BR: Beloved Infidel (1959)

February 24, 2014 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / B

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Film: Very Good / BR Transfer: Excellent / BR Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time / Region: All / Released: December 11, 2012

Genre: Drama / Biography

Synopsis: Melodramatic chronicle of Sheilah Graham’s relationship with great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Special Features:

Isolated stereo music track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Theatrical Trailer / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

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Review:

Had famed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald died young in the present day, there’s no doubt a tell-all book, if not a TV movie about his relationship with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, would’ve been produced and released within a year or two after his death.

Graham’s 1958 memoir, Beloved Infidel: The Education of a Woman, was published a good 18 years after the feted novelist’s death – a sign, perhaps, of a love affair Graham was able to revisit in print after much hesitation, if not launch a new writing career as the era of powerful gossip columnists was coming to an end. Graham eventually produced several book-length works, but the film certainly couldn’t have harmed her career, and Graham later revised her perspective on Fitzgerald in a 1976 book, The Real F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thirty-Five Years Later.

Being a Jerry Wald production, this 1959 film version is a glossy extravaganza, and although Beloved shares some similarities with Wald’s A Star is Born (1954) – both films deal with a woman struggling with an alcoholic partner in a self-destructive relationship – it’s neither a musical nor a multi-character tale. The setting and outcome for each tragic male figure – dying in the industry town after being branded outmoded, difficult, and irrelevant – are identical, but Beloved is a much more intimate saga; a ‘true-life’ (through a Hollywood lens) spanning a brief 3 & ½ years.

Director Henry King (Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Song of Bernadette) and writer Sy Bartlett (The Big Country, 13 Rue Madeleine) kept the drama fixed on the couple’s difficult relationship – Fitzgerald struggling to maintain employment as a screenwriter as Graham’s career and influence blossomed – and ease in the ugliness of alcoholism which almost destroys their love.

What makes Fitzgerald such a compelling figure is watching the literary icon flounder as he attempts to learn and perfect a type of writing that demands a unique skill set for plot, dialogue, and visual acumen; and just as he manages to sober up and funnel his ill experiences into a fresh project – the unfinished, posthumously published The Love of the Last Tycoon – he drops dead of a heart attack.

Beloved has its share of steeped and contrived melodrama – a beach scene where Graham swims, frolics on the sand, and is all giddy with love is a blatant montage made to sell the vocal single of Franz Waxman and Paul Francis Webster’s syrupy theme song – but Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr have such amazing dynamic screen chemistry: they ably guide us through the mush puddles, and make the ill-fated relationship especially compelling when Fitzgerald begins boozing after dismissal from a much-needed studio gig.

There’s a nasty cabin quarrel escalating from emotional to physical abuse which is unusually frank for the era.  (More surreal is the way the material, geared to shock and portray booze as an easily accessible poison in the film proper, is warped into a silly lover’s quarrel in Fox’ original trailer. It’s an appalling abuse of the film’s most pivotal scene.)

Peck captures the torment of a discarded talent quite skillfully, and Kerr manages to pull off Graham’s position of a commoner who reinvented herself as an upper-class Brit with Royal connections to better gain a rich salary with the best industry papers. The actress’ sole weak scene is due to bad writing, and convention: Graham, firmly established as a strong figure in Kerr’s early scenes, suddenly breaks into tears after Fitzgerald pushes for more details of her past history. The sexist inference is while women may seem to be strong, deep down they’re still emotionally delicate creatures.

The theme song’s ludicrous lyrics (which build rhapsodically towards a declaration of ‘a beloved infidel’) wrap up the film’s final scene, but Waxman’s score offers a compelling blend of period songs, theme variations, and some devastating dramatic cues when Graham discovers Fitzgerald crumpled in her living room, and runs into the street for help. Waxman applies some heavy bass notes which carry on as Graham suddenly finds herself alone in the house, confused by the silence that’s replaced the bustle of onlookers, police, and ambulance paramedics who examined and efficiently wrapped up the dead novelist. It’s a great scene that captures the various states of shock, from trauma to the solemnity of processing the impossible.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a sharp HD transfer – the dynamic screen couple are hypnotic to watch whenever they’re dancing, embracing, and adoring eye contact – plus an isolated stereo track of Waxman’s score. Julie Kirgo’s essay provides needed context for a glossy rendering of a very complex pair of lovers, and she notes how producer Wald’s prodding hastened Graham’s completion of her memoirs so there could be a big Hollywood production; and how Graham later exploited her relationship with Fitzgerald in subsequent books.

Although Hollywood did adapt several of Fitzgerald’s works into films, including a 1926 version of The Great Gatsby, the studios didn’t revisit his material until after his death, with Gatsby making it to the big screen again in 1949, plus a series of live teleplays in the fifties. There’s also The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), the Henry King directed Tender is the Night (1962), Gatsby again in 1974, and The Last Tycoon (1976).

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© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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