Check out the animated show Bat out of Hell on YouTube!

I’d Be Happy to Know I Was the Only One Who Missed This…

shotRemember_E_orcist03 jpg

From FOK Nick Ripatrizone

In related other belated news, the man behind the swiveling heads and green projectile liquids finds out if he was right all along…

ADDED: Well, now, this is something (else!).

The First Word on Silence . . .

. . . which is to say the novel, Chinmoku, will always belong to Endo. After reading Mark Lickona’s article I had a few questions, so I went back to my well-worn copy of the book and read a couple of paragraphs from an interview with the author in 1967 (the year after Silence was published). The first should seem familiar to readers of Korrektiv—or anybody’s inner existentialist. With a Japanese twist:

For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood . . . has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility.

Say what? “Without the support of a Christian tradition or history …” How is that possible? What does that even mean?

Good thing there’s another paragraph:

But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony … If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan’s mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is—that is what I want to find out.

I’m really not sure what to make of the first paragraph, so please, if you can, enlighten me with your comments below. But the second paragraph I rather like, and not just because he uses music as a metaphor. What I find stirring is the resolution he exhibits as he looks ahead to the next thirty years of his career. And even more than that, perhaps, is his ready admittance that he isn’t exactly sure what he makes of the predicament in which he finds himself.

And since Scorsese’s version has fallen upon awfully rocky ground in these parts, I’ll provide a link here to a 1971 Japanese version, directed by Masahiro Shinoda from a screenplay by Endo himself with the director. It differs from the novel in several ways, but I won’t give the game away here.

Last of all, here’s a look at the author himself, shilling for something called the “Bungo Mini”. And coffee:

Yeah, I know…

going-my-way

It’s a downright radical (or reactionary) publication (for the sake of complete transparency, I have a lifetime subscription), but this pre-Vat. II take on the flim-flam of films is, I think, right on. It was, after all, written by a member of the “greatest generation” – how could it be wrong?

“[P]erhaps you like the ‘progressive’ type priest better than the more old-fashioned kind. But don’t you see, even the old doddering padre, the one who’s made to appear as a typical ‘traditionalist’ or ‘conservative’ in the ranks of the Catholic clergy, is a far cry from what I would call a real Catholic priest. Because to all appearances he values his parish mainly in terms of a church building which it has taken him a lifetime collection drive to build. True, he doesn’t only take in money via raffle tickets and church pew collections, but in a kind of Robin Hood way he also pays back an occasional alms to the parish needy. Then, in moments of financial parish crisis, when the mortgagor’s handwriting appears in bold letters on the wall—the old padre seeks to revive his inner faith by an admittedly human, but hardly a very priestly way: he reaches dodderingly for his favorite bottle of scotch!”

I think of Spotlight winning this year’s onanist Oscar and can’t help but think that if the late and venerable Mr. Matt is right, he’s more right than he thinks…

Thank God for J.F. Powers…

 

Cinematic Sacerdotes

Steven D. Greydanus is compiling a list of priest movies

HERE.

Thanks for doing our work for us, SDG!

The Jewish Cardinal

The-Jewish-Cardinal-0001.showcase_3Oh, look – a film in which religion is taken seriously. In particular, the way that religion influences a person’s identity, and the way experience influences religion. It’s full of the kind of ecumenical politicking that gives JOB gallstones, but other than that, it’s outstanding Catholic Family Viewing. Very fine performances, especially Aurelien Recoing as John Paul II.

The Next Is Silence

Deadline Hollywood‘s Mike Fleming, Jr. has the scoop:

Martin Scorsese will finally realize his long-held dream to direct Silence, an adaptation of the Shusaku Endo novel about 17th century Jesuits who risk their lives to bring Christianity to Japan. Financing for the film has been secured […]. The plan is to shoot in Taiwan in July 2014 […].

When I interviewed Scorsese for Hugo during our awards season coverage two years ago, I asked him about why his passion for Silence has never waned. Here is what he said:

DEADLINE: You’ve tried to adapt the Shusaku Endo novel Silence, about 17th century Jesuits who risk their lives to bring Christianity to Japan. It isn’t commercial, it has been hard to finance, but it looks like you’ll finally get your chance to make it. Why has it been so important to you?

SCORSESE: My initial interests in life were very strongly formed by what I took seriously at that time, and 45-50 years ago I was steeped in the Roman Catholic religion. As you get older, ideas go and come. Questions, answers, loss of the answer again and more questions, and this is what really interests me. […]

DEADLINE: We Catholics are always struggling for answers.

