Adapted from a memoir by entertainment journalist Sheilah Graham, the 1959 CinemaScope production Beloved Infidel—at a glance—would seem to have a lot going for it. Graham (portrayed here by Deborah Kerr) was famous for her romantic involvement with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck). The film, directed by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences co-founder Henry King, tells the tale of Fitzgerald’s final, alcohol-ravaged years.
Unfortunately, the biopic—overlong at 123 minutes—suffers from a serious case of inertia. In a way, the glacial pacing suits this period in Fitzgerald’s career. Striking out as a Hollywood screenwriter, the writer’s creativity is stuck in the doldrums. Graham, once she starts writing a gossip column, provides a bright spot in his life after catching his eye at a dinner party. They appear to make each other happy, embarking on a passionate affair (Fitzgerald’s wife was institutionalized due to mental illness).
As a character study, Infidel doesn’t really do justice to either of its main characters. In fact, Sy Bartlett’s screenplay doesn’t seem to know whether it’s telling Graham’s story or Fitzgerald’s. The first act would lead us to believe it’s the former, as we learn about her supposedly upper crust background. Later, on the beach with Fitzgerald, we finally hear the truth. Rather than inspiring sympathy, her web of lies reveals an air of superficiality. Kerr’s melodramatic performance doesn’t help. Peck remains almost uncomfortably apathetic until the final act, at which point he allows some personality to poke through the blank façade.
In fact, Peck really comes alive as Fitzgerald’s demons begin to overcome him. Graham arrives home one night to find Fitzgerald has taken in a couple of vagrants. A bitter fight ensues as she demands that the strange men vacate the house. In these moments, a considerable amount of power and emotion is injected into the otherwise flat drama. A little more of this tumult might’ve gone a long way. As it stands, prepare to steadily check the “time remaining” function on your player as the film walks very deliberately toward its ultimately tragic conclusion.
Beloved Infidel looks good on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray, if a bit drab overall. I can’t say whether the subdued color palette is inherent in Leon Shamroy’s cinematography, a result of the source print’s condition, or simply part of the transfer itself. Regardless, it is a clean and sharp image throughout. Detail is suitable, for the most part, though the slightly heavy (though consistent) layer of film grain keeps it from being striking.
The 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix offers clean, distortion-free dialogue. It’s the Franz Waxman score that really benefits from the multi-channel presentation. In fact, the music inhabits the rear channels almost a little too aggressively—some orchestral swells sent me reaching for the volume control. But that’s hardly a criticism. The uncomplicated sound design is well represented. The Waxman score is available as an isolated 2.0 DTS-HD MA track as well.
The boutique label Twilight Time releases their Blu-rays as true limited editions. Beloved Infidel is no exception. When the 3,000 copies initially pressed have sold out, the title will no longer be available. Twilight Time’s releases are available exclusively through their distributor, Screen Archives. Though this is not an easy film to feel strongly about, devotees of old Hollywood—as well as fans of Peck or Fitzgerald (or both)—should find something of interest. As usual with Twilight Time releases, Julie Kirgo’s informative liner notes essay examines the film intelligently and helps give it historical context.