“The Hasty Heart” — One of “Bob’s Picks” and Mine, Too!

I was gratified to see the 1950 Warner Bros. title The Hasty Heart scheduled tonight at 8pm on TCM as one of Bob Osborne’s personal favorites.  I’m not sure why Bob is so crazy about it, but I’ll bet we share some of the same respect and affection for the movie.  Based on a Broadway play by dramatist John Patrick, The Hasty Heart tells the tale of an irascible Scottish soldier in WWII whose stay at a British military hospital in 1944 Burma brings him face-to-face with the consequences of his prickly personality and ultimately his own mortality.

  The play premiered at the Hudson Theatre in NYC in January of 1945, with actor Richard Basehart in the role of Lachlen – aka “Lachy” – the lonely, embittered young soldier who finds himself barracked with an assortment of wartime strange bedfellows.  The most charismatic among them is a breezy American soldier known only as “Yank”, played by actor John Lund, who would eventually go to Hollywood to pursue a big screen career, as would Basehart. 

Playwright Patrick drew upon his own experiences as an ambulance driver during the war for the setting of The Hasty Heart, but he was no rank newcomer. Louisville, Kentucky-born (1905)  John Patrick was an alumnus of Harvard and Columbia, and had cut his writing teeth on radio scripts and then with a long stint in Hollywood beginning in the mid-thirties.  He worked for 20th Century Fox Studios, writing nearly two dozen films in only a few years, then going back East to pursue his playwriting career, where he had only moderate success.  As the war approached, he joined the war effort, eventually amassing the memories that would enable him to write The Hasty Heart and enjoy his first real success.  Interestingly enough, Patrick was reported to also possess quite a temper and act up on occasion — one time he threatened to chainsaw down a huge tree in front of the house of a power company executive whom he deduced was blocking electricity to his country farmhouse — and so we can possibly see some of his own difficult persona in the proud and unpleasantly gruff Lachlen.  Patrick later wrote screenplays and stories for a wide variety of movies, some popular, some less so, including High Society, The Teahouse of the August Moon, The President’s Lady, Gigot, Three Coins in the Fountain and more.

By the time The Hasty Heart made it to the movies, Dublin-born actor Richard Todd, who had replaced Richard Basehart during the original Broadway run of the play, repeated his stage role as Lachlen.  Todd was a genuine military man, a distinguished veteran and a heroic fighter who was among the first wave of paratroopers dropped into Normandy on D-Day.  After the war he slid back into his acting career in a few British films and then got his big cinematic break in The Hasty Heart.  Richard Todd’s excellent Scottish accent, along with his authentic military cred and his intelligent, bracing and ultimately humane portrayal of Lachey earned hin an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor in the film, and it’s well-deserved.  (The winner that year was Broderick Crawford for All The King’s Men, fellow also-rans were Kirk Douglas for The Champion, John Wayne for Sands of Iwo Jima, and Gregory Peck for Twelve O’Clock High. )

Able support is supplied by Warner Bros. actress Patricia Neal,  just coming off her melodramatic turn as Dominique Francon in the studio’s adaptation of Ayn Rand’s bestseller The Fountainhead, as Sister Margaret Parker (but don’t worry, she’s not a nun, just a British nurse), the compassionate caretaker who tries to befriend Lachlen but finds him responding to her in a way she didn’t expect.  In another great performance, the kind that always seems to surprise viewers who expect him to have been a bad actor just because he was a dicey President,  Ronald Reagan is excellent and so very charismatic as Yank.  He’s the very personification of the glib, pleasant and friendly stereotype G.I. who went overseas, fought like hell, and really pepped up the joint during the War. 

Other characters include a Brit, an Australian, a New Zealander nicknamed “Kiwi” and Nigeria-born Orlando Blossom as an African soldier, a multi-ethnic conglomeration of personalities and quaint stereotypes that definitely keep things lively.  It might be these very elements that have kept The Hasty Heart alive and at the same time limited the play’s popularity and fame, although it did attract the attention of TV actor/heartthrob (he was very big in Trapper John, M.D. then) Gregory Harris back in the early 1980s.  He played the role of Lachlen at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. (I definitely remember going to see this), then reprised the role for a well-received Showtime TV movie version, co-starring Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd as Sister Margaret and Perry King as Yank. 

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but definitely will be watching tonight.  Richard Todd died December 3, 2009, at the age of ninety, after a very long and distinguished career — another big U.S. hit for him was in 1955′s A Man Called Peter, the biography of Washington D.C. pastor The Reverend Peter Marshall, (another Scotsman).  But this evening, I hope you enjoy The Hasty Heart as much as I — and Robert Osborne — do.

14 Responses “The Hasty Heart” — One of “Bob’s Picks” and Mine, Too!
Posted By moirafinnie : June 9, 2010 3:36 pm

Thanks for the heads up on The Hasty Heart, Medusa.

