Satan Never Sleeps (1962): Leo McCarey’s Final Film, Starring William Holden and Clifton Webb

Satan Never Sleeps (aka The Devil Never Sleeps) marks the final screen work of two major talents, Oscar-winning director Leo McCarey and Oscar -nominated actor Clifton Webb.

Though it deals with religious issues, this drama bears little similarity to McCarey’ Oscar-winning comedies, Going My Way (1944) and its unofficial sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945).

The film is based on original script by Pearl S. Buck, China Story, which producer Hal B. Wallis acquired for the screen.

William Holden plays Father O’Banion, a priest at a mission-post in China, with a native girl, Siu Lan (France Nuyen), who had joined him and is in love with him. O’Banion is about to take over the position of Father Bovard (Webb), who is too old and weak for the tasks required.

However, Mao’s 1949 Communist soldiers seize the mission before Bovard can depart.  Catholic priests O’Banion and Bovard are harassed by the Communist People’s Party at their remote mission outpost in China, circa 1949.

Led by Ho San (Weaver Lee), the Communists wreck the mission and desecrate the chapel. Ho San then rapes Siu Lan, who later gives birth to a son.

When his superiors order to kills all the Christians, including his parents, Ho San stops believing in Communism. He decides to smuggle Siu Lan, his son, and the two priests out of the compound, but their journey is halted.  Father Bovard dons Ho San’s military uniform and drives away in the colonel’s car, and his sacrificial death enables the others to escape.

At a mission in Hong Kong, O’Banion officiates the wedding of Siu Lan and Ho San and baptizes their child.

In the original script, Father O’Banion dies in the end, but Holden, then a powerful star, resisted the idea, and so the ending was changed despite McCarey’s protest.


William Holden as Father O’Banion

Clifton Webb as Father Bovard

France Nuyen as Siu Lan

Athene Seyler as Sister Agness

Martin Benson as Kuznietsky

Edith Sharpe as Sister Theresa

Robert Lee as Chung Ren

Marie Yang as Ho San’s mother

Andy Ho as Ho San’s father

Burt Kwouk as Ah Wang

Weaver Lee as Ho San