Satan Never Sleeps

Satan Never Sleeps (also known as The Devil Never Sleeps) is a 1962 American film directed by Leo McCarey, his final film, in which he returns to the religious themes of his classics Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). It also is the final screen appearance of actor Clifton Webb.

Satan Never Sleeps
DVD Cover
Directed byLeo McCarey
Produced byLeo McCarey
Screenplay byClaude Binyon
Story byPearl S. Buck
StarringWilliam Holden
Clifton Webb
France Nuyen
Athene Seyler
Martin Benson
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byGordon Pilkington
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • March 23, 1962 (1962-03-23) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited States

It is about a priest, Father O'Banion (William Holden), who arrives at a mission-post in China accompanied by a young native girl, Siu Lan (France Nuyen), who has joined him along the way. His job is to relieve the incumbent priest Father Bovard (Webb), who is now too old and weak to continue with the upkeep of the church. However, Mao's 1949 Communist soldiers, who arrive at the mission before Bovard can depart, seize it as a command post. Their leader, Ho San (Weaver Lee), rapes the girl and impregnates her, but later abandons his political beliefs. In the end, the four flee to the border, but are pursued by Communist forces along the way.[2]


In 1949, Catholic priests O'Banion (Holden) and Bovard (Webb) are constantly harassed by the Communist People's Party at their remote mission outpost in China. Adding to Father O'Banion's troubles is the mission's cook, Siu Lan (France Nuyen), an attractive Chinese girl who makes no secret of her love for him.

Under the leadership of Ho San (Weaver Levy, the Communists wreck the mission dispensary and desecrate the chapel. Ho San straps O'Banion to a chair and rapes Siu Lan; later, when she gives birth to a son, Ho San displays paternal pride, but refuses to stop persecuting the priests.

Only after the villagers revolt and his superiors order the killing of all Christians, including his parents, does Ho San become convinced that Communism will never solve China's problems. He decides to smuggle Siu Lan, his son, and the two priests out of the compound, but their journey is halted within a few miles of freedom by a helicopter sent to prevent Ho San's defection. Before he can be restrained, the aged Father Bovard dons Ho San's military cap and coat and drives away in the colonel's car. He dies in a spray of bullets from the helicopter, but his sacrifice enables the others to escape. Later, at mission headquarters in Hong Kong, O'Banion officiates at the wedding of Siu Lan and Ho San and baptizes their child.[3]



The film was based on an original screenplay by Pearl S. Buck called China Story which had been sold to 20th Century Fox; her novel, Satan Never Sleeps, came out in 1962. In 1950, Hal B. Wallis acquired it; then in 1960, it came to Leo McCarey. Father O'Banion was meant to die at the end, but William Holden refused, so the ending was changed. The movie was shot in England and Wales.[5]


  1. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p. 253
  2. Bosley Crowther: Satan Never Sleeps (1962). The New York Times February 22, 1962.
  3. Overview for Satan Never Sleeps (1962) Turner Classic Movies.
  4. John Howard Reid (January 2006). Cinemascope 3: Hollywood Takes the Plunge. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-4116-7188-1. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  5. Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 195-200
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