23 December 2004 | dglink
Episodic View of Catholicism in the Early 20th Century
Based on an early 1950's bestseller, producer/director Otto Preminger's lush religious spectacle pits a Catholic priest from Boston against many of the controversies that dogged the Church during the first half of the 20th century. As the young priest rises in rank to Monsignor, Bishop, and eventually Cardinal, he must tackle abortion, inter-faith marriage, racial discrimination, Nazism, and self-doubts about his own religious calling before the nearly three-hour film reaches the closing credits. Despite its episodic nature, "The Cardinal" is an entertaining film, generally well acted, and filmed by master cinematographer Leon Shamroy against some of the most beautiful landscapes and interiors that Rome and Vienna can offer. The Jerome Moross score enhances the beauty of the visuals and provides an appropriate mood that is haunting and liturgical in tone. While Tom Tryon as the Cardinal, Stephen Fermoyle, does his best, a stronger actor with greater screen presence might have anchored the film and given it greater stability. Tryon at times appears colorless and unconvincing as a man who could rise so quickly and to such heights in the Italian-dominated Church bureaucracy. The film's acting honors instead go expectedly to such veterans as John Huston, Raf Vallone, and Burgess Meredith. Also, the film has dated somewhat as the conflicts depicted between events and Church dogma have been for the most part left in the past, abortion excepted. Perhaps a sequel is in order with Cardinal, or maybe Pope by now, Stephen Fermoyle faced with pedophile priests, gay marriage, and a Church that has lost many of its followers over the decades. But, despite the diminished relevance, "The Cardinal" remains a comforting old fashioned view of the Roman Catholic Church during a period when the mass was said in Latin, the celibacy of a priest was unquestioned, fish was eaten on Fridays, the sacraments were taken seriously, and a poor son of Irish immigrants could rise from Boston curate to Cardinal without showing any more signs of aging than a light dusting of powder on his full head of thick hair.