Great Original Film, But Flawed Editing and Reproduction.
M. Morrow | 02/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This made-for-TV movie from 1973 was shown full-length on U.S. public broadcasting stations in the 1970s. It is a visually and intellectually impressive film. The story line is very faithful to the 1972 book "Catholics" by Brian Moore, with only a couple of scenes sequenced differently, and in my opinion, rather more effectively than in the book. Unfortunately, later VHS versions have been shortened, with about the first ten minutes of the original film deleted. This DVD version shares the same significant defect.The first few minutes of the original film were essential in setting the context for the conflict portrayed between the traditionalist Irish monks led by their Father Abbot (Trevor Howard), and the modernist representative (Martin Sheen) of their order's Vatican Father General. During these missing first few minutes, we would have seen Sheen meeting with the Father General (Raf Vallone) in Rome, and discussing the "problem" of the return of Latin Mass celebration by the monks of Howard's abbey and the growing world-wide popularity of that celebration. The first scene made it clear that the time period portrayed is hypothetical and futuristic. In this fabulous Roman Catholic Church, additional modifications and liberalization of doctrine are supposed to have taken place beyond those that have been in effect since Vatican II. Within the film, there are mentions of a "Vatican IV" and other hypothetical conventions. Missing the original initial scene, many may believe that the film has grossly erred in, or deliberately distorted, current Roman Catholic beliefs. This was not the motive of the movie as originally filmed, and it is a tremendous loss to the integrity of the original story that the vital first scene of the movie has been edited away. However, this does explain the crediting of Raf Vallone as Father General at the start and end of the film, when in fact Raf Vallone/Father General never appears in the VHS or DVD versions. It would be well worthwhile to read the first chapter of the book before seeing a shortened home video release, if at all possible.The DVD video quality is disappointing. The color is washed out, and in several scenes it is strangely yellow-tinted. It is definitely inferior to my ten-year-old VHS copy issued by USA Home Video. The sound is occasionally clipped, with words lost in several places. Not so my VHS copy. The original film title was "Catholics, A Fable" but the cryptic title of "The Conflict" has been used for the DVD. The DVD also contains an idiotic special feature in the form of an interactive quiz about the movie content. One may entertain one's self with such challenging questions as "What was on the sign carried by the man in the brown suit?" or "What color was the priest's car?" The quiz even has incorrect answers!In spite of these problems, I state without reservation that this DVD is well worth owning. Since Vatican II there has existed a Roman Catholic traditionalist movement that today seems to have more Vatican-sanctioned success than would ever have been thought possible at the time this film was made. Some have tried to relate the events portrayed in this film to that movement. But by movie's end, this film actually depicts far more important issues of religious belief, and its loss. This is a film, like the book, that will be of interest to anyone, of whatever faith or none, for whom philosophy of religion is of interest.The acting by Trevor Howard is absolutely flawless and authentic. It is art and it is masterful and it is heartfelt and it is beautiful. Almost equally so is that of Cyril Cusack, who plays the role of Father Manus, a monk. Sheen's role is important, but not nearly as much as Howard's, and not remotely as well-crafted.This is as intelligent and entertaining a film today as it was when it was made 30 years ago. Let us hope someone in the near future will gather an old PBS copy of the complete film, digitally re-master it, and finally give us a proper and fitting version of this film. I know of no other film that deserves it so much."
