Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1963. Otto Preminger Films. Screenplay by Robert Dozier, based on the novel by Henry Morton Robinson. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy. Produced by Otto Preminger. Music by Jerome Moross. Production Design by Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Donald Brooks. Film Editing by Louis R. Loeffler. Academy Awards 1963. Golden Globe Awards 1963. National Board of Review Awards 1963.
Otto Preminger exposed the complicated morality of American politics in 1962’s Advise And Consent, then bit off an even bigger piece to chew the following year with this sobering look at the world of organized religion. Tom Tryon is excellent as a Catholic priest from New York who rises to the ranks of Cardinal through many hard trials. He lives in Massachusetts at a severely poor parish with an ailing elder priest (Burgess Meredith), then helps fight for civil rights in Georgia with Ossie Davis, then later speaks out against Nazism to the deaf ears of a bishop who believes that the party is a good thing for Austria and learns the truth the hard way. What makes Tryon’s life toward success such a challenge, however, is what keeps this episodic drama from getting too far out of control: Tryon is fighting at every step to find a balance between his duty and his humanity, paying the price for applying the cold hard laws of the Catholic church without tempering his decisions against his emotional needs. Rather than being a scandalous expose of the church and its corruptions, Preminger wisely makes it a story about human conflict, yet still focuses much criticism on the excesses of the ecclesiastical institution enough to satisfy members looking for that. Romy Schneider appears as the film’s biggest threat, a love interest who adds the strongest tinges of soap opera to the plot but never fully pushes it into melodrama, while the rest of the entire cast is terrific: Dorothy Gish, Carol Lynley, Maggie McNamara (in her last film role before her very untimely death), Cecil Kellaway and a scene stealing John Huston as Tryon’s hot-blooded, big-mouthed mentor (Huston received his only Academy Award nomination for acting for some very memorable work here). The costumes and sets are gorgeous, and it’s another dramatic triumph, if a sometimes uneven one, for Preminger.