Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints by Peter Dans

SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

Every serious Christian movie buff should own a copy of Peter Dans’ Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. First published in 2009, Christians in the Movies was originally available only in an expensive hardcover edition priced as a library reference work; since then it’s been reprinted in an affordable paperback edition.

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Christians in the Movies is not Dans’ first survey of cinema. An associate professor of medicine as well as a dedicated cinephile, Dans was first moved to write about the big-screen depiction of his profession in his 2000 book Doctors in the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Ahh! — an entertaining and insightful study of social attitudes regarding medicine as illustrated by Hollywood.

Dans is also a Catholic, and in Christians in the Movies he undertakes a similarly impressive inquiry into the cinematic portrayal of Christianity and Christians. Both books are highly readable and informative commentaries that focus particularly on changing social attitudes over time.

Just as Dans notes in Doctors in the Movies that physicians enjoyed a “golden age of medicine” before being knocked off their pedestals, in Christians and the Movies he observes that whereas the “movie clergymen of my youth were tough-yet-good-hearted priests, often portrayed by big stars like Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, and Bing Crosby,” later portrayals often depicted clergy and believers as “vicious predators or narrow-minded, mean-spirited Pharisees.”