A nostalgic film for Baby Boomer Papists
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 12/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're an early Baby Boomer born and raised a Roman Catholic, then you'll likely appreciate the 1973 film CATHOLICS. If you're of any other faith, or a Catholic born later than, say, 1960, then the movie may be of only academic interest. Indeed, if you're a young Catholic today, then the issues around which the plot pivots may not be comprehensible at all.A youthful Martin Sheen plays a priest sent by Rome to an Irish monastery located on an isolated, windswept island. His mission, to demand that the monks cease and desist celebrating the Mass in Latin. The Vatican hierarchy is attempting to modernize the Mass worldwide, i.e. have it celebrated in the vernacular, as well as promote the new policy that the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is symbolic, not real. Trouble is, the monastery's priests have been celebrating the Mass on the mainland in the traditional manner. More to the point, the ceremony has been televised, and is causing a pious, revivalist stir among the faithful. The pencil pushing prelates back in Rome are not pleased with this political incorrectness.The marvelous actor Trevor Howard plays the crusty, wise, spiritually troubled, monastery abbot, who must find a way to obey the dictate of the enforcer sent down from the Big House, while avoiding a rebellion among the monks, who consider the emissary's message an abomination, and he himself disconcertingly trendy. (Faith and begorrah, he doesn't even wear the traditional, Roman clerical collar!)Are you still with me on this, or have I lost you? If I haven't, God bless ya, darlin'. In any case, all of the acting performances are wonderful, especially Howard's. The character actors portraying the abbot's cowled flock were chosen with pure genius. And the wild Irish coastal scenery ... ah, `tis St. Patrick's own, surely.As I said up front, you had to be born a Papist prior to 1960, as I was, to understand what the fuss was all about. I well remember the horror with which my mother regarded the vernacular Mass. To this day, she'll seek out the Latin Mass in those rare places - sort of a doctrinal Underground - where it's still celebrated. Mom, this review is dedicated to you."
As good as the original book
M. Morrow | 12/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Catholics" is a faithful adaptation of Brian Moore's novella of the same name. Trevor Howard plays the abbot who is the crux of the plot; Martin Sheen (who is one of the rare people who is just as physically gorgeous today, in his fifties, as he was when this movie was made in 1973) plays the aggressive young inquisitor from Rome. This film is only superficially about the conflict between modern and traditional strains in the Church -- the real story is about the abbot, who after a lifetime in religion has lost his faith and is afraid to try to find it again. Howard, a superlative actor, could convey more with a twitch of an eyebrow than some present-day stars can with any amount of "Method" acting. His subtle portrayal of spiritual anguish blows all the other actors, Sheen included, right off the screen. His only serious competition comes from the scenery -- the film was shot on location on the Irish coast, one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful places on earth."
This Film Is Great For Everyone!!!
R. Kirkham | Rushville, Illinois USA | 02/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A friend recently gave me a copy of this old film, originally titled "Catholics". This film is one of the best studies of tradition vs progressive influence I have ever come across! The film creates a sympathy for Pre-Vatican II Catholicism by creating a fictional future crisis that has just a hint of honesty about it. The message (propaganda) intended by the director is just as interesting as the well-acted drama.
It doesn't matter if the topic is pre vs post Vatican II, or fundamental vs liberal Protestantism, or Republican vs Democrat issues, etc. The combinations of emotions and propaganda are similar in most ideological conflicts.
I've now watched this film 5 times in the past 3 weeks and have shown it to several other people. I find that just watching the film with someone generates a strange mixture of emotions and discussion.
The cost is cheap enough. Do yourself a favor and order this film today. "
The future of the Church of today?
M. A. Ramos | Florida USA | 02/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is set in a fictional future that takes place after at least two more ecumenical Council's, Vatican IV. A movie that may have been ahead of its time is so relevant today. It shows the difference in thought between the prevalent belief after the above councils of those who believe the Church should be used for social revolution and ecumenism instead of saving souls.
A group of traditional Catholics in a remote monastery perform the Pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. And because it becomes world famous, it becomes a problem to Rome. This is the setting when the movie starts. Martin Sheen plays the Modern Neo-Catholic Priest whose job it is to censer the Mass. And Trevor Howard plays the abbot who has lost his faith but is obedient.
Cyril Cusak plays his role with ardor and believability. I think he does the best acting job in this film and his performance is thought provoking. And places the conflict within the church in plain understandable words. A must see for any Catholic. "