Wednesday, June 17, 2009



As Catholic Media Review made note of, the Year of the Priest kicks in on June 19 and to help celebrate it the National Catholic Register has offered up some suggestions for movies to watch which contain positive portrayals of our collared clerics. Here’s the top ten good priest movies according to NCR:

1. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
2. The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
3. The Mission (1986), mature audiences
4. Going My Way (1944)
5. The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
6. On the Waterfront (1954)
7. I Confess (1953)
8. Boys Town (1938)
9. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999), mature audiences
10. The Exorcist (1973) mature audiences

Now that’s a pretty strong list and it contains some all time classics, priests or no priests. But, you know, as good as that list is, we think it could stand to have a few more movies added to it. The American Catholic has already made his suggestions, but here at The B-Movie Catechism, we were thinking more specifically that it could use some of OUR KIND of movies added to it. This is actually harder than you might think. Bad or fallen priests are a dime a dozen in B-Movies and the few good ones you run across usually only get a scene or two, like say Father McFerrin in Teenage Exorcist. But we’ve come up with a handful of low budget celluloid clergymen we think make the grade.

1. FATHER MCGRUDER from BRAINDEAD aka DEAD-ALIVE (1992): Okay, so like in Teenage Exorcist, the good Father McGruder really only has a bit part in this early Peter Jackson gore-comedy, and he does become something of a cad once he joins the legion of the undead. But watch the film (if you have a strong stomach) and you’ll agree McGruder had to be on the list if for nothing else than the scene where he transforms from pastor to pugilist, raining a storm of priest-fu on the zombie hordes as he yells out his battle cry, “I kick ass for The Lord!” (Come on, you have to know at least one priest who would want that on a T-shirt for his birthday.)

2. FATHER SANDOR from DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966): There’s no way you can convince me that Father Dwight Longenecker didn’t see this film at a young impressionable age. I can just picture little Dwight looking up at the big screen as the English sounding take-no-prisoners priest barrels through villages and mountainsides with a rifle strapped to his back and thinking to himself, “You know, I think I could that for the rest of my life.” Father Sandor is the alpha male when it comes to priests in movies. He’s the only one I can think of who ever took out Dracula with a gun?

3. REV. MIKE HILL from THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS (1979): Okay, this one’s a cheat as the reverend is actually Presbyterian, but what the heck, he spends most of the movie in a collar. Loosely based on a true story, this comedy tells the story of how the new pastor in town assembles a group of ladies from his church to take on the local mob and their numbers racket. It’s old school Disney goofiness from back in the day when they could actually make a live action movie without loading it with pre-manufactured pop idols designed to suck every dime out of the pockets of 13 year olds. Plus you get to roll your eyes knowingly as the preacher struggles to reinvigorate his congregation with some decidedly “Spirit of Vatican II” style techniques.

4. FATHER MICHAEL from THE UNHOLY (1988): The American Catholic already mentioned Chariots of Fire’s Ben Cross’ turn as a priest in The Assisi Underground (1985), but Ben returned to put on the cassock again in this lesser known (for good reasons) late 80s horror outing. After miraculously surviving a fall from a skyscraper, Father Michael is sent to New Orleans to battle a demon who targets priests for temptation and murder. The flick is mediocre and the tempting more often than not involves disrobed women (so stay away if that’s a problem for your chastity), but it’s still nice to watch a film where, for once, the priest actually makes it to the finale with his vows intact and is portrayed as a hero for doing so.

Anyway, that should give you a good start if you’re in the mood for something cheesy but would still like to see some charitable portrayals of priests. If you think of some we missed, be sure to let us know. Happy viewing.


Anonymous said...

Do you notice the dates? I'd agree that mainstream movies have become more lowbrow across the board, but it looks to me like there's a big jump between older flicks where priests are doing normal priest stuff, and more recent ones where priests might get a positive portrayal in very unusual circumstances. I haven't seen quite ALL the films mentioned, but it sure looks like priests as ordinary pastors & parts of folks' lives have disappeared from the screen.