SCORSESE: There are no answers. We all know that.* You try to live in the grace that you can. But there are no answers, but the point is, you keep looking. […]

Roger Ebert and the Catholic Church

Catholic film critic Steven Greydanaus has written a fine essay and appreciation of Roger Ebert.

Ebert: “I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God.”

More here: How I Believe in Roger Ebert

We’re a nation of puss cakes…

Walt knows it.

Do you?

 

In light of Cubeland Mystic’s suggestion that we go back to the desert…

…here (again?) is my proposal for THE CLOISTER.  Think Duvall as the Rector, Malkovich as Tomaso, Kenneth Branagh as McManus.

The “one-strike” policy drafted by the U.S. bishops at their meeting in Dallas has become policy – all cases of sexual abuse by priests are now to be reported to the police.  The police and the courts, for their part, pursue these cases with vigor, and priests begin ending up behind bars.

Once there, they are treated very poorly – even by other sex-offenders.  They are at the very bottom of the prison’s social order, and more than one jailed priest ends up dead.  Nobody is especially upset by this – there is a general sense of justice being served, since the offenders went unpunished for so long.

The protagonist, Father McManus, is a priest in his late-30s who has sought to “hide” in the priesthood.  (As part of a class that never marries, he will never have to resolve any questions he might have about his own sexual leanings, which tend toward other men.)  Though promiscuous in his youth, he has taken his vow of celibacy seriously, and has sought to remain chaste as he serves as pastor in a SoCal parish.  But when a young Hispanic prostitute who has come seeking refuge offers himself in gratitude, the temptation proves too great.  Of course, McManus is caught – he’s one of those people who never gets away with anything – and soon finds himself before the bishop.

The bishop informs him that because there are no outraged parents involved, and because the prostitute is not interested in pressing charges, there may be a way to avoid prison and its attendant evils:  The Cloister.  The Cloister is a monastery in the California desert, long abandoned by the order that built it.  It is not officially inhabited – there is no power to the building, no water, no mail, nothing to place it within the grid.  But the diocese still owns the land, which it quietly acquired from the original order when it disbanded.

Since the adoption of the one-strike policy, the monastery has begun to serve a new purpose:  as an intra-Church correctional facility for sexually-abusive priests.  The bishop, reluctant to send his charges into the prison environment, has begun sending priests there whenever he can prevail upon parents/victims to permit it.  Parents/victims, while not told about The Cloister itself, are given every assurance that the offending priest will not be “shuffled” – sent to simply carry on being bad somewhere else.  Rather, they will be subjected to the Church’s own form of incarceration and rehabilitation – and kept isolated from underage youth – for a minimum of five years.  (If they slip back into their old ways after that, they are duly reported to the police.)

The cloister is run by a throwback – some would say medieval – rector:  a Jesuit who has been allowed by his now-liberal order to go where he pleases, as long as he stays out of their hair.  He is old-school, a big believer in penance, prayer and fasting, a disciplinarian who sees obedience as the first virtue for creatures under God and under him.  He is a tough old bird – he seems to enjoy his repudiation of “niceness” a little too much, and he is stubborn and hot-tempered – but he is not a monster.  He sincerely believes in what he is doing – attempting to get priests to master themselves so as to be better servants of God – and wills the good for those in his care.

Nor is he a hypocrite when he rages against The World, The Flesh and The Devil.  He punishes his flesh in an attempt to curb his temper.  He does not require the inmates to join him for 2 a.m. rosary in the chapel, but he is there every night.  And when a grateful bishop sends him a bottle of good Burgundy, he hesitates only a moment before sending it to the kitchen to be used as cooking wine.  (As for the inevitable charge that he preaches to sexual predators because he himself is sexually repressed, it will go unanswered here.)

The rector’s power comes from the fact that only he can determine that a priest is fit to leave The Cloister.  He is served by a cadre of monks – they wear black robes, as opposed to the gray robes of the inmates – who serve as a sort of prison guard, keeping an eye on things, making sure the life of The Cloister proceeds as it should.

Naturally, his strict discipline and emphasis on striving for old-fashioned holiness make him enemies among the inmates, particularly Father Tomaso, an intelligent old priest who was the rector’s classmate at seminary.  Tomaso’s faith has shriveled; he is a hardened predator who has no hope of ever leaving – he came only to avoid prison.  Another priest, Father Boudreaux, is one of a group that sees celibacy as outdated and damaging, part of an overall failure of the Church to deal properly with sexual matters.  They know they have sinned, but they see themselves as victims of a backwards institution.  They see the rector as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the Church today, the biggest impediment to its being a true messenger of Christ’s love.  Boudreaux and his friends see themselves as banding together to become a force for change when they get out.

