Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Cardinal (1963) - ★★

Director: Otto Preminger
Writer: Robert Dozier (screenplay), Henry Morton Robinson (novel)
Stars: Tom Tryon, John Huston, Carol Lynley, Dorothy Gish

The Cardinal is quite the epic film. At over 3 hours long, it skims through controversial topics such as: sex before marriage, abortion, crisis of faith, racism, and the rise of the Nazi's. It just drags and drags. Nothing of any importance happens at all in the first hour, where they mainly talk of uninteresting things with very little substance. The 5 topics mentioned above were all crammed into the tiny 2 hour space, where they half-assed it and barely skimmed the surface of the issues they raise. I don't know how anyone could have thought this was a good idea, unless they wanted it to be an exploitation film that convinces people that Catholicism is the divine path to righteousness.

It's about a young Catholic priest named Stephen (Tom Tryon), who has to face many problems as he rises to the office of cardinal.

The acting is very stilted, particularly from Tom Tryon. There's no chemistry between the actors. In fact, they make acting look very difficult. The only time I truly liked Tryon's performance was during his monologue about leaving the priesthood. It was his first, and last stroke of masterful acting. John Huston finally showed up about 45 minutes in and schooled them on how to act. He was by far the best part of the film.

Thank God for John Huston!
There are a million little problems with The Cardinal, and a few big head-aches. For every good quality in the film, there are twice as many bad ones. To be fair, it has really nice music and at times the cinematography is truly beautiful. It's not enough to add an ounce of intrigue to the film though.

I got so angry with this movie. Let me describe to you why... There was a leak in a steam pipe, which made the heart on a Mary statue melt. A Jewish man noticed this, but Father Stephen said, "Facts are only small parts of a much larger truth." Apparently, God made the pipe leak... I don't wish to sound cynical, but it really annoys me when people make up their own theories, rather than follow simple logic. This scene just really bothered me, because the priest was presented as correct even though his whole philosophy is based on faith alone. Whereas the Jewish man was basing his theory on evidence. Who would you believe?

I had to laugh at the way they presented Vaudeville. They made it look like an evil, disgusting genre of entertainment for the witless and impure. In the front row of the theatre sat three high and mighty Catholic's, looking down on those who enjoy that kind of thing. Why can't they just live and let live?

At one point Father Stephen has to make a most horrific choice, no matter what choice he makes someone close to him will die. The thought of being in that situation makes my skin crawl, but in the end I know what choice I would make. He made his choice based on what the word of God is... I can't say whether he made the right or wrong decision. This was very controversial for the time, so for that it gets major brownie points. 

Ugh, the little romance angle in the second half was so contrived. There were beautiful shots of Vienna, ruined with two actors that had zero chemistry. "It is my whole life I find it important to find the right man." This is a direct quote from Stephen's love interest, Mona (Carol Lynley). If I may quote from Harry Potter, "She needs to sort out her priorities!" I think this film had good intentions, but there are so many rotten lessons scattered throughout. The main message I received was "Stray from the church and you get burnt." 

Otto Preminger has made an 'epic' by combining a bunch of little stories and mashing them into the one biopic about a cardinal. I mean, it's cool how they are addressing these issues, but it didn't really do justice to their significance. He just dabbles in and out of such controversial themes, which left me wondering why they bothered bringing them up in the first place!

Tom Tryon makes for a most ravishing Cardinal!
I'll mention but one more thing that annoyed me. A man helps Stephen after he is seriously hurt by the KKK. Stephen asks him, "Are you a Catholic?" To which the man replies, "Na." As if the man is an extra-terrestrial, he asks, "Then why are you doing this?" My goodness that annoyed me. Why is it that many theists find it strange that non-religious people have good morals? You don't need a sacred text to know what is right and wrong.

At the very end, all of the Catholics in Austria sing whilst a crowd of angry Nazis are rioting around them. It was a tactic to make Catholics feel proud of their beliefs and their history during those times. I was raised a Catholic, and I still have a lot of love for the community and their beliefs. The Cardinal is a film with a purpose. That purpose is to let Catholics know that they've picked the winning religion, that their truth is THE truth, and that Father Stephen is but one of many who make the world a better place. I disagree with this movie on so many levels; spiritually, scientifically, and as a film-critic. If you're not a fan of religious dogma shoved down your throat, or tediously boring films, then give this a miss. 


  1. God Bless you, I hope that one day you maybe come back to the Church. I will pray for you.

  2. Funnily enough Preminger was Jewish, not Catholic, & some elements of the church advisef Catholics not to see this film, calling it "smut". I haven't seen it yet but am planning on viewing it shortly. Am interested in seeing whether it really does have a pro-Catholic slant or whether perhaps subtle there are subversive undertones somewhat hidden due to the use of Stephen's point of view throughout. If the narrative is as long & boring as you say it seems like I'll have plenty of time to critically analyse while I watch, ha ha.