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USA 1963
Directed by
Otto Preminger
175 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Cardinal

Austrian-born Otto Preminger was one of Hollywood’s more cerebrally-inclined directors with films like Advise and Consent, released the previous year indicative of his taste for high-minded material. This film, based on a controversial best-seller by Henry Morton Robinson, similarly is an "issue" film but represents him at his most didactic, and with a running time of nearly 3 hours, some would say, ponderous.

The film looks at the ethical life story of Boston priest Stephen Fermoyle (Tom Tryon) between WWI and WW2 as he rises in the Church hierarchy and has to cross various hurdles that tax his faith, leading him for a time to leave it to consider his suitability for the secular life.

The film has all the damning characteristics of early 60s Hollywood, epic scale and lavish picture postcard production values but torpid pacing and an inescapable sense of studio-bound artifice. It is of some interest because it shows what Hollywood was prepared to tackle at the time and how far it was prepared to go in its criticism. Thus, in overly neat sequence Fermoyle lets his sister die rather than sacrifice her unborn child and condemn the Church Establishment for its blind-eye complicity with racism and fascism.

But the verdict today would have to be that is doesn't go far enough (child abuse was not at that time heard of) and there are few who will be willing to slog through this litany of issues to enjoy its incidental pleasures like John Huston’s hard-nosed Irish bishop.




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