The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)

I watched The Keys of the Kingdom back in August and then got sick (the flu followed by pneumonia) and busy (trying to publish rather than perish at my day job) and never got around to posting a review. (That’s my excuse, what about all you other Year of the Priest reviewers out there?) Without giving the film another viewing, I’ll offer up my shame and a few fragmentary comments.

Gregory Peck made his screen debut in the film as Fr. Francis Chisolm. I couldn’t help but think of Binx Bolling’s reference to Peck in The Moviegoer. Binx’s initial strategy in seducing his secretary is to maintain a “Gregory Peckish sort of distance.” Later he describes himself as “Gregory grim.”

(This has nothing to do with the movie at hand, but when we’re done with this Year of the Priest cinematic celebration, maybe our next film festival should revolve around films that are mentioned in The Moviegoer. In fact, one of Korrektiv’s many Walter Mitty projects ought to be–and therefore is, since we’re not talking about reality here–to open an art house theater called The Moviegoer in historic downtown Moses Lake.)

The main storyline is framed by a scene in which the elderly Fr. Chisolm has been called back from his Chinese mission and is being investigated for “unorthodox views” (which are never specified).

Not much specifically Catholic or theological content. I read somewhere (one of those “external reviews” links on IMDB) that the screenplay was written by an atheist and that the author of the novel on which the film is based may have been more atheist than Catholic as well. (Speaking of atheists, check out Lickona’s recent piece.) The focus of the movie, at any rate, is on the humanity of the priest. Peck’s Fr. Chisolm embodies an admirable combination of meekness and strength. Christ’s admonition to be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent comes to mind. That clip from Kung Fu comes to mind.

But Fr. Chisolm is a bit harsh in his criticism of “rice Christians” and his refusal to accept the conversion of the high ranking official whose son he saved with some rudimentary Western style medicine.

Vincent Price appears as a smarmy monsignor who later becomes a bishop — and initiates the investigation of Fr. Chisolm. The investigator sent by the bishop reads Fr. Chisolm’s journal and is convinced he is a good and holy priest.

The long timespan covered by the film–with Peck portraying Chisolm from the age of about 20 to maybe 70–is believable. Peck earned an oscar nomination for the role.

Overall, the film was OK. Peck was great and his greatness infused the possible greatness of Fr. Chisolm, forcing me to give the film a higher priest factor rating than might have otherwise been the case.

Overall grade: B-
Priest factor: B+

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest]


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Peck had gravitas. Something Dan Quayle never had.

  2. Rufus McCain says

    That was uncalled for.

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