SATAN NEVER SLEEPS left a trail of ruin in its 1962 wake. Demolished by critics, discarded by its makers, it pulled only half its $2,900,000 cost back from audiences. Veteran director Leo McCarey, who co-wrote the painful script with Claude Binyon, called it quits after this, ending forty-one years in the business (in fact he bailed out while on the picture itself, five days before it finished). Co-star Clifton Webb signed off as well, looking worn at 72 (he passed away four years later), and William Holden pretty much started a slide here into the role-doldrums that wouldn’t break until he led The Wild Bunch, in the different-attitude world of 1969.
Working off a Pearl Buck story, McCarey —sentimental, gently comic, devoutly Catholic and ardently anti-Communist— attempted to graft several of his previous themes into one sticky package and gummed up the lot. A pair of priests (recalling his smashes Going My Way and The Bells Of St.Mary’s ), collide with Mao’s revolutionary China (the director’s 1952 My Son John was one of the classic Red paranoia goonouts) and the dramatic elements are mixed with Ladies Home Garden whimsy. McCarey’s comedic skill went back to ‘discovering’ Laurel & Hardy, steering the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and deftly managing the likes of W.C.Fields and Cary Grant, but mixed in here, it flops like a gasping fish, with an especially awful wrap-up.
Webb does best, Holden is miscast to start with, while France Nuyen acts as thankless decoration,there to yearningly beam at Holden and be ravished by thuggish Commie officer Weaver Lee. Martin Benson plays an evil Russian. The 22-year-old, French-Vietnamese Nuyen had originally been set to play opposite Holden two years earlier in The World Of Suzie Wong, but her personal problems (another of Brando’s playthings) interfered and luminous Nancy Kwan got her big break in what would be Holden’s last box-office hit until he worked his personal demons to advantage for Sam Peckinpah in a suitably kamikaze shootout at decades end.
Filmed in Wales, on locations and in sets used four years before for Ingrid Bergman’s flee-China epic, The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness. 125 minutes.