Thanks to all who have recommended movies embodying the Christian vision of the world — many of those movies I've never seen, especially the foreign-made, and so I have something to look forward to. In the meantime, I'd like to revise my former list, thus — and place an asterisk next to movies that I especially like, and that are rarely seen or talked about. Again, this list is unranked, and includes only movies I have actually watched:
1. The Passion of the Christ. Worth seeing just for the theologically judicious flashbacks.
2. Ben-Hur (William Wyler). Incomparable score. Stephen Boyd as the malign Messala steals every scene he's in. A movie about the triumph of the Word of God, victorious in death.
3. Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli). Everybody's in this movie, but then, almost everybody's really good in this movie, from Anne Bancroft (Mary Magdalene) to Christopher Plummer (Herod Antipas) to Ian Holm (the evil Pharisee Zerah). Robert Powell as Jesus is a tad on the emaciated side, but riveting.
4. The Ten Commandments. Hey, you can't beat Yul Brynner saying, "Moses, Moses, Moses!"
5. The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens). A bit overdone, like most Biblical epics, but I like it anyway, and Max von Sydow is excellent.
*6. Friendly Persuasion (William Wyler). Quakers out west. Gary Cooper is superb.
7. Stagecoach (John Ford). The movie that defined westerns for three decades. John Wayne ends the movie by taking the former prostitute Dallas out to a ranch outside the town and the Ladies' Temperance League.
*8. How Green Was My Valley (John Ford). The chronicle of the slow withering of a Welsh mining community. Walter Pidgeon plays a bluff and earnest young preacher, whom half the town despises for his not preaching enough hell fire. Maureen O'Hara is the young woman who loves him. Roddy McDowall is the boy Huw, through whose eyes the story is told. Donald Crisp as the patriarch of the Morgan family is unsurpassable — as is the actress, whose name I can't remember, who plays his wife.
9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford). The dark western in which the good and self-sacrificing man does not get the girl — in fact gives up everything that means most to him in life. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are the suitors, and Lee Marvin the bad man.
10. The Searchers (John Ford). Either this or the previous movie is the greatest western ever made. A man eaten up with hate and the desire for revenge (John Wayne) must come to terms with the truth.
11. High Noon (Howard Hawks — I think). Gary Cooper plays the sheriff of a town who has to do the right thing even when his deputy (Lloyd Bridges) and his best "friend" among the town's elders (Thomas Mitchell) either turn against him or give him no support.
12. Shane. A man comes to town who knows how to fight and how to shoot — and helps the embattled farmers hold their own against ranchers that want to drive them off the land. One of the best "boy" movies ever made. I could have chosen instead Angel and the Badman, wherein John Wayne is brought round to goodness and faith by a village of Quakers.
*13. A Tale of Two Cities. Ronald Coleman as the drunkard lawyer Sydney Carton is perfect; he can say more with a look on his face than most actors can in a week of movies. When he makes his fateful decision in the end, a plaque on the mantel behind him reads, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Also great is Edna Mae Oliver (who was in everything; see Guns Along the Mohawk) as the kindly battleaxe Miss Pross.
*14. Penny Serenade. A heartbreaking movie about a marriage that is on the rocks. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play a couple who lose their beloved little daughter, and then grow apart from one another. Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe in the TV show Petticoat Junction) is spot-on as their old friend and business associate — who teaches Cary Grant how to change a diaper. This one's not to miss.
15. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra). Clark Gable, the hardscrabble news reporter, wins the girl, Claudette Colbert, who is fleeing from an arranged marriage with a man from high society.
16. It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra). Everybody knows about this one — a movie about the goodness of not pursuing your dreams!
17. You Can't Take It With You (Frank Capra). In this one, Lionel Barrymore — Mr. Potter in the previous movie — is the good guy, a rich man who retires from the world to pursue human interests, along with the rest of his family of wise fools.
*18. Lady for a Day (Frank Capra). A poor old woman has been pretending, to her daughter who lives overseas, that she is a rich socialite; then the daughter comes to visit.
*19. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Ingrid Bergman is magnificent as a strong-willed missionary to China who wins the respect of the people and of the local mandarin ruler (Robert Donat). Features one of the great final scenes in all film history.
20. The Bells of Saint Mary's. The better of the two Bing Crosby / Father O'Malley movies, though Going My Way has its final surprise — when the director brought Barry Fitzgerald's nonagenarian mother from Ireland, without Fitzgerald's knowing it. Anyway, you can't beat Ingrid Bergman as the sister who runs the school (and learns a little bit of boxing, too).
21. The Sound of Music. Everyone knows this one …
*22. Marty. Ernest Borgnine is a butcher whose mother and brother and pals don't want him to marry the plain-looking girl he has fallen in love with.
23. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan). Marlon Brando walks the Via Dolorosa. You can't beat the cast in this movie: Lee J. Cobb as the corrupt union boss, Rod Steiger as Brando's compromised brother Charlie, Eva Marie Saint as the young woman whose brother was killed by the union thugs, and Karl Malden as the priest who rouses the men to action — in Hollywood's finest portrayal of a priest.
24. The Scarlet and the Black. Gregory Peck is Monsignor O'Flaherty, protecting Jews in Rome in the Second World War; his Nazi opponent is Christopher Plummer.
*25. The Nun's Story. Audrey Hepburn is a nun who works as a nurse in a hospital in Africa.
