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Broken Vows (1987)

A ghetto priest has doubts about his calling and when he gives the last rites to a murder victim, he decides to help the man's girlfriend find his killers.


Jud Taylor


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tommy Lee Jones ... Pater Joseph McMahon
Annette O'Toole ... Nana Marie 'Nim' Fitzpatrick
M. Emmet Walsh ... Detective Mulligan
Milo O'Shea ... Monsignor Casey
David Groh ... Michael Drumm
Madeleine Sherwood ... Mrs. Chase
Jean De Baer Jean De Baer ... Gene Drumm
David Strathairn ... Stuart Chase
Frances Fisher ... Maureen Phelan
Peter Crombie Peter Crombie ... Dan Phelan
Anthony LaGuerre Anthony LaGuerre ... Carlos
Sylvia Short Sylvia Short ... Miss Lalor
Richard M Dumont ... Father Purdy (as Richard Dumont)
Andrew Nichols Andrew Nichols ... Boy in Confession
Joseph Drblik Joseph Drblik ... Conductor


When Father Joseph Hennessey visits the home of one of his parishioners to offer last rights,he becomes embroiled in a plot which ultimately shakes his faith to its very foundation. Intrigued by the dying man's mention of "Nim," and fascinated by the man's saintly demeanor, Father Joseph's curiosity is redoubled when a beautiful young woman enters his church to question the young priest about the deceased man. Father Joseph and the woman, whom he discovers to be the "Nim" in question, embark upon an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the man's death. They discover that the man was clearly murdered, that he was a celebrated artist, that he had several aliases, and that his work was particularly revered by two shady gallery owners. However, more shocking than any of the revelations is the discovery that the young woman and Father Joseph are falling in love. Father Joseph's commitment to his church has always been unflagging. He is now thrown into a crisis of faith, ... Written by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

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USA | Canada



Release Date:

28 January 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Almas perdidas See more »

Filming Locations:

Montréal, Québec, Canada

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

A little-known gem
30 January 2014 | by victoria-simmonsSee all my reviews

This TV movie was so unexpected in its subject matter and so thoughtful in its execution that it blew me away when I first saw it in 1987. When it showed up again on Lifetime years later, I made sure to get it on tape.

Tommy Lee Jones is Father Joe MacMahon. One of several priests at an inner-city church, he is settling into middle-age and his unchallenging duties, which don't include any real outreach to the people in the neighborhood. Without realizing it he has settled into mediocrity. When he is called to the death bed of a man who has been stabbed, he is shocked and puzzled that the man--though nominally a Catholic--refuses the last rites of the Church, preferring to die on his own terms, secure in his sense of God, and without saying who stabbed him. It's not so much that Joe's faith is shaken by this encounter, but he is made aware of his own complacency. He sets out to solve the mystery of the man's life and death, so as to try to understand his perspective on faith. He is joined along the way by Annette O'Toole, the dead man's sometime girlfriend, and a romantic awareness arises between them that is played out with humor and grace.

This is one of the few movies that deals with questions of faith, and it does so thoughtfully. Despite the murder mystery and the Thornbirds sort of situation with the priest and the girl beginning to fall for one another, this is not a flashy sort of film. The reviewer who thought the film attacks the Catholic Church is quite wrong. What the film is addressing is the need for faith to be humane, active and mindful, whether in the Church or outside of it. The film moves quietly, the tension provided by Jones' questing intelligence and the sense he gives that Joe is awake and aware for the first time in years. Jones is supported by a fine cast, especially Annette O'Toole as the good-humored and decent, if slightly kooky, artist, and also M. Emmett Walsh, Frances Fisher, Milo O'Shea, David Groh, and Jean de Baer. A then-new David Strathairn has a tiny but pivotal moment as the Christlike dying man, convincing us that this is a man who would leave a permanent mark on the soul of the priest whose offices he so gently refused.

"Broken Vows" doesn't provide sensationalism or thrills. In fact, its few attempts to generate excitement or suspense feel artificially ramped up. But the beautiful writing, and the actors firing on all cylinders because they know they have meaty material to work with, hold us to the end. This is a movie of ideas that richly repays the viewer who enters its world on its terms.

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