SPECIAL DUTIES was the fourth episode of the series SHADES OF GREENE. In it Graham Greene tackled the issue of Heaven and Hell, and did so taking a leaf (a serious one, but turned comic) from the bad old Pre-Reformation days.
Mr. Ferraro (John Guilgud) is a very wealthy man who is growing old. And this is worrying him. He is a Catholic, but he is aware that his life is full of bad deeds, which will possibly pull him down to Hell when he meets his God. He consults with some Catholic scholar, and discovers a possible loophole. As in the days before 1517 and Martin Luther, where the Church sold indulgences for sins of the flesh and spirit, used to swell Chuch coffers, Ferraro discovers that if you find a young person, preferably a young woman, of blameless character and true piety, she can pray for your soul and the number of special prayers she gives can slowly reduce the sins you have created, slowly lifting you out of hell and through purgatory into Heaven. Ferraro checks several applicants, and settles on one woman who appears to fit the bill. Paying her a large sum of money each week, the woman goes to church and prays strenuously for his soul.
The humor of this situation is increased as Ferraro treats this situation as another corporation he runs. He has charts and diagrams following the woman's weekly reports of prayers. The charts show the reduction in sins, and corresponding increase in the height of his soul. Somehow the young scholar he hired is not really impressed in this worldly handling of a spiritual matter. Besides, the young scholar asks, how do you know she even is praying so hard. This puts a bee in Ferraro's bonnet, and he goes to the church to check up on her. He finds she is not there (although she is supposed to be there). He finds her in her apartment, sleeping with her boyfriend.
Immediately a tiny figure of Guilgud is shown descending slowly downward, the backdrop being "Hell" from the Hieronymus Bosch triptych, THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. Guilgud/Ferraro has a heart attack shortly after from the shock, but when the young scholar visits him again, he is told that the next time Guilgud would have a supervisor watching the young woman to make sure she does what's she is paid for. On that cynical note the episode ended. It was a nice final touch.
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