User Reviews (11)

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  • What a sweet film! I had never seen it before yesterday on TCM, May 10 2006. I am a fan of both actors and actually it was interesting to see them in such roles - Douglas as an "evil" person and Johnson as a priest! The whole story had the Clarence Brown quality that movie fans have come to love so much. I felt like some of the locations were the same ones used in Godfather III. The black and white is very rich, it is a pleasure to watch. The real shots of the Vatican celebrations are breathtaking. The comic relief of the detective is charming. I must admit I got choked up twice. I was brought up Catholic and though I do not practice etc. I still at least have nostalgic feelings for films such as When in Rome. I recommend!
  • When In Rome finds Father Van Johnson on a pilgrimage to Rome during the declared Holy Year of 1950 when Catholic priests from all over the world will be heading to Rome as Moslems do to Mecca once in a lifetime. It's somebody's good or ill fortune depending on your point of view that pairs conman Paul Douglas with Johnson on the ocean liner going to Italy.

    Before docking in Genoa, Douglas steals Johnson's priestly garments and identity because the Italian police are waiting for him. Now in this day and age a telex would have been sent with a picture and Douglas couldn't have done what he did. I'm not sure why even in the primitive international communications of 1950 that a photograph of convict Douglas wasn't sent to the Italian cops. Still they don't and before Douglas can shed the priestly attire, he's caught up in the identity.

    Douglas is an escapee from San Quentin, no easy task and that escape will put years on his sentence. And Johnson is rather reluctant to help the Italian police.

    Van's a priest in the tradition of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown, more concerned with Douglas's standing before God as the Roman Catholic church teaches it than for any of man's temporal justice. The film plays like Father Brown going after master crook Flambeau which would come out in fact a couple of years after When In Rome.

    Some newsreel shots of the Holy Year in Rome give us the Roman identification and the film was obviously done in black and white to blend those in. If you're a fan of G.K. Chesterton you will absolutely love this film.

    Who triumphs, God's justice or man's law? In a way a little bit of both.
  • Producer-director Clarence Brown specialized in moralizing dramas mixed with a touch of Hollywood uplift; "When in Rome" is a first-class example of his straight-laced style, which isn't flexible exactly, but does entertain in its fashion. Dorothy Kingsley and Charles Schnee penned this rather lumpy screenplay about an escaped convict stealing a priest's clothes and identity while on a ship sailing to Italy. The priest soon catches up with the cuddly crook in Rome and helps him to reform, but the police (who apparently have no other pressing engagements on their agenda) are dead-set on bringing the convict in. Lighthearted (and occasionally lightheaded), feel-good religious nonsense, bolstered by the wonderful locales and by solid lead performances from Van Johnson and Paul Douglas. Douglas may be the most benign criminal in movie history, and director Brown plays off the actor's aw-shucks inner-goodness by giving Douglas some engaging scenes (such as a familiar one--the fake priest being asked to say grace--which still works a little magic). The finale is pure hokum, but it too is done with such sincerity that only curmudgeons could balk. **1/2 from ****
  • Father John visits Rome at the height of the 1950 Holy Year. His stay will get pretty complicated when Joe Brewster, a con man, steals his identity and garb. Clean '50s fun with Rome's structural highlights as a background.
  • aromatic-213 March 2001
    Paul Douglas, Van Johnson, and Joseph Calleia are all excellent together. The "love story" between priest Johnson and tough-guy Douglas is as affecting a character study as you are ever likely to see. The magnificent photography shows the divine beauty that is Rome inspirationally. Just when you think it can get no further into your soul, it comes up with something else clever and simply profound. Well worth watching. I give it 10/10.
  • This is a very wry twist on The Prince and The Pauper. Paul Douglas is a gambler who has run afoul of the law and evades serving his time by stealing Priest Van Johnson's identity. This simple plot is worked extremely insightfully and from the heart by Douglas and Johnson. Joseph Calleia adds balance and irreverence as the cynical chief of police. A couple twists you won't see coming coupled with one that you probably will, but will love anyway, makes the whole experience unforgettable and triumphant.
  • This film starring über-bear and magnificent character actor Paul Douglas, was likely inspired by Douglas's performance in "Angels in the Outfield" the preceding year and, likely as not, inspired Fellini's much more cynical take on the same theme, "Il Bidone" three years later, Douglas having been replaced by (Oscar winner) Broderick Crawford. Stalwart director Clarence Brown's direction was likely inspired by the neo-realist Italian movies that were seeping through America as well as the big studios' propensity to explore co-production and distribution deals with European companies (for economic reasons). Van Johnson also shines in this picture but it remains the ultimate movie thrill for Paul Douglas fans, of which there are many like me, I'm sure.
  • I was drawn to the film by TCM's summary and by the presence of two estimable actors. Van Johnson and Paul Douglas never quite made Hollywood's A-list but for my money they are two very accomplished practitioners of the thespian art.