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

That's an interesting catch on the dates. Do you think it's because Hollywood is no longer bound by things like the Hayes code, so they can openly show their contempt for the clergy, or is it just more of a reflection on modern times where ordinary pastors simply aren't a part of most people's everyday lives?

Anonymous said...

Some of both, I guess. I don't watch TV lately, but I saw "Everybody Loves Raymond" a few times a couple yrs. ago & I was struck that they have an ordinary pastor--older, chubby, and still on the ball. But in my more paranoid moments, I expect that positive portrayals of priests are going to disappear from movies entirely, because of the whole marriage issue nationwide & esp. the Prop 8 events in CA. I read some mainstream mags in the dentist's office on Mon. and was shocked at how openly pro-gay they were. Fr. Neuhaus famously said we're emissaries of a contested sovreignty, and I think more folks in Hollywood have come to think of priests as emissaries of irrational prejudice and "homophobia". Sorry to be so gloomy.

Xena Catolica

Scott W. said...

It's a dicey proposition of a movie, but I thought the priest in The Exorcism of Emily Rose was portrayed well (granted, unusual circumstances.)

germangreek said...

I liked Michael Rispoli in The Third Miracle (and even Ed Harris comes around) and a top ten list has to have Trevor Howard in Ryan's Daughter! I'm afraid that although I enjoy your blog, I'm less willing to "enjoy" your movie selections!

EegahInc said...

On the one hand, thinking of my own job, I sympathize with the writers who feel the need to throw good priests into odd situations. If people had to sit in a theater watching me go about my daily routine, the suicide rate would probably triple. But let me run across a warehouse full of alien seed pods or a vacant lot full of toxic waste barrels and then we might have a movie.

It's the ungodly number of negative portrayals of priests that gets on my nerves. If I were to list ten such movies per post, I'd still have enough blogging material for weeks. It's ignorance of the majority of priests at best and lazy stereotyping at worst.

Obviously, my self imposed budget restriction on the movies I review made me leave out actual good films like Emily Rose & The Third Miracle (haven't seen Ryan's Daughter yet), but I'd say the point is valid across the full spectrum of film. Priests get a raw deal when it comes to movies.

And c'mon, germangreek, I did throw in an old Disney movie featuring Edward Herrmann, Karen Valentine, Ruth Buzzi, Cloris Leachman, a poodle, and the Strawberry Shortcake Band. Not a rubber monster suit in sight!

germangreek said...

Well, alright then! Can't object to my grandchildren watching that. Even if, as you note, you're kind of cheating since he's not really a Catholic priest.

"warmatio"?! (my word verification) Is that the Latin word to describe the implementation of the Novus Ordo in most American parishes? As in, because you are Lukas Warmatio, I spew you out of my mouth.

Our Heroine said...

I agree that the decline in positive portrayals of the clergy in film is a sign of the times. But I think average folks wouldn't mind seeing their pastors portrayed well. I think it's "Hollywood" which thinks this is either a) what we want or b) what we ought to want.

Anyhow, I had to post your list on my blog. I hope you don't mind, but do let me know if there are any issues. I tease you a bit at the end of my post.


Anonymous said...

Hey! One more good priest in a sci-fi movie: Fr. Vito Cornelius in "The Fifth Element"!I feel bad I didn't think of that right away.

Strangely, the director is Catholic & also did the Joan of Arc film "The Messenger", which I quite liked but got very mixed reviews. Feh! Like you can trust paid reviewers who aren't A Movie catechists....

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

"warmatio"?! (my word verification) Is that the Latin word to describe the implementation of the Novus Ordo in most American parishes?"

In my parish I believe the official term is 'Nonus Chanceus'.

"I hope you don't mind... I tease you a bit at the end of my post."

Please, you've seen the kind of stuff I review around here. Ridicule comes with the territory :) I'll put up a link if I can ever get to blogging again.

"One more good priest in a sci-fi movie: Fr. Vito Cornelius"

I forgot all about him, although they balance it a bit with his goofy acolyte. Of course, that might just be a touch of realism. We just got a new acolyte at our parish last week and the priest is already good-naturedly ragging on him. Never fun to be the newbie, I guess.

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