McManus, on the other hand, resents the rector the way a child resents the parent who disciplines him.  He believes the parent is right, but he feels shame at being corrected, and so resents the one doing the correcting.  He is also attracted to the rector (called ‘ the rectum’ by more than one inmate) because the rector is a forceful, confident personality who seems to know something.

One day, waiting in line for mandatory weekly confessions and late for kitchen duty, McManus notices that the line for the rector’s box is all but empty.  When he asks why, his question is met with knowing chuckles.  Unwilling to be cowed, he steps into the box and begins his confession, only to be interrupted by the rector, who lays out the sins of McManus’ life for him.  (It is the rector’s gift to be able to read the souls of other men when they come to him in the confessional.)

The story would spend some time documenting the life of a monastery/prison functioning without any modern amenities, and illustrating the tension between ruler and ruled.  A clipboard hangs next to the bus delivery platform (the bus arrives with necessities once a week); anyone who wishes to leave and face the authorities is free to sign up.  The various factions would be introduced, along with the Cloister policy on sexual congress:  anyone caught having sex spends a week in the caves in the surrounding desert.  (“Nothing between you and God out there except your own ugly self,” comments the rector.)  Basic needs are provided for, and one of the brother-guards visits regularly, but it’s still a harsh experience.

Things begin to go sour when a frail young offender – a weak man like McManus – enters the Cloister. Tomaso immediately seduces him, the two are caught, and both are sent to the caves.  But the frail young man is found dead after only two days – snakebite.  Tomaso seizes the opportunity to foment rebellion against the rector, whose hard policy is surely in some way to blame for the man’s death.

The rector, unnerved by the event, begins to falter, and eventually collapses at Mass.  He leaves McManus – who has become something of a disciple – in charge while he is taken to the hospital to recover.  Once the rector is away, the rebellion gains force.  McManus resists, but eventually wavers out of fear and uncertainty.  By the time the rector returns, there is open revolt:  howls during the consecration at Mass, subtly defaced icons, the meat locker raided on Friday, etc.  Fido, the rector’s dog, is found slaughtered.  None of the rebels seem to care that the rector will never let any of them go – because plans are afoot to eliminate the rector altogether.  (Church officials would have a hard time opening the investigation to the public eye, since The Cloister isn’t supposed to exist.)  Again, McManus wavers, and tries to warn the rector during confession, but the rector will not acknowledge him.  (He knows what is coming – he can read McManus’ sin of intent – but he is ready to let it come because he feels it will expiate for the death of the novice.)

In the end, McManus steps in to thwart the attempt on the rector’s life, draining a consecrated (and poisoned) chalice at Mass before the rector can drink it.  He collapses on the altar, and the rector, after closing McManus’ eyes and saying a prayer, continues with the Mass.  The scene ends with the rector staring out at the congregation and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are we who are called to his supper.  Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

 

Act I:  Introduction to McManus, his fall and introduction to the Cloister

Act II:  Introduction to the life of the Cloister, the factions, and the rector, culminating in the death of the novice.

Act III:  The rebellion, McManus desertion of the rector and subsequent repentance, culminating in his death on the altar.

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)


“You don’t know what it’s like to be up to your neck in nuns.” That’s what the housekeeper says to Fr. O’Malley (Bing Crosby) upon his arrival at St. Mary’s. The priest Fr. O’Malley is replacing has been sent away to some unspecified treatment center or home for addled priests or some such. But Fr. O’Malley does just fine, of course, because he is in reality a smooth, suave, golden-throated singer from Spokane, Washington, with more than a few man-of-the-world style tricks up his priestly sleeves. Ingrid Bergman as Sister Benedict is positioned as Fr. O’Malley’s ostensible nun-nemesis, but the two of them generate such a warm glow that all the rest of the movie has to do is meander around them and bask, which it does in pretty fine fashion. The ostensible Mr. Potter-like villain of the movie is played by the same actor who would, the following year, appear as the angel Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life, and that just about says it all. Everything is wonderful here. The villains are actually angels, and the problems are actually just occasions to sit down at the piano and knock out a little tune while doing good and being tricky in the service of the good. And then there are the nuggets of wisdom like this from Sister Benedict: “You don’t become a nun to run away from life, Patsy. It’s not because you lost something but because you found something.” Enjoyable.

Overall: B+
Priest factor: B+

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest home page.]

The Prisoner (1955)


Theocoid (also known as Bill B.) over at Is My Philactery Showing? (and btw, yes, it is Bill, but it looks pretty good on you) has contributed another review to our priestly film festival! Alec Guinness (who also played Chesterton’s Fr. Brown) makes his second appearance in priestly vestments here.