26. A Man for All Seasons. Incomparable script, for a great cast: Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Robert Shaw as the conflicted Henry VIII, John Hurt as the perjured Richard Rich, and Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey) as the malevolent Cromwell.
*27. I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock). Montgomery Clift is a Canadian priest who is suspected of murder, but who has heard the confession of the real murderer, and cannot reveal it, or even give testimony that would help to reveal it.
*28. Great Expectations (David Lean). John Mills as Pip and Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket turn in superb performances. A film about gratitude and ingratitude, and the coming to life of two human souls.
29. Sergeant York. Gary Cooper is Alvin York, a simple Christian farmer who doesn't want to go to war, because it's against his convictions, but who, when persuaded, becomes the most decorated veteran of World War I. Walter Brennan is his preacher friend back home.
30. Chariots of Fire. Ian Holm is the good guy in this one for a change. Had it been made in the 1940's, when editing was done by people with a sense of the coherence of a play, this movie might have been one of the greatest of all time. As it is, it is superb. Great moments for revealing those things that transcend sport, and national pride.
*31. The Straight Story. Richard Farnsworth rigs up a contraption powered by a lawn-mower engine to travel from Iowa to Wisconsin to be reconciled with his brother.
*32. The Trip to Bountiful. Geraldine Page is an old lady who lives with her son and his often shrewish wife. She cuts out on them one day, on the sly, to take a bus to Bountiful, the plantation and village where she grew up. A movie about loyalty and forgiveness.
*33. Lilies of the Field. One of my favorite movies of all time. Sidney Poitier is Homer Smith, a mason and carpenter whom a group of German refugee nuns "hire," to build them a chapel. Check out character-actor Stanley Adams as the owner of the diner. The actress who plays the mother superior is absolutely fantastic. The screenplay, I believe, was written by Horton Foote, who also wrote the screenplay to the previous movie, and — I think — to the following:
*34. Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall is a country-and-western singer down on his luck, who finds love and the Christian faith at a filling station in the middle of nowhere. Tess Harper is radiant as his wife. A beautiful movie about the grace of God.
35 and 36. Almost Anything by Alfred Hitchcock. I had chosen Foreign Correspondent (Joel McCrea) and The Man Who Knew too Much (Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day), but I could well have chosen Rope, with its probing of modern nihilism (Jimmy Stewart, Cedric Hardwick, Farley Granger), or Saboteur, or The Thirty Nine Steps …
37. The Third Man (Carol Reed). Joseph Cotten must do the right thing and help to turn in his "friend" (Orson Welles), who is making money by selling diluted antibiotics on the black market. The screenplay was by Graham Greene, I think, on whose novel the movie is based.
38. Judgment at Nuremberg. A fantastic cast — Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell. The movie upholds the natural law, as against all attempts to justify human actions by appealing to the positive law.
39. The Grapes of Wrath (Frank Capra). Henry Fonda leads the Joad family from dusty Oklahoma to California, in search of work, and food.
*40. Come Back, Little Sheba. Shirley Booth (the maid Hazel on the television show) won an Oscar for her portrayal of a long-suffering wife who is loyal to a man (Burt Lancaster) who does not deserve her.
*41. Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Robert Donat is a boys' school don who learns to teach by love. Not to be missed, if for nothing else than his courtship and marriage to the love of his life (Greer Garson).
42. The Diary of Anne Frank. Nothing more need be said.
43. The African Queen. Katherine Hepburn the missionary lady meets up with Humphrey Bogart.
*44. Three Came Home. Claudette Colbert plays a Christian nurse in the women's section of a POW camp in Southeast Asia. Sessue Hayakawa is brilliant as the Japanese chief of the camp, who comes to respect Colbert for her integrity and courage. Another movie with an astounding final scene. I do not know of any actress in the last thirty years who could match Colbert in this movie.
45. A Christmas Carol. Get the one with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. Almost as good is the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, with large passages of Dickens' text left intact.
*46. King Lear. Yes, Shakespeare was a Christian playwright. This is the Olivier version, with standout performances from Leo McKern (Gloucester), Diana Rigg (Regan), John Hurt (The Fool), and many others.
*47. The Agony and the Ecstasy. Charlton Heston is Michelangelo and Rex Harrison is Pope Julius II; the movie recounts their tumultuous quarrels, and the strange friendship that develops between them.
*48. Life with Father. Author Clarence Day was something of a skeptical soul, but the screenwriters for this movie decided to focus upon the love of Mr. and Mrs. Day, and the maneuvering whereby she persuades him in the end to be baptized. William Powell and Myrna Loy are the Days. A very funny movie, featuring a teenage Elizabeth Taylor, and Martin Milner (Adam-12) as a mischievous boy.
49. To Kill a Mockingbird. Moral integrity has never been better portrayed than by Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The young Robert Duvall has a surprising part in this movie.
*50. The Bravados (Howard Hawks?). Gregory Peck plays a man who joins a posse on the hunt for a group of marauders, who he believes are responsible for the rape and murder of his wife. The plot contains a profound surprise, which I can't reveal. The final scene occurs in a church, with the whole town congratulating Peck, who knows what he has really been harboring in his heart. Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, and Albert Salmi are among an excellent cast.
That's it for now. Again, thanks for the recommendations. We will take you up on some of them, to be sure!