PERFECT TIMING FOR “THE CARDINAL”
People close to me know I stopped being a Catholic in the 7th Grade while still in Catholic school! So it is ironic that I just love watching gaudy pompous religious epics like King of Kings and The Ten Commandments. One of my faves is The Cardinal (1963) to air on TCM Feb. 28 at 4:45pm EST. With the pope quitting (as Bill Mahr joked, “If he can, so can you.”), it is fortunate timing to watch Otto Preminger’s take on how a parish priest in turn-of-the-century Boston rises to the College of Cardinals. It spans over 30 years and is beautifully filmed on location in Boston, Vermont, Vienna and Rome (cinematographer Leon Shamroy lost the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography to himself for Cleopatra). It is too long but for most of the way very entertaining to watch with an all-star cast.
Tom Tryon is tall, dark, handsome (plus closeted gay and terrified of Otto the Ogre as he was nicknamed) as Father Fermoyle who is vexed by many problems facing good Catholic priests of the day. Does the family allow youngest daughter Mona (Carol Lynley) to marry her Jewish boyfriend even if he is hunky John Saxon? He attempts to convert but changes his mind. Good for him. A desperate Mona sleeps with him to hold on, but once she confesses the sin of lust to her brother he chastises her in a very well-acted confessional scene. Mona runs off to become a tango-dancing hoe with a Latin lover who is Catholic so that should appease her bigoted family. She winds up pregnant and her dear ole priest brother has to decide to save either the mother or the baby. Hmmmm wonder who he chooses? Preminger loved Lynley so much he cast her as Mona’s daughter Regina prompting Carol to joke, “I am probably the only actress who ever gave birth to herself on the silver screen.”
Director John Huston in his acting debut steals the movie as gruff Cardinal Glennon who feels the Roman papacy takes the U.S. for granted and hates that Fermoyle was schooled in Rome by an Italian Cardinal (Raf Vallone, another scene-stealer). Thinking Fermoyle too high-minded, Glennon sends Fermoyle to a poor cold snow-covered parish in Vermont where aspiring nun Lalage Menton (Jill Haworth) washes the feet of a dying pastor (Burgess Meredith) who teaches his new charge humility. According to Jill Haworth, Carol Lynley needed to learn a little of that as Jill found her to be “very full of herself.”
After the Mona debacle, Fermoyle takes a leave of absence and heads to Vienna where he almost becomes romantically involved with the beautiful Annemarie played by Romy Schneider filling in for Audrey Hepburn who backed out. The Viennese ball is a sumptuous affair with Oscar nominated sets and costumes. Once that episode is over it begins to lose me (no more starlets) as there is something involving the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia before back to Rome for the pomp and circumstance as Fermoyle is made a Cardinal.
The critics either loved the movie or despised it, but it won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Supporting Actor for John Huston. He also picked up an Oscar nomination, as did Preminger for Best Director and it was up for Best Film Editing besides the nods for cinematography, art direction and costume design. It lost every category. Jerome Moross’ haunting score was not even nominated, surprising many. There goes that wacky Music branch again.
What really counts is the box office. The Cardinal was a hit and the 6th highest grossing movie of 1964.
Trivia: Tom Tryon beat out Robert Redford, Bradford Dillman and Stuart Whitman to play Father Fermoyle and Carol Lynley was cast as Mona over Ann-Margret, Dolores Hart, Shirley Knight and Pamela Tiffin.