For those who still have Vatican fever

Films about papacy, though not many, cover the gamut from good to bad

For the Record

April 24, 2005|By HARTFORD COURANT

The seemingly eternal papal pageantry of the past few weeks has vanished from our TV screens. So how to fill all those hours once devoted to watching events unfold in St. Peter's Square?

How about a movie?

It can't be said that Hollywood has made a plethora of papal pictures, but there are a few titles worthy of consideration (and a few that are less than sacred cows).

The Shoes of the Fisherman: Anthony Quinn, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Italian actor/director Vittorio de Sica head the international all-star cast of Michael Anderson's 1968 drama. The fictional plot line concerns a Catholic archbishop, Quinn's Kiril Lakota, who is released from a Siberian labor camp and transferred to Rome, where he is made a cardinal and ultimately elected pope.

A Man for All Seasons: Director Fred Zinnemann's Oscar-winning 1966 film sheds no light on papal succession, but it is a stirring and acclaimed drama about faith and self-definition. Written by Robert Bolt from his play of the same name, A Man for All Seasons is an account of the actions of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), a devout Catholic and Lord Chancellor of England who refuses to renounce his faith when Britain's King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) rejects the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce.

The Cardinal: Otto Preminger's sprawling 1963 epic features Tom Tryon as a monsignor who becomes a cardinal, only to face countless cruel tests of faith. Racists, Nazis, a romantic attachment and an unrepentant sister all figure in. Viewers will face their own test, given the 175-minute running time.

The Monsignor: Sex and skulduggery at the Vatican form the plot line of Frank Perry's 1982 potboiler starring Christopher Reeve as a crooked-thinking Irish Catholic priest. The film is set in Rome during World War II, when the largely Italian Vatican establishment imports Reeve's character. Black market profiteering follows, along with an affair with Genevieve Bujold's young nun, Clara. Film critic Roger Ebert calls it "the most cynical film ever made about organized religion."

The Agony and the Ecstasy: "When will you make an end of it?" Rex Harrison's Pope Julius II demands of Charlton Heston's Michelangelo. The "it" is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Carol Reed's 1965 adaptation of Irving Stone's novel pits artist against pope and surrounds their conflict with pomp and spectacle.

From a Far Country: Sam Neill stars in Krzysztof Zanussi's 1981 biopic of the late Pope John Paul II, a chronicle that begins in 1926 when Karol Wojtyla celebrates Christmas with his father in Poland. The film traces the remarkable career of the man who was an athlete, actor and playwright in his youth, cardinal and finally pope.

The Pope Must Die: This irreverent 1991 comedy (after some Roman Catholic outcry, the last word of its title became Diet for U.S. release) finds a guitar-playing priest (Robbie Coltrane) mistakenly anointed Pope Dave. The new pontiff finds himself contending with Vatican corruption, the Mafia and the appearance of his former lover.

Pope Joan: Scholars refute the idea that there was ever a female pope, but the medieval legend is dramatized in Michael Anderson's 1972 film. As the story goes, it was 855 A.D. when a woman disguised as a man was anointed pope for a short period. An all-star cast of Liv Ullmann, Olivia de Havilland, Trevor Howard and Franco Nero did little to help the reviews, which were scathing.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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