Martin Luther (1953)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At times the film is very much like a documentary in style--with narration and explanation of Luther's inner torments when he began having doubts about his Catholic faith. You see a slightly less human side to Niall MacGinnis' characterization of Luther--more the authoritarian and scholarly in nature and fewer insights into his personal life. Considering the film's goal is to elevate this made to greatness as the leader of the faith, it does a very good job in inspiring the masses and putting across many of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Very well made and well worth seeing.
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.
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!
Young and energetic law student Martin Luther might always have been searching for the absolute truth, the purpose of the life and his life mission and starts it in the way of Christianity probably because the church at those times had absolute power as they claim gained from divine doctrine. In fact, his curiosity made him one of the leading monks in the church, but in his mind, he blamed himself for not loving the God, as the fathers claimed they must. Nevertheless, I was surprised that he did not stop his education and practices just because of the absence of pure love, but rather started learning more and more. As the Holy Bible was written only in Latin, that few monks understand fully even not considering other people, Martin started learning Latin and translating to German, which was way more commonly used. In the way of becoming Dr Luther, he worked hard and worked on his faith only. His main goal was his faith and destiny, not planned revolution by religious education.
"Sola Fide" was his doctrine in short, but it had long lasted "war" history against Luther. His journey to the battle of the truth starts with the indulgence made by fryer Tetzel in the early 16th century. The purpose of the indulgence in literal meaning was selling for the forgiveness or in other words heaven trade, where people have demanded money for the forgiveness of all sins in return. Saxons at that time were deeply convinced that God has given divine dual authority to church and king, so they can decide and interfere people's current life and hereafter. Words of Tetzel "full forgiveness for all sins, absolution for all punishments" sounds just as a promotion of the super innovated product. But the reality is that as Luther says, "they put a hole in His drum, you cannot buy God's mercy", meaning that no one, except God, can judge, forgive and make decisions about man's destiny. The play in God of the local authorities pushed Luther to write his debut doctrine called "95 Thesis" in 1517, that he nailed on the door of the church, but people did not really read it, because they thought they can reach salvation only by performing what church has told. Even though the thesis was written in German, which was commonly used by other, people ignore it in the beginning. King even says, "letters have no trouble in Germany", meaning that people will not understand anyway. Nevertheless, everything comes out unexpectedly in a different way. Luther's doctrine questioning the dual authority, which was not supported by the scripture, diffuses to whole Roman land by causing paradox among the population because the paper was denying the whole Catholic practice that Christians perform by accepting it right. Some people start to compare Luther to Hus, who was blamed for heresy and prosecuted later. However, Martin Luther succeeds in his revolt because of the printing invention that multiplied the amount of the doctrine and even further was translated into various languages. In one scene we can see that one person explaining the story from the paper to ordinary people who used to obey to church only, which shows that people started being interested in the debate and start their way to the conscience.
Even though Martin Luther has succeeded in establishing the truth according to the scripture, the film does not show his preference for the aristocracy. The faith only doctrine, stating that man need only the faith and by it, he can rich salvation, influenced the revolt of peasants who thought that aristocrats are those they should blame, that in the result hundreds of them have died. According to the lecture, when that happen Luther prefers aristocrats supporting him and orders to kill those peasants, but in the film, he is represented as a merciful priest explaining to them that their religion is a religion of love. In general, even it might have some unrelated scenes, the film is suitable as a history of Martin Luther, Protestant doctrine because the story, in general, has not been changed comparing to other sources.