This adaptation of AJ Cronin’s 1941 novel, The Keys of the Kingdom, explores the life of Catholic missionary Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck). Told in flashback, it spans some 60 years, from his childhood days in Scotland (where he is played by Roddy McDowall) to his helping the poor in a remote rural Chinese province. Along the way, we see the compassionate cleric’s tireless devotion to his cause in spite of such obstacles as a civil war, a disagreeable mother superior (Rose Stradner) and a pompous monsignor (Vincent Price), and witness the humbling influence he had on the lives of the people he ministered over the decades.
While this long, faithful 1944 adaptation of AJ Cronin’s popular novel may make lack the nobility of that well-known religious epic The Song of Bernadette (which came out a year before by the same studio, 20th Century Fox) or the enchantment of the year’s biggest grossing film Going My Way – which also concerned a young priest (Bing Crosby) making his mark in the world – it’s a success is down solely to Peck’s sincere, spiritual performance. While this was only his second film, Peck scored a well-deserved Academy Award nomination playing the humble Father Chisholm. His next film, Spellbound for Alfred Hitchcock, would further cement his leading man credentials.
VINCENT ON THAT ‘FAT PRIEST’
In news articles of the day, Price described his character, Angus Mealey, as ‘that fat priest’. Having been forced to lose weight for the three films he made during 1944 – the religious epic The Song of Bernadette, the Pacific war drama The Eve of St Mark, and the political biopic Wilson, Price had to pile on the pounds to play Peck’s snooty, racist superior. ‘I started to eat. Boy did I eat. I’m still eating,’ says Price.
DID YOU KNOW?
Vincent’s first wife Edith Barrett (1938-1948) can be seen in the film’s opening scenes playing Aunt Polly. It was the second and last time that the couple would appear in a film together. The first was 1943’s The Song of Bernadette.
The 2o13 Region 2 DVD from Screenbound Pictures features a pretty decent print and a handful of extras, including a 1988 documentary, Gregory Peck: His Own Man, in which Peck reviews his life as an actor while shooting Old Gringo with Jane Fonda. Also included are a gallery and trailer.