Summer of Forgotten Horror – Heart of Darkness (1958)

Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 10: Heart of Darkness (1958)
Cast:     Roddy McDowell as Charles Marlow
Inga Swenson as Maria
Eartha Kitt as The Queen
Boris Karloff as Kurtz

Based on the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Screenplay by Stewart Stern
Directed by Ronald Winston

KarloffPlot: Charles Marlow is a man on a journey up the Congo to find his adoptive father who has disappeared. Along the way, he discovers his internal struggles about his love for his adoptive sister in this interpretive version of the classic tale.

Personal Thoughts: Based on the 1899 novella written by Joseph Conrad, this televised version varies quite a bit from the original source material. The novella, originally published as a three-part serial in Blackwood’s Magazine, followed Charles Marlow on a voyage up the Congo in search of ivory trader Kurtz. This is a 90-minute production as part of the Playhouse 90 television series. Therefore, a lot of content had to be written out or condensed. Stewart Stern adaptation added a back story where Marlow was Kurtz’ adopted son and the struggles he had with a forbidden love for his adopted sister Maria. It isn’t until the final act that the story even comes close to resembling Conrad’s work. McDowell turns in a great performance as Marlow and Karloff is fun as Kurtz, saying the iconic final words, “The Horror! The Horror!” However, the production comes off as a poor stage play, even by 1958 standards, and the story is admittedly a little hard to follow with Stern attempting his best to recreate Shakespeare when he would have been suited to stick to Conrad’s original story.

Roddy McDowellTrivia:

  • Heart of Darkness was adapted again in 1979 in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, changing the setting from the Congo to Vietnam.
  • The most recent adaptation is a forgotten made-for-TNT 1993 television version that starred Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz.


  • Never released commercially, Heart of Darkness is available through a third party seller on Amazon. However, unless you are a purist Karloff fan looking to add to your collection, watch this one for free on YouTube. The quality is a little rough but it features original commercials from channel 2 WCBS in New York which enhance the experience.

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