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A young priest, Father Chisholm is sent to China to establish a Catholic parish among the non-Christian Chinese. While his boyhood friend, also a priest, flourishes in his calling as a priest in a more Christian area of the world, Father Chisholm struggles. He encounters hostility, isolation, disease, poverty and a variety of set backs which humble him, but make him more determined than ever to succeed. Over the span of many years he gains acceptance and a growing congregation among the Chinese, through his quiet determination, understanding and patience. Written by
E.W. DesMarais <Jlongst@aol.com>
"Academy Award Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on August 21, 1946 with Gregory Peck reprising his film role. See more »
In the scene where Father Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck) is leaving his mission in China after being ordered into retirement, the children are heard singing his favorite hymn as he steps from the car, but when the camera shows the children singing, it is obvious that they are mouthing something entirely different from what is being heard. See more »
On a September evening in 1938, Father Francis Chisholm returned to his little church near Tweedside, Scotland.
Father Francis Chisholm:
Good afternoon, Monsignor.
Good afternoon, Father.
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In his second film Gregory Peck got the first of his Best Actor nominations for playing the pious and devote Father Francis Chisholm in The Keys of the Kingdom.
When we meet Peck he's an elderly priest who's got a visitor in Monsignor Cedric Hardwicke who has come to the Scottish town where he's from and now is a pastor. Hardwicke's there to investigate complaints about him. Peck puts him up for the night in his own room where he keeps a journal that he has faithfully recorded his life. On an impulse, Hardwicke decides it might be good bedtime reading.
When we first meet Peck, elderly and infirm that he is, he looks like he could be the model for Alec Guinness's muddled old reverend in Kind Hearts and Coronets. But as Hardwicke reads Peck's words and we go back over his life, it's been a pious and rewarding one as a missionary in China.
The film is a flashback narrative of his life as a missionary. And the film is held together by the sincere and deeply felt performance of Gregory Peck as Father Chisholm. Peck has some terribly unorthodox ideas as a priest. For one thing he's not preaching that his own denomination has the corner on a good afterlife. Late in the film, some Protestant missionaries come, James Gleason and Anne Revere, and he becomes great friends with both. He's even friends with a self styled atheist in Thomas Mitchell who is an atheist, a medical doctor and a good man indeed. Mitchell's deathbed scene with Peck is quite touching and avoids a lot of the clichés associated with such scenes.
Another thing is Peck and the sisters led by Rose Stradner who later come to help live as simply and modestly as the Chinese around them. They gain some converts, but even more importantly they gain the respect of those around them. This is contrasted when Peck's childhood friend Vincent Price who has become a bishop and takes the phrase Prince of the Church quite literally.
The casting in the film is first rate and 20th Century Fox did a good job in recreating the feel and atmosphere of China which at that point was engaged in expelling the Japanese from their soil. The Keys of the Kingdom got several Oscar nominations including Peck's, but came up short on the statues.
I enjoyed the film a whole lot and I don't think one has to be a firm believer in any Christian denomination to enjoy it. Peck's Father Francis Chisholm may have led an obscure life, but his faith sustains him through all and he leads by sheer example. It's something that a lot of religious leaders fall short of, but not in this case.
Peck's life will surely gain him possession of The Keys of the Kingdom and we could all use a lot more Father Chisholms in this world.
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