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Saturday, December 26, 2009

A MAN CALLED PETER (1955)


Close to plotless bio-pic about Peter Marshall, a maverick Presbyterian minister with a strong voice and a bum ticker. Hollywood prefers to have its Men-of-the-Cloth solve secular problems, Leo McCarey’s GOING MY WAY/’44 is the template, but rather than use Christ as seasoning for its main dramatic issues, PETER is structured to lead us thru a series of Christian specific sermons (boiled down into manageable five-minute units). It’s a tough nut to crack as dramatic fodder, but Richard Todd is so charming & inspired as Peter, you hardly feel the pew hitting you in the small of your back. If only the other film elements met him halfway this might have been something quite special. Jean Peters is no more than pleasant as his loyal wife (they ‘meet-cute’ through a sermon, which must be a Hollywood first, but her little speech is too Phyllis Schlafly for comfort, even for the 1910s) and the rest of the cast is second-drawer. Like many of the early CinemaScope pics, the stagebound interiors (by megger Henry Koster in non-interventionist mode) are bookended with postcard worthy vistas (Scotland, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Anapolis) handsomely lensed by Harold Lipstein. Without a large screen, you may feel you're watching a film that's playing in your neighbor's window.

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