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Release Date(s)1959 (December 11, 2012)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
Nearly 75 years have passed since the death of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), but the work of the Lost Generation literary lion has hardly diminished in stature since then. Though the Jazz Age chronicler only completed four novels in his lifetime, at least two (The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night) are still routinely found on “required reading” lists. Hollywood remains under Fitzgerald’s spell, too; Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation of Gatsby recently picked up two Academy Awards despite tepid reviews. But the author’s relationship with Tinseltown was always a tenuous one, even in his lifetime. In 1937, with his best work already behind him, he moved to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. That same year, he met gossip columnist Sheilah Graham (1904-1988). Though still married to the institutionalized Zelda Fitzgerald, Scott spent the rest of his days with Graham, even dying in their shared living room. Graham memorialized their rocky if passionate affair in her 1958 novel Beloved Infidel, and the next year, 20th Century Fox turned it into a CinemaScope extravaganza. This largely forgotten film, starring Gregory Peck as Fitzgerald and Deborah Kerr as Graham, is the recipient of a Blu-ray release from Twilight Time.
As directed by Henry King (Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Sun Also Rises), Beloved Infidel is a conventional, workmanlike film adaptation of a romance about which little was conventional. The screenplay by Sy Bartlett, who had previously collaborated with Peck and King on Twelve O’Clock High, streamlines the complicated Fitzgerald/Graham relationship into a typical Hollywood romance. Yet despite lines like “I’m due over at MGM; I’m interviewing Gable” or “I finally got an interview with Garbo,” the movie still evokes the fifties more than the thirties. Even the looming specter of Hitler doesn’t register much. Still, it’s fun to see the glamorous recreation of a bustling studio backlot or Sunset Boulevard’s starry Garden of Allah residence hotel. Four-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy shot the film with his customary flair.
Their eyes first meet across the table of a dinner party, and in true Hollywood fashion, they’re dancing moments later to the strains of “Blue Moon” under the moonlight. Both actors do their best with the dialogue (Graham: “I don’t seem to be able to breathe properly when I’m with you!”) but both real-life figures’ darker sides are only hinted at. Peck evinces low-key charm and likeability even when the film finally addresses his alcoholism and shambles of a career, while Kerr’ s innate class and natural poise is somewhat at odds with Graham’s origins as a poor child of the London slums and one-time showgirl. (Based on Graham’s own memoir, the movie of course doesn’t address the persistent belief that the columnist was an opportunist and/or a gold digger. She certainly did mine her relationship with Fitzgerald for much of the rest of her own long life, penning more books about their time together.) There’s a sense of both Kerr and Peck holding back, although neither overplay even the most melodramatic sequences. Peck conveys the faded Fitzgerald’s despair with nuance, as he both attacks and desperately clings to his beloved “Shiel-o.” Both actors are at their finest during the climactic scenes of confrontation which provide Beloved Infidel with its only flashes of intensity. Kerr’s Graham is believably wounded watching Peck’s Scott defeated by his own inner turmoil and torture, particularly in the tragic final scenes set at Christmastime.
The image used for Twilight Time’s 1080p, 2:35:1 Blu-ray transfer is generally detailed and sharp, though colors appear faded from time to time and it’s hard to ignore the occasional signs of wear and tear on the print. Audio quality is solid in a fairly standard 4.0 mix. English SDH subtitles are also included. As per Twilight Time’s norm, the musical score is presented as an isolated score track, and the 2.0 stereo presentation of Franz Waxman’s lush work is impressive. Perhaps expectedly, Waxman supplies a melodramatic score, with swelling strings and boldly romantic themes. The style was old-fashioned even in 1958, but the masterful Waxman doesn’t disappoint in accompanying the doomed love affair at the film’s center. Less successful is the rather awkward title song which ends Beloved Infidel. Despite their best efforts, Waxman and lyricist Paul Francis Webster (“Secret Love,” “The Shadow of Your Smile”) couldn’t produce a standard this time out. Other than the isolated score track, the only extra present on Twilight Time’s limited-edition BD is the original theatrical trailer. A documentary or featurette shedding light on the reality of Fitzgerald’s time in Hollywood would have been a most welcome extra, but Julie Kirgo, as always, provides excellent liner notes in the booklet which also accompanies the release.
Beloved Infidel, an A-list version of a B-movie melodrama, will likely never be recognized as a lost classic. But it’s a perfect candidate nonetheless for Twilight Time’s esteemed series of musical score-centric Blu-ray releases, and this edition is likely the best the movie will receive in the format.
– Joe Marchese