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Stephen Fermoyle has grown up in Boston at the turn of the twentieth century knowing that his destiny lies with the Catholic priesthood. Finally finishing his studies in Rome, he returns to America full of certitude and ambition to one day join the College of Cardinals. But his road to that office is a long one, paved with crises. In Boston, he must decide whether to save the life of his sister or her unborn child, conceived out of wedlock. In Austria, he confronts the question of whether to remain with the priesthood or abandon his oath so that he can be with the woman he loves. In Georgia, he contends with Rome's indifference in the face of racial bigotry. And in Austria, he finds himself personally involved in the church's dealings with the Third Reich. Written by
Shannon Patrick Sullivan <email@example.com>
All along the movie, we see, leading to St Peter's square, the Via della Conciliazione and its palazzi, built for the Holy Year of 1950, under the pontificate of Pius XII, whose election Cardinal Fermoyle is supposed to take part at the very end of the movie. See more »
Otto Preminger's blockbuster film, The Cardinal, is kind of like an ecclesiastical Winds of War with its priest/protagonist seemingly on the scene of a whole lot of history from before World War I until just before the outbreak of World War II. The church of those times is vastly different than the Roman Catholic Church of today.
Tom Tryon plays Stephen Fermoyle whose parents, Cameron Prudhomme and Dorothy Gish as did so many Irish married couples, determined that one of their kids would be a priest. They put aside money for same and the film opens with young Tryon completing his ordination in Rome and coming back to be assigned to the Boston Archdiocese.
Tryon undergoes many crises of faith, both personal and historical. As The Cardinal is history as how the church would write it for itself, a lot of things are passed over and answers we might come up with today would not be what Catholic folks especially would have thought back then.
One thing that did get me, though maybe it was in the novel the film is based on, is the big event for American Catholics in that time period was the 1928 presidential campaign and the nomination of Alfred E. Smith by the Democrats, the first Roman Catholic to be nominated by a major party for president. I could not believe that Preminger made a film about the Catholic church in that period with an American protagonist and didn't mention that at all in the film.
Preminger assembled a truly international cast of players of the second and third tier. Note the absence of any big name box office stars. He also shot the film in various locations around the world, Boston, Rome, Vienna and other places where the odyssey of Tom Tryon takes him.
Fellow director John Huston got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Cardinal Glennon of Boston, loosely based on Archbishop of Boston at the time, William O'Connell. Preminger said that Huston was cooperative in every way and Huston said he resisted successfully the impulse to call his own shots on his performance remembering this was not his film.
Carol Lynley playing both Tryon's sister and niece does well in a dual role and Patrick O'Neal and Murray Hamilton play a contrasting duo of Ku Klux Klansmen in Georgia. Romy Schneider is fine as the Austrian woman who loves Tryon and nearly shakes him from his vows of celibacy. Austrian actor Joseph Meinrad is memorable as the only true figure portrayed by name in the film, Cardinal Imnitzer of Vienna who makes a devil's bargain with Hitler and has cause to regret it.
I think viewers will also like a pair of fine Italian players Raf Vallone and Tullio Carminati who play a pair Cardinals, the former the friend and mentor of young Tryon and the latter the Papal Secretary of State based on Cardinal Merry del Val.
My favorite moments in The Cardinal are with Burgess Meredith as the parish priest from a diocese in Northern Maine where Tryon is sent as a curate. He's a simple man of great faith who is dying of multiple sclerosis. He's an old friend of Huston's and their reunion scene on Meredith's death bed is touching and sublime. This may very well have been Meredith's best screen role and he never gets enough credit for it.
Curious also that in this day when there is so much controversy about openly gay actor Chad Allen playing a missionary, it's ironic that closeted gay actor Tom Tryon plays a prince of the church here. Tryon after he left acting and became a successful novelist came relatively out of the closet. Today there would be the same howls of indignation as there were for Chad Allen if The Cardinal were made now.
As this is history as the church would write it itself, The Cardinal misfires in making its main points. But the performances that Otto Preminger gets from his cast are dignified and in some cases very moving. Not a bad film, but definitely falls short of being a great one.
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