“They had 30 days to teach their hearts to behave…”

Burma, 1945: the Pacific War is over, but five sick and wounded soldiers are forced to stay behind to finish their recovery in a makeshift jungle hospital. They are a New Zealander, a Basuto African, an Australian, a Brit, and an American (Reagan) who have become close friends in spite of their (highly stereotyped) cultural differences. Everything goes south when a bad-tempered Scotsman is admitted to the ward; but even though they don’t like him much, the men decide to adopt him as their friend when they learn that he only has weeks to live.

The Hasty Heart by Vincent Sherman (USA, 1949, 102 min.).

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The Hasty Heart is ostensibly a film about cultural tolerance, and Yank’s deep-seated aversion to the Scots could stand in for any number of more violent bigotries in American society. But the heavy issue is handled with a surprisingly light touch; Yank’s prejudice against Lachie feels more like a child’s dislike for vegetables than the hatred of a full-grown bigot. With their little cots all in a row, the soldiers might as well be in a nursery rather than an army hospital. They tease each other with childlike affection, and the lesson in kindness they learn from their maternal nurse is one that children are taught early in school.

Unfortunately, while the film aims to teach tolerance it does not do much to overturn cultural stereotypes. Its worst offense is the construction of the African character Blossom, a racist caricature whose purpose in the film is to show that the other men are kind-hearted for accepting him into their club. Nevertheless, The Hasty Heart is worth watching for its unusual handling of a loaded issue, as well as a very strong performance from Richard Todd, who plays the prickly Scot. The film won the Golden Globe for “Best Film Promoting Cultural Understanding.”