The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

Article #1238 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2004
Posting Date: 1-1-2005
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, Oskar Werner

A Russian priest who was imprisoned in Siberia for twenty years is released to the Vatican. He then wins the election to become the next Pope.

First of all, let’s get the fantastic elements out of the way; the movie takes place in the near future where atomic war is brewing as a result of widespread starvation in China; this places the movie into that somewhat marginal category of political science fiction. This serves as a backdrop to what is essentially a drama, but I can understand the necessity of using this type of backdrop; if you’re going to create a fictional story about a personage as important as the Pope, you most likely are going to want to paint the story on a big canvas rather than on a postage stamp.

As to the movie itself, it has some fine moments and some great performances; I’m particularly taken with the work of Anthony Quinn, Oskar Werner and Leo McKern here. It deals with some interesting themes, such as the fact that in some ways being a Pope makes our lead character as much of a prisoner as he was in Siberia. I also like the subplot revolving around Oskar Werner, a terminally ill friar who wants to get his books published before his death, but is turned down by the Vatican committee because of the questionable theological ideas they contain. Unfortunately, the movie also has some major problems; at two hours and forty minutes, it is far too long. It is also too slow, gets bogged down in one totally unnecessary subplot (the one about the philandering reporter), and despite the fact that the movie really tries its best to effectively set up its final moments, when they finally come, I found it impossible to believe. I think it also may have tried too much. At any rate, it has made me a little curious about Morris L. West’s novel, and I’m curious as to whether it fleshes out certain things about which the movie merely hints. Despite its moments, this one is really for the very patient.


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