Under Construction
Films with a religious theme
(The Vatican's list of great flms)

Over the years there have been many films with a religious theme. Some have even been given the big budget Hollywood treatment, e.g. "Ben Hur", in its day, the most expensive film ever made and the winner of a record 11 Oscars. These films were made to appeal to a mass audience, not just those with religious beliefs, and most achieved box office success. Most were Christian in nature but not all - "The Message" tells the story of the beginnings of Islam. Some were not only Christian, but distinctly Catholic in nature e.g. "The song of Bernadette". In order to appeal to a larger audience they would have a certain amount of action in them as in "Demetrius and the Gladiators" or a touch of humour as in the Bing Crosby movie "The Bells of St Mary's". Listed below are some of the best known and some personal favourites - they are in no particular order.

Keys of The kingdom
The Keys of The Kingdom (1944): takes liberties with an A. J. Cronin book and deals with the life of a Scottish catholic priest, played by Gregory Peck, from his initial reluctance to accept his vocation to his subsequent life as a missionary in China. The film is in black & white but please don't let that put you off - it's a gem of a film. It starts with our priest as an old man, back home in Scotland after a lifetime in the missions. A Monsignor is sent to his parish to "retire" him. The Monsignor stays overnight and just as he is about to settle down for the night finds the journal of the old priest's life in China ..... and that's about as much as I'm going to tell you or I'll spoil it for you. What I will say is, it has three, not one, emotional scenes at the end - I defy you not to be moved. The film was nominated for four Oscars. Fr Deeley loved this film when given a copy.

Song of Bernadette
The Song of Bernadette (1943): tells the story of Bernadette Soubirous who lived in Lourdes and saw apparitions of Our Lady. I won't bore you with anymore of the story, I'm sure you know it well but I do commend the film to you. Once again it's in black & white but again don't let that put you off. The cast is a who's who of the cinema of the time and Jennifer Jones, in her debut, won an Oscar for her performance as Bernadette - the film won three more Oscars. The queues were round the block when this was first shown in Coatbridge.

The Nun's Story
The Nun's Story (1959): Audrey Hepburn is at her radiant best in this story of a Belgian nun, from the day she enters her convent, till the day she leaves. In the years between, she works as a missionary nurse in the Congo before returning home. It is based on a novel, believed to be autobiographical, of a former nun. The film is in colour, you'll be glad to hear, and had eight Oscars nominations.

Karol, A Man Who Became Pope (2005 TV): The story of Pope John Paul II from a young man till he becomes Pope. It follows his life in Poland under the Nazis and then life under the Soviets and his love of his country. The cast will be unknown to you but they are all excellent. The film is in English, I don't know if it's dubbed - I couldn't tell - but you will enjoy it. It is in turns happy, emotional, violent and uplifting.

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952): It may not be as well done as "The Song of Bernadette" but is well worth a watch - and it's in colour! It describes the persecution of the Church in early 20th century Portugal and the determination of the communist government to put an end to the phenomenon of Fatima before it took hold among the people. The children are particularly well played.

The Cardinal
The Cardinal (1963): Based on a best selling book of the 1950's it tells the story of a young American and his life in the Church as a young priest till he becomes a cardinal. The film tackles many controversial issues of the time including abortion, celibacy, civil rights and collaboration with the Nazis in Europe. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning the Golden globe Best Picture Award. The cast is a who's who of the character actors of the time - with the lead entrusted to Tom Tryon, a relatively unknown actor. John Huston, the famous director, does one of his occasional acting roles, as the young priest's mentor.

The Shoes of The Fisherman
The Shoes Of The Fisherman (1968): Based on a Morris West book that was almost prophetic in its theme - a Russian Bishop becoming Pope! Made at the height of The Cold War the political subplot was, I suppose, inevitable. A priest once told me that the description in the film of the conclave is very accurate. The cast is one for any director to dream of: Anthony Quinn, David Jansen, Vittorio De Sica, Sir John Gielguid and Sir Laurence Olivier. Nominated for two Oscars, it won a Golden Globe for it's score. There is a particularly moving scene where an old Jewish man is dying. A firm favourite.

Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi (1961): A film by Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame. Very much a Hollywood version but enjoyable none the less. Dolores Hart who plays Clare went on to become a nun after making the film and, today, is the Prioress of her convent in Connecticut. The cast is a good one and our own Finlay Currie plays the Pope, having already played St Peter in "Quo Vadis". Stuart Whitman is so miscast. A favourite.

Brother Sun sister Moon
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972): This film by Franco Zeffirelli, about the life of St Francis, portrays Francis almost in the style of a hippy, probably fashionable to do so at the time. Not amongst my favourites.

The Flowers of St Francis The Flowers of St. Francis (1950): A film by Roberto Rossellini. A strange film, the characters are portrayed as almost comical in some ways. Also known as "Francis, God's Jester" after the original Italian title of "Francesco Giullare di Dio" - the jester in question was not St Francis but Brother Jupiter, one of his followers. This film was dismissed at the time despite the fame of its director. Monks from a nearby monastery were used to play the parts of many of Francis's followers. The film is in Italian with English subtitles. I found this film heavy going.

Miracle of Marcelino
The Miracle of Marcelino (1955): A Spanish film about an orphan, found by a monk, and adopted by his monastery. The film won The Silver Bear at the Berlin film Festival and a Special Mention Award at Cannes. Fernando Rey of "French Connection" fame is the narrator. It's black & white, again, I'm afraid, but it is a lovely little film - well worth watching.

The Passion of The Christ
The Passion of The Christ (2004): Made by Mel gibson, a devout Catholic, and very controversial for its violence. Gibson had no expectations of the film being a box office success - after all it is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic with subtitles. His aim was to show the pain endured by Jesus on our behalf. None of the previous films with crucifixion scenes showed the agony that Jesus, the man, would have experienced. Some think it was overdone and gratuitous others that you could you never overdo the agony of what Jesus went through. Many who agreed with the concept of the film still found it difficult to watch. I have not been able to watch it, although I have a copy - perhaps one day.

The Scarlet and the black The Scarlet and the Black (1983 TV): Based on the true story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty who worked in the Vatican during the war and who hid many allied servicemen from the Nazis. The cast is once again a good one, particularly for a TV movie, with: Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer and Sir John Gielguid playing Pope Pius XII - the third time he had played a Pope. One of Fr Deeley's favourite films. Well and worth a watch.

Thérèse (1986): is the story of St Thérèse of Lisieux. depicted in minimalist vignettes. Thérèse came from a very devout family - she and all her sisters becoming Carmelite nuns. "Her devotion to Jesus and her concept of "the little way" to God are shown clearly, using plain modern language. A sense of angelic simplicity comes across without fancy lights, choirs, or showy miracles."

The robe
The Robe (1953): Based on the book by Lloyd C Douglas, Richard Burton plays Marcellus the Roman Tribune in charge of the Crucifixion. While waiting for Jesus to die Marcellus and his fellow soldiers play dice for Jesus's belongings. Marcellus wins Jesus's Robe and falls ill shortly afterwards. Thinking The Robe is responsible and cursed he throws it away. The rest of the film is about the redemption of Marcellus. The film won two Oscars and was the first film to made in Widescreen - Cinemascope. Jay Robinson as Caligula steals the show from Burton's voice.

Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis (1951): The story of the early Christians in the time of the Emperor Nero. Peter Ustinov is brilliant as Nero as was Leo Genn as Petronius - Deborah Kerr was simply beautiful and Robert Taylor was his wooden best. Our own Finlay Currie plays St Peter. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two golden Globes. It has dated somewhat - but still worth watching.