    Johnson, as Father Halloran, shares a ship cabin with Joe Brewster (Douglas) who, unbeknownst to Halloran, is on the lam from San Quentin. Halloran is on his way to Rome for Holy Year, and his and Brewster's paths become intertwined.

    The movie seems to want to be a lighthearted comedy but in the end becomes quite touching, as Halloran becomes Brewster's confessor. The script is excellent and the action moves along well.

    In addition the movie is a wonderful travelogue of pre-Vatican II Rome, in stunning black and white.

    Be sure not to miss this overlooked little gem.
  • In order to celebrate the "Holy Year" of 1950, Pennsylvania priest Van Johnson (as John X. Halligan) decides to sail on a sabbatical to Italy. Aboard ship, Mr. Johnson befriends likable, gruff bunkmate Paul Douglas (as Joe Brewster). Johnson doesn't know it (yet), but Mr. Douglas is a swindler who just escaped from San Quentin. Douglas correctly realizes authorities will be looking to arrest him after the ship docks. He dons Johnson's priestly clothing and makes a quick getaway. Johnson is left to wear Douglas checkered green jacket and hat. Johnson is falsely arrested. Douglas is accepted by other priests in Rome. After the polizia sort things out, they want Johnson to assist in Douglas' capture...

    However, Johnson becomes more interested in Douglas' soul...

    One of MGM's most winning teams, director Clarence Brown and cinematographer William Daniels, make "When in Rome" very attractive. After arriving on location, the picture approaches art. A highlight in storytelling occurs when Douglas looks at cold, stark church-like walls and realizes they look very much like his former prison. The picture morphs into a prison, then fades back to a monastery look. This calls later events into question, but Douglas ends in a more tranquil setting; possibly, it shows the character "questioning" a transformation. Although he is billed second, the story is clearly about Douglas's character. The bigger "box office" name, Johnson is commendable and supportive in the less stellar role.

    ******* When in Rome (1952-05-11) Clarence Brown ~ Paul Douglas, Van Johnson, Joseph Calleia, Carlo Rizzo
  • So fate puts two men together on an ocean voyage; Father Halligan, a man of the cloth with good intentions, and Joe Brewster, with less than an honorable past. Van Johnson was in his prime here, and could play just about anything. Paul Douglas is Brewster, and usually played the thug, due to his appearance. Brewster takes the priest's clothes and his identity, and makes a run for it when the boat docks in Roma. There are some funny lines… at dinner on the cruise, the passengers have a good sense of humor, and tell some clever jokes, but for the most part, it's a pretty serious suspense drama. Also some beautiful scenery of Rome, as we travel around. 1950 had actually been a holy year in the Catholic church, so Buckner, the writer, used that as a basis for the story. What better theme to include the battle of right and wrong than a story based on a priest? We hear over and over again how Father Halligan is trying to decide if he should turn in Brewster. Lots of jokes about safe-crackers and what it was like in Sing Sing. Pretty good story, if you buy in and go along for the ride. We see all the beautiful, old historic landmarks of Rome, and have an adventure along the way. Directed by Clarence Brown, who had directed so many Garbo films, and was nominated for SIX Oscars! Shows on Turner Classics now and then. Kind of a "feel good" story, but not real meaty.
  • "When in Rome" is an odd film. While the first portion seems like a comedy, the final portion is a schmaltzy religious allegory.

    The film begins with a career crook, Joe Brewster (Paul Douglas) slipping out of the States on a ship. His roommate is a priest, Father Halligan (Van Johnson) and the two become very chummy. However, when the Father is ready to leave the ship when it arrives outside Rome, he finds that Joe has stolen his passport and his new cassock. So, while Father Halligan is trying to get off the ship and is dealing with local Italian authorities, Joe is out doing God knows what. Later the two meet up in Rome and instead of turning him in to the police, the Father travels about the various pilgrimage churches as Joe says he wants to make amends and get his heart right with God.

    While I enjoyed seeing Johnson and Douglas together, the film seeming like two separate films (one funny and the other inspirational and schmaltzy), this made the movie seem a bit confusing and strange. Worth seeing but not as good as it could have been.