I haven’t seen this movie in years, but vividly recall how touching Richard Todd was as the touchy, wee Scot with the big chip on his shoulder. (Having recently seen Todd as the head merry man in director Ken Annakin’s terrific Disney version of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), I seem to be on Todd tear anyway). I was also impressed with Ronald Reagan in his part in this movie, and think he could be a much better actor than is generally acknowledged, when given a decent part and a director who could draw what was good in him to the surface.

Like you, I was impressed with the 1983 performances of Gregory Harrison, Cheryl Ladd and Perry King in The Hasty Heart on Showtime back then. That bare bones, filmed play version of the play reminded me that surprisingly good actors could dwell inside the facile, superficial shells of tv performers who were rarely given a chance to show their humanity as well as their comely face and form on the tube.

I also loved the insight and info you shared about the playwright John Patrick. What a character he must have been.

My DVR is cued and ready for this screening tonight, thanks to you.

Posted By moirafinnie : June 9, 2010 3:36 pm

Thanks for the heads up on The Hasty Heart, Medusa.

I haven’t seen this movie in years, but vividly recall how touching Richard Todd was as the touchy, wee Scot with the big chip on his shoulder. (Having recently seen Todd as the head merry man in director Ken Annakin’s terrific Disney version of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), I seem to be on Todd tear anyway). I was also impressed with Ronald Reagan in his part in this movie, and think he could be a much better actor than is generally acknowledged, when given a decent part and a director who could draw what was good in him to the surface.

Like you, I was impressed with the 1983 performances of Gregory Harrison, Cheryl Ladd and Perry King in The Hasty Heart on Showtime back then. That bare bones, filmed play version of the play reminded me that surprisingly good actors could dwell inside the facile, superficial shells of tv performers who were rarely given a chance to show their humanity as well as their comely face and form on the tube.

I also loved the insight and info you shared about the playwright John Patrick. What a character he must have been.

My DVR is cued and ready for this screening tonight, thanks to you.

Posted By Anny Robinson : June 9, 2010 5:05 pm

What a wonderful surprise. I saw the movie so long ago. It touched a core with me. I am Belgian born – WWII – and american war movies have always been my favorites. But this one, is very special, it should be shown more frequently. I am ready with my a new box of tissues. I have told all of my friends to watch this wonderful movie. Thank you Mr. Osbourne.

Posted By Anny Robinson : June 9, 2010 5:05 pm

What a wonderful surprise. I saw the movie so long ago. It touched a core with me. I am Belgian born – WWII – and american war movies have always been my favorites. But this one, is very special, it should be shown more frequently. I am ready with my a new box of tissues. I have told all of my friends to watch this wonderful movie. Thank you Mr. Osbourne.

Posted By franko : June 9, 2010 6:24 pm

Ronald Reagan was one of the worst actors ever. Dull and phoney, he could just about ruin anything he appeared in. Blech.

Posted By franko : June 9, 2010 6:24 pm

Ronald Reagan was one of the worst actors ever. Dull and phoney, he could just about ruin anything he appeared in. Blech.

Posted By Nathaniel Hix : June 10, 2010 2:29 pm

Reagan was a great president. And a good actor.

Posted By Nathaniel Hix : June 10, 2010 2:29 pm

Reagan was a great president. And a good actor.

Posted By Suzi : June 10, 2010 2:48 pm

I am not a Ronald Reagan fan, either, but I would have given this one a shot if I had been home, because of your recommendation. Love that poster image at the top of your post. Took me a minute or two to figure out that Richard Todd was holding bagpipes!

Posted By Suzi : June 10, 2010 2:48 pm

I am not a Ronald Reagan fan, either, but I would have given this one a shot if I had been home, because of your recommendation. Love that poster image at the top of your post. Took me a minute or two to figure out that Richard Todd was holding bagpipes!

Posted By la pergrina : June 15, 2010 9:39 pm

“…as Sister Margaret Parker (but don’t worry, she’s not a nun, just a British nurse}”

Which is why this movie was so confusing for a little Catholic girl growing up in Denver, Colorado when she watched it on television the first time. ;)

Posted By la pergrina : June 15, 2010 9:39 pm

“…as Sister Margaret Parker (but don’t worry, she’s not a nun, just a British nurse}”

Which is why this movie was so confusing for a little Catholic girl growing up in Denver, Colorado when she watched it on television the first time. ;)

Posted By Jenni : June 19, 2010 1:39 am

I agree with Nathan’s opinions. Reagan wasn’t in the same league as Spencer Tracy, for example, but he did a decent job especially when he had a good director to work with.

Posted By Jenni : June 19, 2010 1:39 am

I agree with Nathan’s opinions. Reagan wasn’t in the same league as Spencer Tracy, for example, but he did a decent job especially when he had a good director to work with.

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