Friday, 2 November 2012

The Scarlet and the Black (1983) - ★★★★

 Director: Jerry London
 Writers: David Butler (screenplay), J.P. Gallagher (novel)
  Stars: Gregory Peck, Chrisopher Plummer, Sir John Gielgud

To my astonishment, The Scarlet and the Black is a TV movie. I am astounded for many reasons, one being the brilliant quality of the cinematography. Another being the legendary actors that are cast in the film. It fully looks like a motion picture, which is an achievement in itself.

The story follows Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (Gregory Peck), the leader of an underground operation which hides allied POWs from Germans occupying Rome during WWII. The Chief of the Gestapo in Rome, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kapplar (Christopher Plummer), orders that the priest is to be captured or killed if he is seen outside the protection of the Vatican Walls. This film also stars the legendary Sir John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII, who tries to maintain the Vatican's neutrality in his dealing with the Germans whilst also doing what he can to help the church.

There is a great deal of things I liked about this film. I'm not a Catholic, but I don't appreciate people saying that the Catholic Church (particularly The Vatican) did nothing to protect those who needed help. That is not the case, for there were countless numbers of Catholic priests and adherents who helped whoever they could throughout WWII. What this film did was reveal the impact that one priest had on many POWs, saving so many lives and risking his own. It also revealed the motive of Pope Pius XII's neutrality, which was to protect his church. Hitler would have taken over the Vatican and instated a new Pope that supported his views had Pius not declared neutrality.

There were Oscar worthy performances in this film. Gregory Peck was as good he's ever been playing the Irish priest. The same accolades go to Christopher Plummer. Had this been a motion picture, Plummer would have certainly nabbed a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. There was something really incredible about the way he could look furious through his eyes. In one scene, he stood perfectly still across from the Pope, just staring at him. This stare had more importance than a whole screenplay worth of dialogue. It was saying "You just try and stop me." The chemistry between Peck and Plummer was a joy to see, it truly was a match made in heaven. I might also add that Gielgud played an extremely convincing and warm Pope Pius XII. 

The story is both interesting and thrilling, seeing one priest rebel against the Gestapo to save the lives of many. This was made all the more thrilling by the excellent performances from three of the best actors of all time. Add in some great cinematography and great music from Ennio Morricone, then you've got yourself a truly entertaining movie in The Scarlet and The Black. 

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