Ben hur

Ben Hur (1959): This is probably the best of all the epics made in the 1950 and early 60s. It held the record for the number of Oscars won (11) for many years. The record has been equalled in recent years but never surpassed. Judah Ben Hur is a Jewish nobleman whose best friend, a Roman, is returning to Jerusalem after many years in Rome. His friend is a changed man and soon they are at loggerheads, resulting in Judah being wrongfully sent to the galleys. The film is one of revenge and redemption for Judah. The film is based on the novel by General Lew Wallace, a veteran of the American Civil War. He was also famous for refusing Billy the Kid a pardon and for signing his death warrant while governor of New Mexico.
Becket (1964): The story of the disagreement between Thomas Becket and Henry II. It is based on a well known French play and is really a vehicle for an acting duel between Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole - which O'Toole wins hands down, once you get used to his interpretation of Henry. It won one Oscar and is worth a watch. Richard Burton often seemed to amble through a film thinking his voice was enough but "a rich voice alone doth not a good film make".

A Man for all Seasons
A Man for all Seasons (1966:) A truly wonderful picture and the winner of six Oscars. Paul Scofield gives a brilliant interpretation of Sir Thomas More. Like Becket it is about the disagreement between a king and his Chancellor - in this case Henry VIII and More. The issue was the matter of the the king's divorce, which eventually led to Henry breaking with Rome and declaring himself Head of the church in England.

The Inn of The Sixth Happiness
The Inn of The Sixth Happiness (1958): The story of Gladys Aylward an English Missionary in China in the 1930's. Ingrid Bergman is the star and there is a good supporting cast including Robert Donat of "Goodbye Mr Chips" fame. Based on a true story the film describes how Gladys, who was not qualified to be a missionary, worked as a domestic servant to earn the money to send herself to China. Once there she settles down in the old run down Inn of the title and lives a fulfilling life. Gladys discovers her real destiny when the country is invaded by Japan and the Chinese children need her to save their lives. This film was forgotten for a long time but has recently been on TV.

Going My Way
Going My Way (1944): The first of two films in which Bing Crosby plays Fr O'Malley. It was this film which won Bing an Oscar, and not the better remembered "Bells of St Mary's". Fr O'Malley is sent to a run down parish to relieve the elderly parish priest, played brilliantly by Barry Fitzgerald, of his duties and to close the Church. Needless to say Fr O'Malley finds a way to save the Church and the old priest's dignity. The film won seven Oscars in all. This is a real heartwarmer.

Bells of St Mary's
Bells of St Mary's (1945): The second of the films in which Bing Crosby plays Fr O'Malley is virtually a rerun of the first, "Going my way", with a school, and not a church, needing saved this time. Ingrid Bergman plays Sister Mary Benedict, the head teacher and once again Fr O'Malley saves the day. Being a virtual reworking of "Going my way" it received only one Oscar. Another heartwarmer.

Barabbas (1961): Did you ever wonder what happed to Barabbas after his release from Prison? Well, Pär Fabian Lagerkvist, the 1951 Nobel Laureate, did and wrote the novel on which this film is based. The film is famous for the fact that the crucifixion scene was filmed during a real eclipse of the sun - an eclipse is believed to be what caused the world to go dark at the time of the crucifixion. Anthony Quinn gives his best, as always, to the role of Barabbas as he tries to come to terms with the death of Jesus and to find a reason for his life being spared.

King of Kings
King of Kings (1961): Unusual for a biblical epic in that it tries to give some of the political background in Judea at the time of Jesus. It was also the first Hollywood film to show the face of Jesus - Jeffrey Hunter was the actor chosen to play the part.

Samson and Delilah
Samson and Delilah (1949): A typical Cecil B. DeMillie epic - enough said? It looks pretty dated now but as it's the only film covering this story from the bible, worth a look. It won two Oscars.

Salome (1953): The story of John the Baptist, King Herod, Salome (Herod's stepdaughter) and her mother Herodias. This film is enjoyable and has an excellent cast: Charles Laughton, Stewart Granger and Rita Hayworth and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. It was marketed more for Salome's infamous dance than for any religious aspect but that does the film a disservice..

The Ten commandments
The Ten Commandments (1956): Another Cecil B. DeMille epic. The title speaks for itself, this is the story of Moses and and the exodus from Egypt. The special effects, which won the film's only Oscar, were state of the art for the time and still look acceptable today. This was the beginning of Charlton Heston's career as the leading man of choice for epics. The cast is virtually a who's who of 1950's Hollywood, as well as Heston there is Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and a badly miscast Edward G. Robinson.