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

The Fighting 69th

The Fighting 69th (click on the link to view it on YouTube) features James Cagney and Pat O’Brien performing an interesting repetition of the tough-guy priest and charismatic misfit roles they played two years earlier in Angels with Dirty Faces. In my review of Angels, I took issue with the failure of the priest to move beyond the ethical sphere. In The Fighting 69th, O’Brien’s Fr. Duffy–based on an actual WWI army chaplain–is much more satisfyingly depicted in a religious mode proper to his priestly office. Fr. Duffy utters heart-felt prayers, invokes Christ, blesses an officer who unabashedly kneels before him, hears confessions, celebrates Mass, sensitively interacts with and ministers to Protestant and Jewish soldiers as well as their Catholic counterparts, and simultaneously exudes both a lightness and a gravity towards the soldiers under his care. The battlefield setting, fraught with danger and death, highlights the priest’s sacrificial role, his standing in the place of Christ, side-by-side with young men who are also offering themselves up to be sacrificed. Then we have Cagney’s mouthy Jerry Plunkett. Although Cagney’s charisma is still in play, he convincingly portrays Plunkett as a much more repellant and alienated character than his gangster counterpart in Angels. At every turn, Plunkett responds to military discipline with a sneering grin and a smart mouth–towards superiors and fellow soldiers alike. Fr. Duffy alone reaches out to Plunkett and defends him when Major “Wild Bill” Donovan (played by George Brent) decides to transfer him to a different battalion. Fr. Duffy convinces the major to let him stay, but Plunkett continues to be an obnoxious cad out of battle and a coward who endangers the lives of his fellow soldiers in battle. You can guess how it ends. Twice Fr. Duffy references Christ’s words about there being more rejoicing in heaven over the one lost soul who is saved than the ninety-nine that didn’t stray from the fold. Overall the movie is dramatically less successful than Angels with Dirty Faces, but more successful in plumbing the depths of life and death and sin and redemption.

Overall grade: C+
Priest factor: A-

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

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)


Theocoid over at Is My Philactery Showing? posted another Year of the Priest review — and it’s another one with grim Gregory!

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of Priest]

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]

On The Devil at 4:00

The Devil at 4:00 opens with a scene on a cargo plane: Father Perreau (played by Kerwin Matthews) is in the hold with three convicts chained together. Charlie (Bernie Hamilton) and Marcel (Gregoire Aslan) and Harry (Frank Sinatra) are on their way to a prison in Tahiti, while the Father Perreau is on his way to the much smaller (and fictional) island of Talua to replace Father Doonan (Spencer Tracy), the whiskey priest with a cynical heart of gold. Father Doonan has made too many enemies on the island, presumably because of the mendicant glad handing he does on behalf of a charity project that is even less popular with the French residents: a hospital for children lepers he has built half way up the side of a mountain that happens to be an active volcano. One may doubt the wisdom in choosing an active volcano as the site for a children’s hospital, but then Doonan maybe was drunk while making the initial survey.

In any case, the hospital is very much a work-in-progress, and Father Doonan figures that convict labor is the best way to get it done, especially since he, being from Hell’s Kitchen, has become the nemesis as well as a kind of tough-guy friend to Harry, being from Jersey. Here’s the memorable exchange marking the turning point in their … relationship:

DOONAN Where you from, tough guy? I hear echoes.
HARRY I’ve been around… What’s it to ya?
DOONAN You spit your T’s. That’d be Jersey, I guess, maybe Jersey City. Hunh! I came from just across the River – Hell’s Kitchen. We used to eat punks like you.
HARRY Maybe. That’s when you had your teeth.

That’s not the only … relationship formed by Frank – pardon me, I mean Harry, who tries to seduce one of the local gals in the Hospital garden one night before he figures out that she’s blind. Then he falls in love with her.

All this is getting a little complicated, meaning that it’s time for the volcano to start acting up, which it does as if on cue. The govenor of the island (well played by Alexander Scourby, familiar to me as the narrator of the KJV bible on 40 something CDs) orders the evacuation of the island, in due consideration of the fact that lava is begining to stream down the sides of the mountain. What about the hospital, not to mention the children staying there? Well, Tracy – pardon me, Doonan – has a plan, in which he and the three parachute onto the volcano to lead the children and the hospital staff to safety. Governor Scourby – or maybe it was the ship’s capitaine – agrees to wait unitl 4:00 the next day before taking off in a rescue schooner.

