Monday, January 6, 2014

Richard Todd Owns "The Hasty Heart"

As World War II comes to an end in Burma in 1945, Lachlan McLachlan (Richard Todd), a Scottish corporal, steps on a land mine. Amazingly, except for the loss of one kidney, his injuries appear to be superficial. The reality, though, is that McLachlan's other kidney is "defective" and that he will die from renal failure in a few weeks. Knowing that the Scotsman has no family nor close friends, the field hospital's commander decides not to tell McLachlan about his impending death. Instead, he places the young man in a ward so he can "be content" during his final days.

Patricia Neal and Richard Todd.
The ward's compassionate nurse, Sister Margaret (Patricia Neal), and the other five patients know the truth. They try to befriend McLachlan--whom they quickly nickname Lachie--but their attempts are rebuffed. The hot-headed, self-sufficient Lachie doesn't make friends freely by his own admission. His first act in the ward is to move his bed away from the other patients. He meets each attempt at civil conversation with a curt, guarded reply. Fortunately, Sister Margaret doesn't give up easily and she eventually finds a way to reach the stubborn Scotsman.

Based on John Patrick's 1945 stage play, The Hasty Heart is a heart-lifting tale rather than a sad one. Patrick wisely avoids a death scene and its aftermath because, after all, that's not the point of his drama. It's a story about love and friendship and knowing that, however briefly we may cherish one another, it's worthwhile to let them into one's heart. (The film's title is derived from a Scottish proverb that states: "Sorrow is born in the hasty heart.") The film's biggest challenge is its premise. The decision not to tell Lachie his fate is questionable at best. Doesn't a soldier deserve to know if he's dying and be given the choice to make his own decisions during what little time remains?

Director Vincent Sherman makes no attempt to hide the film's stage origins. Most of the scenes take place in the ward's tent or in the area around it. His focus is clearly on the script and the performances. Fortunately, the performers are up to the increased scrutiny.

Ronald Reagan and Todd.
Richard Todd gives a brilliant performance as the proud Scot who gradually opens up and then overflows with the joy of friendship and perhaps even love. Richard Basehart, one of my favorite actors, created the role on Broadway and I'm sure he was very good. Gordon Jackson (Hudson on Upstairs, Downstairs) was considered for the film and, again, I think he would have done it justice. But frankly, I can't imagine anyone being better than Richard Todd, who rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (losing to Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men). It's hard to pick Todd's best scene as Lachie. While his marriage proposal is wonderfully awkward, my choice is probably the scene where the other patients celebrate his birthday--an event that the solitary Lachie has forgotten.

The rest of the cast gives effective supporting performances (though both Patricia Neal and Ronald Reagan are billed above Todd). However, it's clearly Todd's picture and your feelings toward the film will likely hinge on whether you embrace his portrayal of Lachie.

Patrick's play has been adapted several times for television. The most notable productions appeared in 1958 and 1983. The former version appeared on the Dupont Show of the Month starring Don Murray as Lachie and Barbara Bel Geddes as Sister Margaret. The 1983 made-for-television film featured Gregory Harrison and Cheryl Ladd in these roles. Perry King earned a Golden Globe nomination for the Ronald Reagan character.


  1. I've loved this film since I first saw it as a kid in the late 60's. Richard Todd thoroughly deserved his Oscar nomination and Ronald Reagan was pretty good too. Gordon Jackson would have done a good job as Lachie but, as you say, it;s hard to imagine anyone bettering Todd.

  2. A truly beautiful story and, as you say, a performance for the ages from Richard Todd. If the floodgates aren't bursting at the end of this film, you have no soul.

  3. Though Richard Todd is the real star, this film is part of the 5-title Ronald Reagan collection, which is how I ended up discovering it. After buying the Reagan collection 4 or 5 years ago, I watched all the films except The Hasty Heart. I am not a Patricia Neal fan, and for that reason, I really wasn't excited about this. However, eventually, I put my feelings for her aside and watched the movie. Wow! I really enjoyed it (4 stars for me). One doesn't have to like Neal (or Reagan, (for those who hate him) to enjoy this very sentimental film.

  4. Rick, this is an excellent review of a movie that indeed touches one's heart. Richard Todd is unforgettable as Lachie. "The Hasty Heart" is a lesser known little gem but worthy of one's time.

  5. I'm so glad you chose this movie to review, Rick. Not enough people really know about it, as Toto said, and it deserves to be known. Wonderful, wonderful Richard Todd. One of my grandfathers was a pure Scotsman, and maybe that's why I could understand Lachie pretty well. It's unforgettable.