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After twenty years in a Siberian labor camp, Kiril Lakota (Anthony Quinn), the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lvov, is set free and sent to Rome, where the ailing Pope (John Gielgud) makes him a Cardinal. The world is in a state of crisis - a famine in China is exacerbated by United States restrictions on Chinese trade and the ongoing Chinese-Soviet feud. When the Pontiff dies, Lakota finds himself elected Pope. But the new Pope Kiril I is plagued by self-doubt, by his years in prison, and by the strange world he knows so little about.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Complete with overture and intermission, this MGM production (but made at Cinecitta studios in Rome and locations) boasts a cast who were all at the peak of their powers. Incidentally, the score won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, so it's worth hearing. Settle back and let this old fashioned but entirely enjoyable epic (from Aussie writer Morris West's novel) take you on a journey that is in many ways every bit as relevant today as it was then. Notably when it comes to the dangerous shortage of food in China, creating the tensions that could lead to war. The Pope promises to help solve this crisis by a pragmatic but highly risky strategy ...

This was also an era in filmmaking when Anthony Quinn would be cast for almost any foreign character who came from south of Dover and John Gielgud would be accepted as any figure of authority. (He only gets one scene.) And of course the language spoken in the Siberian labour camp, by the Russian premier and everyone else was English (usually with an accent to suggest a foreign-ness) ... Still, it is very well made in every department, and has a strong story line.

We also learn a great deal about the rituals on a Pope's death, the ceremonial Papal selection process and the insides of the Catholic church, as well as getting a theological debate. It was a time when a world in crises could conceivably listen to a Pontiff; Morris West's novel was mere wishful thinking, though.

Anthony Quinn is terrific as the humble servant of God, reluctant at first to even accept a Cardinal's hat, but as Pope, the embodiment of a mature Christian decency that is rare to find in real life. A performance diametrically opposite to his crowning achievement as the life-hungry Zorba the Greek. David Janssen is his brusque self as a brusque American TV journalist in Rome, whose medico wife (Barbara Jefford) is furiously jealous of his affair with the pretty Chiara (Rosemary Dexter), a subplot that resonates across the themes of faith and loyalty - and mostly, love. The irony for the Pope is that he is isolated and totally alone when it comes to the Big Decisions.

Published July 24, 2008

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(USA, 1968)

CAST: Anthony Quinn, John Gielgud, Oskar Werner, Leo McKern, David Janssen, Vittorio De Sica, Laurence Olivier, Barbara Jefford, Rosemary Dexter, Frank Finlay, Clive Revill

PRODUCER: George Englund

DIRECTOR: Michael Anderson

SCRIPT: James Kennaway, John Patrick (novel by Morris West)


EDITOR: Ernest Walter

MUSIC: Alex North

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Edward C. Carfagno, George W. Davis

RUNNING TIME: 155 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD; Arabic , Dutch , English , French subtitles

SPECIAL FEATURES: Vintage featurette; trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: April 19, 2008

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