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The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter(1954)

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teaser The Heart of the Matter (1954)

Of all the movies he appeared in, The Heart of the Matter(1954) was one of Trevor Howard's personal favorites. Shot partially on location in Sierra Leone, it's based on a dark story by Graham Greene, who, of course, was the writer behind The Third Man (1949), which was directed by Carol Reed and also features a stellar Howard performance.

Howard plays Harry Scobie, the straight-arrow deputy police commissioner of Sierra Leone. Harry's wife, Louise (Elizabeth Allan), is a decent woman who's been beaten down by life in on the Coast of Africa, and by the death of the couple's son. Although Harry is a deeply introspective man who seriously tries to abide by his Catholic faith, he finds himself falling in love with an Austrian war refugee (Maria Schell). But everyone in this film seems susceptible to sin and temptation which keeps the local priest (a very young Peter Finch) on his toes. This solemn, heart-wrenching movie is exactly the type of grown-up entertainment that's sadly lacking in modern Hollywood. It's a quietly devastating piece of work.

The Heart of the Matter enjoyed a fairly disturbance-free shoot. The only real uproar came when director George More O'Ferrall told Greene that he was unhappy with a particular scene in which Finch's priest doesn't attempt to give Scobie absolution. Since Greene agreed with O'Ferrall's assessment of the scene, the director assumed Greene wouldn't care if he re-wrote it. With this in mind, O'Ferrall, Howard, and Finch enlisted the help of a Jesuit theologian and got down to work. However, when Greene saw what they had done, he rejected their rewrite, and the matter was simply dropped.

Even though The Heart of the Matter was one of Finch's first motion pictures, he was already well-known in the film industry for his ability to drink most of his cohorts under the table. During filming, news stories started to appear about Finch and Howard carousing late into the night, and no one had any reason to doubt it. But the reality was that the two actors saw very little of each other off the set.

As the years went on, Howard grew weary of being known for hard-partying, and insisted that those stories, when related to him, were often blown out of proportion. At one point, he told Terence Pettigrew, "I don't raise hell, old boy. I prefer to creep off into a corner and talk to no one. But it's true I do enjoy myself. Possibly more than the average chap. That's to be expected after a hard film." Several of Howard's friends, however, recall how loud he could be when he had even a little bit to drink. So his noise level may have created the illusion that he was really putting it away. He may have been "off into a corner," but he wasn't afraid to let people know he was there.

Director: George More O'Ferrall
Producer: Ian Dalrymple
Screenplay: Ian Dalrymple. Lesley Storm (based on the novel by Graham Greene)
Editor: Sidney Stone
Cinematographer: Jack Hildyard
Music: Edric Connor
Production Design: Joseph Bato
Costume Design: Julia Squire
Cast: Trevor Howard (Harry Scobie), Elizabeth Allan (Louise Scobie), Maria Schell (Helen Rolt), Denholm Elliott (Wilson), Peter Finch (Father Rank), Gerard Oury (Yusef), George Coulouris (Portuguese Captain), Earl Cameron (Ali), Michael Hordern (Commissioner).

by Paul Tatara

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