Twilight Time // 1959 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 7th, 2013
He had to hurt something...someone!
A '50s romance in glorious CinemaScope, with a Franz Waxman score and two beautiful stars. How could it go wrong?
In the case of Beloved Infidel, lots of ways.
Beloved Infidel is based on the book of the same name by one Sheilah Graham, who was a Hollywood columnist. While popular in her own right, her big claim to fame was being the companion of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald during the last few years of his life.
Graham and Fitzgerald enjoyed a loving, but tempestuous, relationship -- something that would be expected when one partner is a self-destructive, alcoholic genius writer whose time seems to have passed, with a mentally disturbed wife who's locked up in a sanitarium, and who can't keep a job writing unambitious screenplays.
Rather than giving us a story about two complex, conflicted, and flawed people -- Graham had her own set of issues -- Beloved Infidel offers a simplistic, standard romance in which one character occasionally drinks too much. There's nothing to distinguish these two or to suggest that either one had anything significant to contribute culturally; they might as well have been a couple of dentists.
Were this a film about two invented characters, it would be one thing, but Beloved Infidel is about two real-life people, and that's the problem. Details of Fitzgerald's life are more window dressing than emotionally intriguing aspects of one of the great writers of the 20th century; if he felt any anguish about the mental decline of his wife, you wouldn't know it from this; poor Zelda Fitzgerald is merely spoken of as a plot device, the reason Scott has sold out and come to Hollywood, and the annoyance that keeps him from marrying Graham.
Deborah Kerr might or might not have been well cast as Sheilah Graham, though she doesn't really seem comfortable in the role. Perhaps that's because Graham was very much alive and still writing her columns.
Much worse is the casting of Peck, who is nobody's idea of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Forget about the fact that he looked nothing like the author -- Hollywood often casts stars as real people to whom they bear little or no physical resemblance. The actor just doesn't seem to have any kind of inner life. Peck was a handsome, dependable leading man, but playing darkness wasn't really his strong suit. Truthfully, I've never been a big fan of Peck; I generally find him to be a fairly dull actor, though it was funny watching him go bat-bite nuts in The Boys from Brazil. Casting him as a tormented soul who was the hard-living voice of the '20s, though, is just ludicrous.
The film deals with Fitzgerald's alcoholism like a "movie drunk," with Peck going big and broad for the writer's couple of scenes of inebriated obnoxiousness. One would think that, by this point in his life, Fitzgerald might have been a functioning alcoholic. Instead, Beloved Infidel makes Fitzgerald a boozy clown, stumbling, slurring, gesticulating, and in one scene, loudly embarrassing Graham in front of a radio exec who wants to broadcast her column. Peck runs with it, not like a man whose been down this road before, but like a guy who's inadvertently consumed too much Vitameetavegamin.
Not that he's any better sober. Peck and Kerr have no chemistry, and the script by Sy Bartlett (Che!) gives them nothing to build on, presenting a series of typical "Hollywood romance" scenes, with Peck occasionally muttering something Fitzgerald-ish (at one point, he drunkenly calls a bum "Old Sport"). While the scenes of a drunken Fitzgerald menacing Graham liven things up a bit, they are few and far between; there's no sense of these people or of the time (the film is set in the '30s, but other than some period automobiles and a stray reference to Gable and Garbo, you wouldn't know it). Beloved Infidel is just a big, glossy bore.
Beloved Infidel (Blu-ray) comes to us from the generally reliable Twilight Time, which has turned out some excellent discs over the past couple of years. The 2.35:1/1080p image is of generally good quality, sometimes looking exceptionally sharp, and other times, a bit muddy. Colors are overall strong, and there are bits of print damage here and there, plus a fairly heavy grain. It's by no means a bad image, but I've seen better work from this company. Audio is offered in DTS 4.0, which seems a little ambitious for a film that's all talk and music (albeit, excellent Franz Waxman music), but it's certainly clear and crisp sounding. Like most Twilight Time discs, this one is supplement-light: an isolated score track, a pretty ludicrous trailer, and an excellent Julie Kirgo essay that really tries to make a case for the movie.
I generally enjoy the old Hollywood romantic melodramas, but Beloved Infidel did nothing for me. While the production values are high quality, the bland star pairing and trite script sink this. I give Twilight Time credit for again releasing a film that might otherwise not have seen the light of high-def day, but I can't recommend this release.
Guilty, Old Sport.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 4.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Isolated Score