The Scarlet and The Black

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty

Here, at 8:39, in my opinion, is one of the more profound observations on film about the Catholic Church and History.  The evil that men do make many a blood stained page of History, but the Church survives throughout History as Caesars, Emperors, Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Commissars, Fuhrers, Caudillos, Duces, General Secretaries, would be fake messiahs, etc, pass away.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983) is one of the better films dealing with the Catholic Church.  Gregory Peck is brilliant as Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, who during World War 2, hid 4000 escaped Allied POWs and Jews from the Nazi occupiers of Rome.  Christopher Plummer gives the performance of his career as Obersturmbanfuhrer (Colonel) Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo in Rome.  John Gielgud gives a stunningly good performance as Pius XII.  At one point when he confronts a Nazi delegation he merely stares at them with steely disdain until they get the hint and leave.  I imagine the actual Pius XII used a similar look of disdain when, on March 11, 1940, his response to a complaint by the Nazi  Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop that the Church was siding with the Allies, was to read to Von Ribbentrop a long list of atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland, which had been compiled by the Church.  This is a superb film that should be seen by every Catholic.

SPOILER ALERT    SPOILER ALERT  SPOILER ALERT  SPOILER ALERT  SPOILER ALERT

After the scene shown in the video clip at the top of this post we learn that Monsignor O’Flaherty, without Kappler knowing about it, arranged for his family to be safely transported to Switzerland.  Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes by the Italian government.  Each month Monsignor O’Flaherty would visit him.  In 1959 Kappler, the dreaded former head of the Gestapo in Rome, was baptized into the Church at the hands of Monsignor O’Flaherty.

7 Responses to The Scarlet and The Black

  • Didn’t know about this one. I’ll have to check it out. thanks for the heads up.

  • I was introduced to this film when I was in Rome in the late 1990s by a dynamic young priest working in the Roman Curia.

    He’s since been elevated to the dignity of the episcopate, and I continue to watch this film about once a year.

    I’ve never been able to discover what happened to Kappler’s wife and children, but the post-script in the movie implies they never visited him while he was imprisoned.

  • One of my favorites!

  • This post reminded me of ne of the finest tributes to the Church’s endurance while secular powers vanish into the dust. It was written as part of the rumination of an atheist character in “The Sunrise Lands”, a sci-fi book about the death of electricity, gunpowder and the internal combustion engine. Alas, it’s not at my fingertips, but I’ll post it later. It even included a mocking swipe at Stalin’s “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

  • One of the best films out there concerning the Church.

    Very heartwarming.

  • Here it is:

    Stalin had meant mockery when he asked how many divisions the Pope had, but in the end his bewildered successors had found it didn’t matter; and men-at-arms and castles could come into the same category. At seventh and last men were ruled from within their heads by ideas as much as by clubs from without, and a careful ruler kept it in mind.

    The Church had outlasted any number of systems that looked stronger than iron at the time, and had ridden out many storms that claimed to be the wave of the future; she was wise with years, and infinitely patient, and bided her time.

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