping. Next we enter New York harbor, where we find Marlow leaning against the mast of a schooner, smoking a pipe and directly addressing the camera. ‘And this also’, he says, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth‘.”

2 thoughts on “New York Noir: The Heart of Darkness”

  1. Having just read Naremore’s complete essay (thanks to ‘you know who?” I can say it’s a magnificent, fascinating piece, and it accentuates ‘if only things were different.’ Welles was the guy for this project, as both his sensibilities and literary slant would have informed a compelling interpretation, especially at his peak period. Incidentally that shot there of the Manhattan skyline, from the Jersey side of the Hudson can be reached by my home in maybe 7 minutes driving. The screenplay’s NYC designation makes this unconsumated project even more tragic for me in a personal sense.


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