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Of course, Martin Luther is treated in considerable depth at German high
schools, but the resulting knowledge consists of a somewhat puzzling
of events and dates. This film shows the atmosphere of the times, the
mindset of the people, and particularly Luther's own mental anguish about
the condition of the Christian church at that time, and his thoughts and
feelings as the driving force of a major religious and political upheaval.
Very illuminating is the seriousness with which personal beliefs are
not only by the "little people", but by their worldly leaders as well, in
contrast to the callousness of the church leaders around the pope. It is
also interesting how Luther benefited from the relatively fair and
attitudes and practices of the 16th century, which were completely wiped
a hundred years later.
The acting in the movie is excellent, as are the scenery and costumes, shown in stark black and white photography. The producers spared no expense to present the wide range of political and religious figures with whom Luther interacted. The dialogs are poignant and always clearly understandable over any background music. Unfortunately, my CD exhibits a rather poor video quality, considering that it is based on a post-WW2 b/w movie. Still, the film is fascinating to watch from beginning to end and, if shown in high school, would successfully replace a week of dry learning.
In 1517 a young monk nailed a long paper to the door of Wittenberg's
Cathedral containing 95 thesis - they were 95 different questions that
the current Roman Catholic Church failed to settle in it's accounting
of the Christian faith. When Martin Luther did his act he started more
than a personal dilemma of the might of the Church (and much of the
state) against one lone monk, but he also shook that mighty Church and
created the greatest schism it faced in five hundred years (the last
one being the split with the Eastern/Greek Orthodox Church about 1050
A.D.). Luther never envisioned his questions would lead to the
Protestant Reformation, but once it got beyond the initial query of the
95 thesis - when he was faced with either knuckling under or facing
death by burning as a heretic - Luther proved himself the man to
continue leading his reformation.
He was not a flawless figure. He was self-centered, and resented rival "heretics" (Zwingly, John of Munster, Calvin), and he would become really vicious towards the Jews for failing to follow his leadership into "true Christianity". In fact his diatribes against the Jews would become the true foundation of modern German anti-Semitism. But he remains the founder of Protestantism.
His flaws do not appear in this film, which was made by the Lutheran Church.
However the film is a pretty faithful account of his conflict with the organized Church, and how it led to the creation of Protestantism (and, in particular, Lutheranism). It gave Niall MacGinnis the best straight dramatic lead role in his career (the closest second is his Karswell, the villain in NIGHT OF THE DEMON). MacGinnis always was a superior supporting actor in small parts, so it is worth noting that when he was given an important part like Luther he did the part well.
McGinnis' performance is stellar; he was very much like I imagined the real Martin Luther to be; unmovable in his personal beliefs, but compassionate to individuals; enthusiastic about bettering mankind, but merciless about his own weaknesses. The on-location shooting for this movie is wonderful, and the black-and-white cinematography concentrates attention on the actors facial expressions. Supporting actors were very well selected for their characters. Period costumes, activities and dialogue were well-researched and very-well done. The copy of the movie I saw was not restored...so to get the most out of it, you need to give it your full concentration, but you'll be well rewarded. It portrays one of the most pivotal individuals in history, and does it well. As with all the best movies, you wish it didn't have to end...
This movie is a must see for student wishing to gain a more detail knowledge of Martin Luther and his environment in the 1500's, than can be gained from only reading a book. The focus is simply on Luther and his philosophy rather than on alot of the side elements that make todays movies popular. With very good acting and a straightforward time-line, Martin Luther's story is told. The movie begins with a quick steeing of both the history of the times and the prevelant religious attitudes. After that it segues into Martin Luther as a successfull law student. Because Luther's life developed one major event after another, so the movie builds the story. A lot of history was unfolding during Luther's time (the middle of the Renaissance) and some interesting historical facts can be gleaned from the movie. Good direction, very good acting, and stark lighting all add to the historical significance of this work.
This excellent film brings to life Luther's growing realization that
the religion, to which he had dedicated his life, was flawed. His
character is shown to mature in believable stages, culminating in acts
of ferocious courage.
The costumes, sets and hairstyles were authentic and help transport the viewer to the past very effectively.
Luther's message and wisdom are amply portrayed and serve as a basis for anyone to examine their beliefs.
The film does not suffer from dating, even though it was made over 50 years ago. The black and white imagery imparts a sense of timelessness, worthy of the subject matter. The acting is, almost without exception, very natural and believable.
An amazing movie I have seen several times. If only there was a movie done this good on John Calvin. Nevertheless, from story line to directing, this movie retains value for repeated watching.
This was included in a budget 3-Disc Set comprising ten
religious-themed efforts which have fallen into the Public Domain;
indeed, it was the most desirable title of the lot and it turned out to
be pretty good. Incidentally, four other small-scale films found on
this collection were produced by various evangelical groups and, in
fact, so was this biopic. Though compromised in this edition by the
softness (and slight damage) of the available print, the handsome
production afforded the film itself resulted in two Academy Award
nominations (uncommon for an independently-made effort) – best
cinematography and best black-and-white art direction/set decoration.
MARTIN LUTHER is a curious collaboration between three countries – the U.S., Germany (from where Martin Luther himself emanated) and the U.K.; in fact, while the director (and bit-part actor) Irving Pichel is an American, the lead here is played – superbly, I might add – by the Irish character actor Niall MacGinnis (perhaps best-known for his chilling portrayal of Karswell, the occult-practicing villain of Jacques Tourneur’s CURSE OF THE DEMON ). His thoughtful performance is very effective in illustrating the various facets of Luther’s personality: his initial inner conflicts, the laying-down of (and firm conviction in) his own beliefs, as well as the strength necessary for opposing the power of the Church (facing disrepute from both his peers and his congregation, not to mention an eventual excommunication). Furthermore, we’re also shown the build-up of support to his particular credo where it attracts people from all walks of life…and even lands him a wife!
