The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

1983, CBS [made for TV]. Directed by Jerry London. Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer.

Decent Films Ratings

Overall
Recommendability
?A+
Artistic/
Entertainment Value
?
Moral/Spiritual
Value (+4/-4)
? +4
Age
Appropriateness
?Teens & Up

External Ratings

MPAA ?NR USCCB ?NR

Content advisory: Some violence, including assassination of a priest.

National Catholic Register "Video/DVD Picks" film.

By Steven D. Greydanus

Also known as The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, The Scarlet and the Black tells the true story of a Holy Office notary who, during Nazi occupation of Rome, covertly ran an underground railroad for Jews, anti-Fascists, and escaped Allied POWs.

Riveting and edifying, this WWII drama stars Gregory Peck as Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, a plain-speaking, straight-dealing Irish priest who boldly aids enemies of the Third Reich under the watchful eye of Christopher Plummer’s Nazi Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler. Their cat-and-mouse game is thrilling and great fun, and culminates in a startling showdown in a very significant setting.

John Gielgud plays Pius XII, who is depicted sympathetically and is shown to be willing to stand up to the Nazis. In one scene he is depicted as having had second thoughts about his Concordat with the Nazi regime — a portrayal the well-meaning filmmakers undoubtedly meant to put the Holy Father in the best possible light.

The acting is superb, although there is something a bit curious about seeing Plummer, so well known as the patriotic Austrian Captain von Trapp of The Sound of Music, wearing a swastika on his arm (you almost want him to start ripping Nazi flags in half). The final coda is so uplifting that it might seem contrived if it weren’t historically accurate. About the only weakness is the score, which is rather thin and stark. Otherwise, entertaining, inspiring, and very satisfying.

Tags: Priestly, Drama, Religious Themes, War

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