National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

FILM Clips

BY Jim Cosgrove

February 15-21, 1998 Issue | Posted 2/15/98 at 2:00 PM


February is Black History Month. In recognition, following are VHS videocassette reviews of movies with black themes from the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Black Orpheus (1959)

Vibrant intercultural feast updating the Greek myth to Rio de Janeiro where trolley driver Orpheus (Breno Mello) accidentally kills his beloved Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) while trying to protect her from a stalker costumed as Death and, after a religious cult fails to revive her, he sets out with her body for burial until another fatal accident intervenes. Directed by Marcel Camus, the appealing leads are supported by a spirited cast who play out the mythic tragedy amid the gaiety of Rio's Carnival with its colorful parades of dancing bands, backed by a haunting music score and spectacular views of Rio's picturesque locales. Subtitles. Stylized violence, sexual situations, and innuendo. The USCC classification is A-III. The film is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Home Vision, $29.95)

Cry, the Beloved Country (1952)

Compelling British production of Alan Paton's story about bridging South Africa's racial divide as a black Anglican minister (Canada Lee) leaves his rural parish to seek his missing son in Johannesburg, finds him condemned to death for murdering the son of a white farmer, and the tragedy brings the two aged fathers together in mutual understanding and respect. Directed by Zoltan Korda, the location photography documents the oppressive conditions in the black slums bordering the city but the story's rich assortment of characters, including Sidney Poitier's pragmatic city curate, puts matters in a human context transcending racial differences. Stylized violence, sexual references, and justice questions. The USCC classification is A-II. The film is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Monterey, $69.95)

Cry, the Beloved Country (1995)

Fine adaptation of Alan Paton's novel set in 1946 South Africa where a black minister (James Earl Jones), whose son has killed a white man, reconciles with the victim's father (Richard Harris) in a story exploring the artificial barriers of racial differences. Director Darrell James Roodt emphasizes the human dignity of the characters, the equality of all in the sight of God and the injustice of a society based on racism. Restrained violence and sexual references in a justice context. The USCC classification is A-II. The film is rated PG-13. (Miramax, $19.99)

Glory (1989)

The story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black fighting unit raised during the Civil War, focuses on its enlightened white commander (Matthew Broderick), who molded field hands and runaway slaves into proud, heroic Union soldiers. Director Edward Zwick raises consciousness about the little-known regiment and re-creates some harrowing battle scenes but, unfortunately, gives shallow attention to the themes of racism and the obscenity of war. Stereotyping of key black characters, much grisly wartime violence, and some profanity. The USCC classification is A-III. The film is rated R. (Columbia TriStar, $19.95)

The Joe Louis Story (1953)

Movie biography in which a sportswriter (Paul Stewart) recalls how Louis (Coley Wallace) was guided in his early boxing career by a talented trainer (James Edwards), then became the world heavyweight champion (1937-49) and retired undefeated, until making a sadly futile attempt to regain the title. Directed by Robert Gordon, the dramatization simplifies much, touching on racism chiefly in Louis's two bouts with Germany's Max Schmeling, but by intercutting newsreel footage of Louis in the ring, the result is a convincing tribute to a great prizefighter and a leading African-American of the era. The USCC classification is A-I. The film is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $19.95)