A priest (William Holden) arrives at a mission-post in China accompanied by a young native girl who has joined him along the way. His job is to relieve the existing priest (Clifton Webb), who is now too old and weak to continue with the upkeep of the church. However, Communist soldiers arrive at the mission and seize it as a command post. Their leader rapes the native girl and impregnates her, only later to realise that Communism is no good for him. In the end, the foursome flee to the border, but are pursued by Communist forces along the way.Written by
Jonathon Dabell <J.D.@pixie.ntu.ac.uk>
Director Leo McCarey disliked working on this picture so much that he left it five days before it was supposed to wrap. His assistant, David W. Orton, finished shooting the picture. See more »
In the scene immediately following the opening credits, as Father O'Banion leads a donkey carrying Siu Lan along a mountain path overlooking a valley, their shadows are plainly visible on the painted backdrop of the valley. See more »
Passably entertaining, but often unconvincing, silly, and down-right hokey, Leo McCarey's film of Pearl S. Buck's original screenplay "China Story," "Satan Never Sleeps" takes place during the Communist takeover of China in the late 1940's. Possibly seeking to replicate his success with the Oscar-winning "Going My Way," McCarey tackles the story of a younger priest sent to relieve an aging priest at a remote Chinese mission. However, the charming conflict between Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald is beyond the reach of William Holden and Clifton Webb. Although Webb, in his final screen role, is quite good as crusty Father Bovard, Holden as Father O'Banion is uneven, and neither actor benefits from France Nuyen's annoying presence. The French-Vietnamese Nuyen's Siu Lan, a young Chinese girl with an obsession for Holden, mugs and grins like a schoolgirl in a childish performance that undercuts the film's moral core. Not only does Siu Lan moon over a man obviously twice her age, but she ignores his priestly vows and even suggests he switch religions to attain her goal. The lack of candor between O'Banion and Bovard with regard to Siu Lan's intentions is puzzling, given that the elder priest would have been O'Banion's confessor, and the entire situation could have been cleared at the outset.
The script by Claude Binyon and McCarey himself simplifies Communism and the Chinese Civil War; rather than explore issues and motivations in historical context, the film uses blatant propaganda to paint a good-versus-evil, black-and-white portrait of the period. The propagandist approach was likely Buck's, because she had been refused entry to China during this period. Helming his last film, McCarey directs with a heavy hand and cannot decide between light comedy, tragedy, and political drama; the film abruptly weaves between various moods and succeeds at none. Although poor rear projection and obvious painted backdrops mark the image, Oswald Morris's impressive cinematography captures the Welsh locations that convincingly stand in for rural China.
Marred by a simplistic political backdrop, an unconvincing dynamic between the two priests, and a performance by France Nuyen that grates like fingernails on a blackboard, "Satan Never Sleeps" is not worthy to be the swan song of two cinematic talents: Leo McCarey and Clifton Webb. Both are better remembered for their classics from the 1930's and 1940's. While Holden survived the film to give some remarkable performances in the following decades, Nuyen was relegated to minor roles, principally in television series. Unfortunately, this film is not a high point on any participant's resume.
0 of 0 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this