It's awonderful life
It's A Wonderful Life (1946): tells the story of an ambitious young man who wants to see the world, go to college and on to an exciting career. But life is never as simple as that. Whenever he thinks it's his time, life sends him in a different direction. He is frustrated in every way, not realising the positive impact he is having on the lives of so many others. Finally he attempts to kill himself, but an angel is sent to help him - and a more unlikely angel would be hard to find, he doesn't even have his wings! James Stewart is at his best as George Bailey and Henry Travers as the angel is.......... just out of this world. The most heartwarming film of all time?

It's awonderful life
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): Of all the Hollywood versions, this probably tells the story of The Christ best. There is a dignity to the film. If there is a complaint it would be that it has so many stars with cameo parts that "spotting the star" becomes a bit of a distraction. There is a story about John Wayne who had a cameo part as the centurion at the foot of the cross who says "Truly this is the son of God". The director wanted the scene taken again and asked Big John to put more awe into his words. The Duke duly did and said, in his best american drawl, "Truly this is the son of Gawd"! Watch the film to see which take was used.

It's awonderful life
The Message (1976): This handsomely mounted historical epic deals with the birth of Islam and the story of the prophet Mohammed, who, in accordance with the tenants of Islam, is never seen or heard. The film proved to be highly controversial during its production and initial release so the director Moustapha Akkad hired a staff of respected Islamic clerics as technical advisors. The Message was shot in two versions, one in English and one in Arabic entitled "Al-Ris-Alah". Anthony Quinn plays Hamza the uncle of Mohammed.

It's awonderful life
A Man Called Peter (1955): Based on the true story of Peter Marshall, a Scot, who dreams of going to sea but finds himself called to the ministry. He leaves Scotland and goes to America where he becomes Chaplain to the U.S. Senate. There are shots at the beginning of his first parish church in Coatbridge.

It's awonderful life
Chariots of Fire (1981): "The true story of two British track athletes competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics. One is a devout Scottish missionary who runs for God, the other is a Jewish student at Cambridge who runs for fame and to escape prejudice." The film won four Oscars and the Soundtrack by Vangelis is memorable.

It's awonderful life
Jesus of Nazareth (1977 TV): The Story of Jesus, from his birth, to his death on the cross. It is done with great dignity and reverence. It attracted many of the best known actors of the day, unusual for a TV mini-series, and Franco Zeffirelli, a cult director of the day, was persuaded to direct the film. Being a mini-series allowed time to cover more of the life of Christ than was ever possible in a feature film intended for cinema release. I doubt if any production ever contained so many well known faces in the cast.

It's awonderful life
Heaven knows, Mr Allison (1957: A real gem of a film. Robert Mitchum is a marine washed ashore on a pacific island during WWII where he finds a nun (Deborah Kerr), alone. The contrast between the two and the developing relationship between them as they cope with their situation makes for a fascination film. Both stars are excellent. Robert Mitchum portrays toughness, respect and tenderness while Kerr is the embodiment of a nun. Do watch this film if you get a chance. It doesn't come on TV very often but it is available on DVD.

It's awonderful life

Trouble along the way (1953): There's a touch of "The Bells of St Mary's" to this forgotton film.
John Waye, yes John Wayne, is called upon to help save a Catholic college from being closed. He plays a former football coach who is asked by the rector (Charles Coburn) to create a football team that will bring in the crowds and provide the revenue needed to save the college. Wayne's unorthodox methods are at odds with Coburn's view of the world. There is a sub-plot about Wayne's efforts to keep his daughter from his scheming ex-wife and the Duke shows a more tender side than we are used to from him.

Can you think of other films to add to the list?

The Vatican's List of Great Films
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema in 1995, the Vatican compiled a list
of great films. The 45 movies are divided into three categories: Religion, Values and Art."

God BlessYou!