|Release Date: Dec.12, 1963|
Father Fermoyle's (Tom Tryon) rise through the church hierarchy is set in motion during the opening credits as he is seen climbing the seemingly endless stone stairs at the Vatican. His journey to the position of Cardinal is challenged by a series of crises. Fermoyle's sister Mona (Carol Lynley) wants to marry a Jew who promises to become a Catholic. But when Mona confesses that she has slept with Benny (John Saxon) before marriage, and that Benny doesn't intend to become Catholic, Fermoyle unhesitatingly advises her to "give Benny up" and stop illicit relations. Next, Fermoyle is assigned to Stonebury parish in Massachusetts to learn humility. While there, Fermoyle witnesses the suffering of the elderly Rev. Ned Halley (Burgess Meredith) who is dying of Multiple Sclerosis. Fermoyle then faces a personal crisis of faith when he must allow his sister to die during a difficult childbirth. Following Catholic precepts takes a deep toll on Fermoyle's soul, so he requests a year's leave of absence. However, neither teaching at the International School of Languages in Munich, nor falling in love, can keep him from returning to the Church.
Fermoyle visits a small parish in the deep South whose black parishioners have been victims of the Klan. He is kidnapped and whipped by local disgruntled Klansmen but survives and returns to Rome. The scene shifts to Austria when Fermoyle is sent on a diplomatic mission. Preminger uses newsreel footage of Hitler entering Vienna in 1938. When Hitler turns on the Catholic Church, Fermoyle narrowly escapes through a secret passageway. After making his way back to Rome, Fermoyle speaks out against the Nazis and offers support to the oppressed: "You are not an ant in a totalitarian anthill." Through his good work, Fermoyle eventually becomes a member of the sacred "College of Cardinals."
The film, released in late 1963, was nominated for 6 Academy Awards in 1964 including best director (Otto Preminger), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Huston)., and Best Cinematography, Color (Leon Shamroy). The DVD version offers an excellent transfer of the movie, and a full length documentary about Otto Preminger. Critics generally agree it is not one of Preminger's best films, but it does present controversial topics that resonate even today.