This is a joint post with commenter Dr. Peter Dans. Pete has written a fine book which I will be reviewing, Christians in the Movies, A Century of Saints and Sinners, and he has given suggestions about films to watch while we are waiting to shout Habemus Papam. Here are the films in Chronological order of the Pope depicted:
1. Quo Vadis (1951)-The historical spectacle film to end historical spectacle films, it brings to the screen the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz of the persecution of Christians under Nero. The film is a great work of Art with inspired performances by Peter Ustinov as Nero, Robert Taylor as the tough Roman legate Marcus Vinicius who finds himself, very much against his will, becoming a Christian from his love of the Christian Lygia, portrayed by Deborah Kerr, and Leo Genn, as Petronius, the uncle of Vinicius and Nero’s “arbiter of taste”, who wounds Nero to the core with the following suicide note:
To Nero, Emperor of Rome, Master of the World, Divine Pontiff. I know that my death will be a disappointment to you, since you wished to render me this service yourself. To be born in your reign is a miscalculation; but to die in it is a joy. I can forgive you for murdering your wife and your mother, for burning our beloved Rome, for befouling our fair country with the stench of your crimes. But one thing I cannot forgive – the boredom of having to listen to your verses, your second-rate songs, your mediocre performances. Adhere to your special gifts, Nero – murder and arson, betrayal and terror. Mutilate your subjects if you must; but with my last breath I beg you – do not mutilate the arts. Fare well, but compose no more music. Brutalize the people, but do not bore them, as you have bored to death your friend, the late Gaius Petronius.
Peter in the movie is portrayed by Finlay Currie. Here is the classic scene from the film that depicts Peter informed by Christ that He is going to Rome to be crucified a second time:
In the film he goes to the arena where the Christians are being murdered for the amusement of the crowds and cries out, “Here where Nero rules today, Christ shall rule forever!” The film movingly depicts Peter’s martyrdom, crucified upside down since he had stated that he was not worthy to have the same death as Christ.
2. Sign of the Pagan (1954) -Jack Palance, a great actor who was consistently underrated throughout his career, portrays Attila the Hun. Here we have depicted the meeting between Attila and Pope Leo the Great, portrayed by Leo Moroni, which convinces Attila to spare Rome.
3. Becket (1964)-A masterful, albeit heavily fictionalized retelling of the life of the “holy, blessed, martyr”. Here we have Archbishop Becket, Richard Burton, in exile having an interview with Pope Alexander III, Paolo Stoppa:
4. Francis of Assisi (1961)-A film biography of Saint Francis, ably acted by Bradford Dillman. Go here to see the depiction of the interview between Saint Francis and Pope Innocent III, the role assayed by Finlay Currie who was Peter in Quo Vadis. Dolores Hart had the role of Saint Clare in the film. She went on to become a nun. Pete has some information in regard to that:
It has the extra added attraction of an interesting backstory involving Dolores Hart, the actress who played Clare and later became a nun. She is now the Prioress of Regina Laudis Abbey which itself has an interesting backstory connecting back to the 1949 film Come to the Stable.
By the way, I sent her a copy of the book and she sent me a delightful note in 2009 saying that the documentation of the abbey’s founding and her journey was “absolutely on target” and that it made her want to read the whole book. Then she added “Said like a real actress.” I was especially touched when she said that she would keep me in her “heart and prayers.” I’m sure that has been a big help to me along the way. Continue Reading