The Cardinal (1963)

The Cardinal
Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Robert Dozier from a novel by Henry Morton Robinson
Otto Preminger Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant


Cardinal Glennon: He’s a lucky man to have a son who’s not afraid of him.

This three-hour spectacle about the life of a Catholic priest was not as hard to take as I expected.

As he awaits his ordination as cardinal, Stephen Fermoyle (Tom Tryon) ponders his years as a Catholic cleric.  Fermoyle was seemingly destined from birth for the priesthood by his Irish-American parents.  Fate also seemingly destined him for great things by giving him a gift for languages and a scholastic bent.

His first years as a priest were painful, however.  Much of this was caused by his sister Mona’s (Carol Lynley) romance with a Jew. They were engaged to be married when the man decided he could neither convert nor promise to raise his children as Catholic. Fermoyle was forced by his religious principals to take a stand that caused his sister to descend into a life of “sin” and misery.  Later, he is sent by Bishop Glennon (John Huston), who thinks the scholar is too big for his britches, to serve as the assistant to the dying pastor (Burgess Meredith) of the poorest parish in his diocese.

Many things happen over the remaining two hours of this movie, including Fermoyle’s leave of absence and friendship with an adoring Austrian (Romy Schneider); the confrontation between Fermoyle and Southern bigots; and his mission to Vienna after the Anschluss to deal with a Hitler-supporting prelate.  With a cast of thousands, including Dorothy Gish in her final role.

I was hesitant going into this, expecting a three-hour melodramatic extravaganza would just not be for me.  I was right and yet it was better than I expected it to be.  The acting is solid and the settings are  beautiful, especially at the Vatican.  So many different plot points are covered that it also doesn’t seem to be quite as long as it is.

John Huston was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  The film was also nominated in the categories of Best Director; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Film Editing.

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