I won’t give the rest away – what comes of the children, what comes of the priest and the convicts, and what comes of the budding romance between Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Polynesian Beauty without eyesight – but it’s fairly compelling drama of the disaster film cum Problem of Evil with bare bones theological commentary in dramatic form. I think it’s worth seeing. I’ll also note that, thus far, Tracy has the edge over Guiness when it comes to movie priests. The Gruff Exterior is inherently more dramatic than a Saint or a Genius.

Overall rating: B
Priest factor: B+

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest home page.]

Father Brown (1954)

When Christ advised his disciples to be as crafty as serpents and as gentle as doves, he might have had Fr. Ignatius Brown in mind. This amiable priest, though simple and guileless, is a keen observer and an astute student of the human heart. He is — or was, when G.K. Chesterton first conjured him up — a new thing in the annals of detection: a kind of anti-Holmes, who captures crooks not by deductive reasoning from physical evidence, but by understanding the wayward ways of sinners.

The great Alec Guinness plays Fr. Brown, and quite well too. My first impression was that the cinematic Fr. Brown was rather too moon-faced, too naive, too much an apparent bumbler, but then I remembered that Chesterton himself described Fr. Brown as having “a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling,” and all, or nearly all, was forgiven. The story is based on the very first of Chesterton’s Fr. Brown tales, “The Blue Cross”, and it goes like this: Fr. Brown is taking a priceless treasure, a cross, to a Eucharistic Congress, and the renowned and flamboyent thief Flambeau intends to unburden him en route. Hilarity ensues. (In the film, the cross is said to have belonged to St. Augustine, and also to be “12 centuries old”, which makes it the once-prized possession of a St. Augustine now lost to historical science.)

The trouble with short stories, insofar as they are considered from the vantage point of screenwriters, is that they are so consistently short. The screenwriter is obliged to have recourse to additional diversions and detours, drawing out the existing characters, introducing new ones, and whatever else belongs to the art of adaptation. The screenwriters here have done just that, but not always with grace, or even reason. At one point we see Fr. Brown, in an attempt to fool Flambeau (who is no fool), try the ol’switcheroo with some packages, apparently with the senseless intent of leaving his precious cross sitting unattended at a sidewalk cafe.

More troubling are some none too subtle touches that tarnish Fr. Brown’s upright character. In the short story he leaves clues to assist the police in apprehending Flambeau; here he actually helps Flambeau to escape, and even deceives detectives into arresting an innocent bystander. True, his intention all along is to save Flambeau’s soul, which is certainly a great good, but there is a distinct sense that he is pitting human justice against divine, and that, as the real Fr. Brown would certainly point out, is bad theology.

Yet Fr. Brown’s priestly dignity is not entirely marred by these maladroit additions to the script. He does try to save Flambeau’s soul, and he speaks seriously and perceptively with him about repentance. He is shown preaching, with considerable grace, and even authority, to his congregation. We are left in little doubt that he is, at heart, a good man. In that, at least, the story is true to its original.

Overall rating: B
Priest factor: B-

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest home page.]

Korrektiv Cinema

Korrektiv writers Jonathan Webb, Rufus McCain, Quin Finnegan, and Henri Young attend a showing of Going My Way in 3D as part of the 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest film festival.

San Francisco (1936)

I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first Clark Gable movie I’ve seen. What a freakin’ mensch that guy was! Gonna have to watch some more for sure. And the Gable/Tracy combo makes for some great screen-pal energy–which is raised to the third power when Jeannette MacDonald is added to the triangular mix: the tough rascal, the tougher priest, and the sublime lady. From the standpoint of our focus on the priest’s role, Spencer Tracy’s Fr. Mullin has much less screen time than his Fr. Flanagan in Boys Town; but in San Francisco the priest’s impact is arguably more profound–or at least operating more within Kierkegaard’s sphere of the religious, rather than within the more commonplace sphere of the ethical. Each appearance by Fr. Mullin represents a key turningpoint in the film’s development of the relationship between Blackie Norton (Gable) and Mary Blake (MacDonald) as well as Blackie’s progress from hard-headed unbelief towards a collision with faith. Perhaps the two key parallel scenes in this regard are (1) when we are first introduced to Fr. Mullin engaging in some recreational boxing with Blackie and knocking him down and (2) when Fr. Mullin intervenes to stop Blackie from exploiting Mary, and gets punched in the face by Blackie (see the above YouTube clip). The film has some odd time disjunctures (it sometimes seems as if much time is passing, but at other times it seems only a day or two has passed). The earthquake and its aftermath which bring the film to a close also seem oddly timed. But ultimately it is quite a charming, fascinating film with a struggle of faith vs. unbelief–and an interesting priestly presence–at its core.

Overall grade: A-
The Priest Factor: A-

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest home page.]