Video Picks & Passes

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima: PICK


The Shoes of the Fisherman: PICK


The Nun’s Story: PICK


Content advisory:

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima: Nothing objectionable (fine family viewing). The Shoes of the Fisherman: Marital difficulties including implied adultery; sometimes muddled or misguided religious themes (could be okay for discerning teens). The Nun’s Story: Some frank violence; much religious conflict and ambiguity (mature viewing).

“Films of Faith” is the name of a new DVD box set of three very different Warner Bros. films with major Catholic themes, all new to DVD. Each of the three films is also available for individual purchase.

Longtime Catholic favorite The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima is the most welcome arrival of the three. Old-fashioned, reverent, basically faithful to the facts, the film never quite emerges from the shadow of the earlier, superior The Song of Bernadette, but ups the ante with sterner opposition (militant Marxists rather than freethinking civil authorities) and a more dramatic climax. The filmmakers have generally done their homework, and structure the story well, though they don’t manage the depth or clarity of Jewish writer Franz Werfel’s 1942 novelization The Song of Bernadette, on which the film is based.

Where the earlier film fleshed out characters and issues with complexity and nuance, Our Lady of Fatima is content to sketch simple types and familiar patterns: the disapproving mother, the sternly skeptical priest, the charming rogue. As Lúcia, 12-year-old Susan Whitney is earnest and sympathetic, though the story too often reduces her to anxious tearfulness. Gilbert Roland steals the show as a fictional scoundrel with a heart of gold who affectionately humors the children.

Fascinating despite flaws, The Shoes of the Fisherman is impossible to watch first of all as a movie; it plays first as a curious, at times almost prescient anticipation of the reign of John Paul II, filtered partly through the lens of the Silly Sixties. Based on the 1963 Morris West novel, the film imagines a Slavic cardinal from an Iron Curtain country who becomes “the first non-Italian pope in 400 years.” Even the cardinal’s name, Kiril, is eerily similar to Karol.

Bishop Kiril Lakota (Anthony Quinn) has spent 20 years in a Siberian labor camp when the film opens with his sudden release and speedy elevation to cardinal. The rituals of the conclave process and coronation ceremony are realized with remarkable persuasiveness. Although Kiril doesn’t emphasize orthodoxy as a major concern, the film strongly emphasizes obedience and submission to authority despite disagreements or objections. The climax may turn on a naive conceit, but The Shoes of the Fisherman is worth a discerning look.

By far the most challenging and controversial of the three, The Nun’s Story stars Audrey Hepburn as a young woman named Gabrielle who enters the convent with high hopes and ideals, but finds the disappointments and stumbling-blocks of consecrated life a potentially insurmountable obstacle. While The Nun’s Story certainly doesn’t offer the positive depiction of religious life common in 1950s Hollywood, it’s not an anti-religious or anti-Catholic depiction either.

There’s no effort to depict all nuns as warped or frustrated; there are bad apples, but also warm, sympathetic, well-adjusted human beings. One creepy mother superior suggests that Sister Luke display her humility by deliberately failing an exam — but another later confirms that this advice was wrong-headed. Where is the fault for Sister Luke’s crisis? Is she to blame? The Rule itself? Other sisters? Right up to the devastating final shot, which plays out in silence, the film refuses to take sides. Is it a triumph or a tragedy? Alas, it is something that happens.