The Cardinal

Otto Preminger’s 1963 picture, loosely based on the life of Cardinal Spellman, was a box office hit, though critics were snooty about it. Bosley Crowther, reviewing it for the New York Times, remarked of the protagonist: ‘The young priest, played by Tom Tryon, is no more than a callow cliché, a stick around which several fictions of a melodramatic nature are draped.’ To watch it again sixty years down the line is to be clementer. It is now so rare in cinema to find representations of Catholic clergy that even approach three-dimensional credibility that one spontaneously awards high marks for effort. The film represents an image of priesthood after which young people today supposedly hanker, though I suspect the situation is in fact more complex. What strikes one most is the fact that the Church (notwithstanding obvious failures of individuals throughout the film) could be portrayed in a mainstream medium back in ’63 as representing, at some deep level, moral authority, be it one against which people railed. This marks such a contrast with the present day that it really makes one sit up — to realise what a task we’ve on our hands.