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**Can we all agree to NOT judge this movie by it's cover?
If you do, you will be missing out on something GOLDEN! Yes, it's old--but it's fabulous!**
This TRUE story, The Scarlet and the Black, is absolutely amazing. You seriously couldn't make this up if you tried!
I love movies like this because they carry a sense of nobility within them. Courage and danger, sacrifice and loss, compassion and forgiveness are all center stage-- along with witty dialogue and achingly real characters. I have a lot of spoilers in this article, so if you want to be surprised, just go watch it already. If not, well--you were warned!
Monsignor Hugh O'Flahtery (played by Gregory Peck- yay!) is a rather unorthodox Irish priest with colorful language who enjoys boxing and golf. He is charming, efficient and above all, good. Stationed at the politically neutral Vatican in Rome during the Nazi invasion, he becomes troubled that those who come seeking asylum are often turned away. (If the Vatican were to officially help, then it would lose it's independence and come under Nazi rule--which would jeopardize the existence of the Catholic church).
Since no one else will help those in danger, O'Flahtery decides he can not sit by and just watch. He organizes a resistance movement whose only goal is to keep people safe. With pressure from inside the Vatican to end his activities, O'Flahtery's position becomes especially tenuous when the Nazis send in Herbert Kappler (played superbly by Christopher Plummer) as their new Chief of Police of Rome. His job is to make sure that Rome is entirely under German control and all "undesirables" are removed. Catching O'Flahtery and ending his rescue operation becomes Kappler's obsession.
Kappler paints a white line around the Vatican and states that if O'Flahtery steps one foot outside the line, he will be shot. And then the fun begins, ala The Scarlet Pimpernel (Have you seen that one? You should, despite it's also-unfortunate-cover!)
O'Flahtery takes on numerous disguises to continue his operations and keep over 4,000 people safe and fed. This cat and mouse game is breath taking. At one point, O'Flaherty even dons a SS uniform and enters the local Nazi prison in order to give absolution to his friend and fellow priest who had been arrested.
As time goes by, Keppler becomes more and more furious at the priest's antics and brilliance. But what I love about this movie so much, is that each character is multi-dimensional.
You see the murderous and brutal Kappler, but you also see a loving family man at Christmas time. You see a courageous priest, but you also see him struggle as he loses close friends and wages an internal battle as he wonders if he is putting the entire Catholic church in danger.
But most importantly, you see O'Flahtery struggle to love his enemy as Kappler asks him (not very nicely) to save his wife and children from the Allies who are sweeping through Italy and are almost to Rome. Of all the arrogant, hypocritical things to ask-- coming from a man who is responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands of others! O'Flaherty's colorful response? "I'll see you in hell, first." As O'Flahtery leaves Kappler, the Nazi wonders aloud if O'Flaherty is just like everyone else--just talk. What about mercy, forgiveness and compassion? Is not one life as valuable as another?
Silence is his only answer.
The real Monsignor O'Flaherty (left) and Col. Kappler (right).
Months later, when Kappler is caught and questioned, he is asked about his family. The Allies want to know who helped this high ranking Nazi family escape.
What? His family is safe? A look of wonder comes in to Kappler's eyes as he realizes who helped them get to Switzerland. Honestly, this makes you want to cry.
And THEN, when you think it can't get any better, the movie explains that Kappler had only one visitor as he spent the rest of his life in prison. This visitor came once a month, every month. Can you guess who it was? (Incidentally, it was the same person who eventually converted and baptized Kappler into the Catholic faith...)
This movie makes you want to smile and cheer--when you aren't holding your breath wondering if the good guys are going to be safe. Rent it or buy it, but watch it. Make it a part of your movie library. This type of nobility is worth investing in and seeing often. Let Hugh O'Flahtery be a mentor to your family.
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