It’s 2:00 am and again I can’t sleep. So I happened upon a movie on Turner Classic Movies called “The Left Hand of God” starting Humphrey Bogart. Bogart plays an American pilot flying supplies in China who, after surviving a plane crash ends up impersonating a priest. It started me thinking about the portrayal of priests in the movies. I’m always looking for movies we can watch that portray priests in a positive light. Here is my list of favorite celluloid priests, in no particular order.
Gregory Peck as Msgr Hugh O’Flaherty in “The Scarlet and the Black.” This 1983 made-for-TV movie told the story of a real-life Irish priest who saved the lives of approximately 6500 Allies and Jews during World War II. Gregory Peck has been a favorite of mine since I saw “To Kill A Mockingbird” back in the 70s (when it was frequently on television). He brings the same typical Peck qualities to the role of the Monseigneur. You never forget you’re watching Gregory Peck but that’s a good thing.
Tom Conti as Pope Leo in “Saving Grace.” Conti finds himself locked out of the Vatican and ends up traveling in cognito to a small village where he helps a poor community reignite their community spirit. Conti is a quietly convincing man of God.
Montgomery Cliff in “I Confess”. I love Hitchcock movies, with the exception of “Family Plot.” This movie tells the story of a priest accused of murder, a murder committed by the parish caretaker. The caretaker has confessed his role to Fr. Logan (Cliff) and when the priest falls under suspicion for the crime he is unable to break the seal of the confession nor provide an alibi.
Of course, I love Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in “The Exorcist.” Fr. Karras is the world weary, intellectual Jesuit psychiatrist who is questioning his faith while Fr. Merrin is the physically weary priest who has battle demons before. I’ve had both my children watch this movie. Each when they were about 13-14. Having seen the movie myself 3-4 times I’m able to mute the really, really bad language, but I think it’s a movie that all Catholics should see. It scared the daylights out of both of them, which I think is really a good thing. I want them to see how playing with fire (the Ouija board in this instance) can really burn you. I want them to see priests as imperfect men who can question their faith and still serve the Lord. I like to remind the boys, “when evil shows up, who gets called? Not the Baptist minister, not the Rabbi, the Catholic priest, that’s who..the only one who can battle demons.”
Tom Tyron as Fr. Stephen Fermoyle in “The Cardinal.” This character is based on Francis Cardinal Spellman and, as an interesting aside, the Vatican liaison to this movie was Joseph Ratzinger. Fr. Fermoyle faces multiple moral dilemmas during his rise up the church hierarchy. Filmed in 1963 the script touches on several hot topics including abortion and premarital sex.
Anthony Quinn as Pope Kiril in “The Shoes of the Fisherman.” I like Anthony Quinn and I confess (ha! I made a joke) that he physically looks the way I want a Pope to look: wise, kind, grandfatherly. Filmed in 1968, the film concerns itself with relations between Russia, China and the West.
Finally, Ed Harris as Fr. Frank Shore in “The Third Miracle.” I love Ed Harris and he is completely believable in this movie about a priest known as “the Miracle Killer” for his ability to debunk miracles as part of his job investigating cases up for canonization. Of course, I’m not in favor of the “romance” that is cooked up between the priest and a young woman. As one reviewer stated, “will Fr. Shore remain celibate?” I still enjoy Ed Harris’ performance and I think the story is pretty gripping.
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