The Fugitive (1947)
A Fugitive: I have a question, Lieutenant. When did you lose your faith?
A Lieutenant of Police: When I found a better one.
The film For Greater Glory has reminded me of director John Ford’s forgotten The Fugitive (1947). Very loosely based on Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (no priest in an American film in 1947 was going to have the moral failings of Greene’s whiskey priest) the film did poorly at the box office and soon fell into oblivion, except among film critics who regard it as one of Ford’s more interesting works. Ford said it was his favorite film.
The film is set in a nameless country, obviously Mexico where the movie was filmed, where religion has been abolished by the government. Henry Fonda is the last priest hunted by a police lieutenant, played maniacally by Pedro Armendáriz. Armendariz is a whole-hearted convert to atheism, and views the capture of Fonda as a noble task.
Henry Fonda is executed at the end, betrayed by a police informer who summons him to provide the last rites to a dying man. The police lieutenant who has pursued him throughout the film cannot bring himself to view his execution. The people of the village react with profound grief at the death of the last priest, and it is obvious that the execution has done nothing to kill their faith in God. A new priest arrives immediately after the execution, which has killed a man but not the Church.
All in all, an interesting film. However, I wish Ford’s main leading man, John Wayne, had been cast in the role of the fugitive priest. While he is on the run he rounds up a hard riding band of Cristeros. In the climactic fight scene he leads the Cristeros in liberating the village, taking out the police lieutenant in a mano a mano epic fight, and ends the film saying mass for the newly liberated villagers! Whatever the critics might have said in after years about the film, I guarantee it would have been a smash hit at the box office!