Posted by medusamorlock on June 9, 2010
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.
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