Joe Lampton thought he had really made it by marrying the boss's daughter in his northern mill town. But he finds he is being sidelined at work and his private life manipulated by his ... See full summary »
Charles Byrd, known as "Chick", has spent his adult life acting in small repertory companies all over the UK, and he's never had much luck. All too aware that he's no longer young, Chick makes one last stab at finding success in London.
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Major Scobie is a British official in an African colony during WWII. Both he and his wife are devout Catholics, and thoroughly unhappy. When he starts an affair with a young girl and then breaks the law to hide it, he's consumed by guilt.
Adapted from one of Graham Greene's "Big 4" "Catholic novels", The Heart of the Matter is notable for its excellent production standards. In an example of literacy audiences differing from those of the cinema, the film is generally accepted as being a commercial failure, I would suggest due to its rather bleak and depressing storyline.
The acting is first class with Trevor Howard excelling as Scobie, the principled expatriate Catholic police officer serving in Sierra Leone. Enmeshed in a loveless marriage with an adulterous wife, he still attempts to do the right thing by all parties, including his wife's smarmy lover Wilson (a fine young Denholm Elliot), as well as do his job professionally, though aware he is to be passed over for promotion for a younger officer. Both his faith and desires however are tested mightily after meeting the young refugee Helen.
The black and white cinematography shot by the great Jack Hildyard on location in Sierra Leone is superb, as is the indigenous, largely percussive soundtrack.
The storyline does parallel much of Greene's life, as he served in Sierra Leone during World War 2, not for the police, but the nascent MI6. The self-confessed "Catholic agnostic", in creating the character of Harry Scobie, forms a template mirroring his own inner torments and depressions, whilst trying to adjust his life to established institutions such as lasting marriage to one person and living one's life according to Catholic doctrines.
Though quite a literal and respectable adaption from Greene's book, this is also arguably the root reason for the film's failure to win much of an audience, apart from those with a fair awareness and interest in Catholicism. Unlike some of Greene's other work embracing aspects of espionage mystery and suspense, this film pretty much eschews any thought of embellishing the story with a police procedural. It serves almost solely as a psychological examination of Scobie's inner demons and challenges. Both the narrative and its conclusion can best be described as unrelentingly harsh and cheerless.
Unsurprisingly, as such, it was never a film likely to gather a large audience, despite its its many production virtues.
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