The script does quite well in delineating the essential difference between the doctrine of the Catholic Church (in its most oppressive state, back when it was still a political force to be reckoned with) and Luther’s pragmatic but no less steadfast approach to religion: the latter favors a strict adherence to Scriptures in the face of the Church’s fire-and-brimstone teachings (resorting to the deception of ignorant parishioners by proposing the worship of worthless holy relics and the offer of money in order to obtain indulgences in the afterlife, or the callous bestowing of titles upon non-clerical albeit aristocratic subjects).
When I was in Hollywood in 2005, I had caught LUTHER (1974) on TV: directed by Guy Green from a stage rendition by John Osborne and featuring Stacy Keach in the title role, it’s been released on DVD by Kino as part of “The American Film Theater Collection”. While that version, too, was undeniably interesting and effective, the earlier cinematic i.e. less stagey treatment was perhaps the more satisfactory; by the way, there’s been an even more recent biopic of the famous religious figure starring Joseph Fiennes, which is readily available from my local DVD rental outlet.
This reverential biographical film of the founder of the Lutheran
Church by the Lutheran Church would hardly have been anything else. The
many flaws of Martin Luther, his sexism, his anti-Semitism, get no
mention here. His contributions to theology and to the German culture
the good ones are discussed at great length.
Martin Luther is not THE founder of Protestantism, he's the founder of one of the Protestant denominations. There was a fellow over in Switzerland named John Calvin, a guy later on in Scotland named John Knox, and even that wife slaughtering monarch in England Henry VIII all founded various Protestant denominations.
Yet Luther, a priest who originally wanted to be a lawyer and who attacked the ruling Roman Catholic Church, certainly showed a lawyer's training. His famous 95 questions nailed to the church door in Wittemberg was nothing less than an indictment.
The great contribution theologically speaking that Luther made was the notion that no one, not even a Pope intercedes for man in his relationship with the Deity. One is saved by faith alone in the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who sacrificed himself for the sins of man.
It should not be forgotten that at this time the Catholic church was very engaged in the geopolitics of Europe and the world as a temporal power as well as a center of faith. The Pope as a temporal ruler had temporal needs like the ruler of any other state, maybe more so with his dual function. Hence the sale of indulgences which according to the Lutheran versions were dispensations for sins to come. I'm sure Catholics will differ, but they didn't produce this film.
Niall McGinniss makes a fine and upstanding Martin Luther. The film was shot on location in West Germany in the places mentioned in the story. The film also got Oscar nominations for Art&Set Design and black and white cinematography in its very graphic depiction of medieval Germany.
It's not my view of Martin Luther, but it certainly is the view that Lutherans certainly have of him.
While there are several VHS and DVD issues of this title, most of them
leave a lot to be desired in the way of doing justice to pictorial quality
of this fine 1953 release. I'm glad to report that there is at last a decent
copy available on DVD -- the 50th Anniversary Edition issued by Gateway
Films(their phone number is 610-584-3500). This version comes from the
original negative material and is by far the finest you will see of this
title -- However, the film does not survive in pristine form. It is in need
of a restoration. Until this happens (if it ever does), you will find this
issue to be quite fine, with a number of little "Extras" that give some
insight into present day sites of events in Martin Luther's life, an
interesting biography of how the film came to be made and the special way
that it was brought to theatres, as well as bios and photos of the actors
and production crew.
This films was nominated for two Oscars in 1953, picked by the New York
Times as one of the 10 best films of the year, and generally acclaimed by
most Christian groups (except the Catholic Church, of course, who considers
Martin Luther to be a heretic). I know the The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints bought a number of 16 mm prints for use in their seminary
programs. The power of this film in depicting the reformation period helped
influence the LDS Church into starting its own motion picture department.
To me, Luther's story is an important key needed in preparing the way for the restoration of the restored gospel in these latter-days (which I believe happened when God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to the young Joseph Smith), for others it will have a different effect -- but the exciting thing about this film is that it tells its story accurately, with great fairness, and has power in performances, words and images. HIGHLY RECOMENDED!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This excellent West Germany-American collaboration covers the first
half of Martin Luther's life, from his renunciation of his legal
studies through to the Augsburg Confession.
The film features a great deal of narration which, whilst awkward at times, gives context to the events dramatised which would no doubt help those not so familiar with this part of history. Fortunately, the narration never sinks to the level of condescension.
Whilst a reverential film, this is not hagiography. Luther's temper and outbursts of vitriol are on display at times.
Niall MacGinnis does an exemplary job in the role of Dr Luther and, indeed, all of the cast are superb.
Luther's motivations are clearly depicted whilst the Catholic case for a monopoly on religion is also well-made, providing a balanced view and making the film all the more powerful for that. The Roman Catholic Church is presented has having forsaken its spiritual mission for geopolitical strategies yet it is Luther's idealism that, of course, wins out, yet the bad consequences of individual interpretation (the rise of eccentric religious cults and Christian fundamentalism) are hinted at.
Ultimately, though, this is a film about a quest for freedom of both conscience and freedom from a patronising, corrupted priesthood with a monopoly on religious "truth".
By breaking from the practice of indulgences and the notion of priestly intercession and by triggering the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire, Luther and his God granted Europe the freedoms from the twin yokes of tyranny and the feudal system that we enjoy today.
The film ends with one of Luther's most famous self-penned hymns, a fitting tribute to a man who stood against the governing forces of his day in the name of truth. He preached "faith alone" and it was this faith which changed the face of Europe forever and regenerated the spirituality of the continent.
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