The Power and the Glory (1940)

[The Power and the Glory (Penguin Classics edition]

Graham Greene
The Power and the Glory (1940)


He had a curious dream. He dreamed he was sitting at a cafe table in front of the high altar of the cathedral. About six dishes were spread before him, and he was eating hungrily. There was a smell of incense and an odd sense of elation. The dishes-like all food in dreams-did not taste of much, but he had a sense that when he had finished them, he would have the best dish of all. A priest passed to and fro before the altar saying Mass, but he took no notice: the service no longer seemed to concern him. At last the six plates were empty; someone out of sight rang the sanctus bell, and the serving priest knelt before he raised the Host. But he sat on, just waiting, paying no attention to the God over the altar, as though that were a God for other people and not for him. Then the glass by his plate began to fill with wine, and looking up he saw that the child from the banana station was serving him. She said, "I got it from my father's room."

"You didn't steal it?"

“Not exactly," she said in her careful and precise voice. He said, "It is very good of you. I had forgotten the code – what did you call it?"


"That was it. Morse. Three long taps and one short one," and immediately the taps began: the priest by the altar tapped, a whole invisible congregation tapped along die aisles -three long and one short. He asked, "What is it?"

"News," the child said, watching him with a stern, respon­sible and interested gaze.

When he woke up it was dawn. He woke with a huge feeling of hope which suddenly and completely left him at the first sight of the prison yard. It was the morning of his death. He crouched on the floor with the empty brandy-flask in his hand trying to remember an Act of Contrition. "O God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins ... crucified ... worthy of Thy dreadful punishments." He was confused, his mind was on other things: it was not the good death for which one always prayed. He caught sight of his own shadow on the cell wall; it had a look of surprise and grotesque unimportance. What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead-soon he wouldn't even be a memory – perhaps after all he wasn't really Hell-worthy. Tears poured down his face; he was not at the moment afraid of damnation – even the fear of pain was in the back­ground. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted – to be a saint.

– Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (London: The Vanguard Library, 1954): 200-201.

Critical Responses:

"Literature of this kind does harm to the cause of the true religion" - Vatican consultant (1953).

"Your Eminence will ... understand how distraught I am to learn that my book The Power and the Glory has been the object of criticism from the Holy Office. The aim of the book was to oppose the power of the sacraments and the indestructibility of the Church on the one hand with, on the other, the merely temporal power of an essentially Communist state. May I remind Your Eminence that this book was written in 1938-39 before the menace which I myself witnessed in Mexico spread to Western Europe?" - Graham Greene to Cardinal Pizzardo (1953).

"Mr. Greene, some aspects of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that." - Pope Paul VI (1965).

The Fugitive (1947)
directed by John Ford
screenplay by Dudley Nichols
starring Henry Fonda, Dolores del Rio, Pedro Armendáriz

Critical Responses:

"When Herbert J. Yates of Republic Pictures made a deal with John Ford to produce The Quiet Man he first made Ford agree to do one of his cavalry epics with John Wayne because he wanted a surefire moneymaker before taking a chance on The Quiet Man. The cavalry picture was Rio Grande.

He must have been talking to the folks at RKO who lost their collective shirts when the public stayed away in droves from The Fugitive. It got great critical acclaim and no box office at all.

My guess is that The Fugitive was sold all wrong or was made a year or two too early. If it had been sold as an anti-Communist as opposed to a pro-Catholic film it might have done better in those beginning years of The Cold War.

The Fugitive is based on a Graham Greene novel The Power and the Glory and it is about a priest in an unnamed South American country who is a fugitive because of his calling. An anti-clerical government has taken control of the country and they are doing their best to drive the Catholic religion out of the country.

Henry Fonda turns in a good sincere performance as the cleric, but he's about as convincingly Latino as Toshiro Mifune. The other members of the cast are well suited for their roles.

The best performance in the film is from that chameleon like actor J. Carrol Naish who could play any kind of nationality on the planet. He's the informer who rats out Henry Fonda to the police. Very similar to what Akim Tamiroff did to Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bells Toll and Naish's own performance in another Gary Cooper film, Beau Geste.

This was the first of three films Pedro Armendariz did with John Ford in an effort to broaden his appeal beyond Mexican cinema. Dolores Del Rio as his estranged wife was already familiar to American audiences from the silent screen.

The original novel by Greene had the priest as somewhat less than true to all his vows. He's a drinker and a womanizer. Del Rio's character is also quite tawdry. And this from Greene who was a well known Catholic lay person. But this Hollywood in the firm grip of The Code so a lot of what Greene wrote had to be softened by Ford for the screen. It lessened the impact of the film.

And with the whitewashing of Fonda's character came some rather heavy handed symbolism of Fonda as a Christlike figure.

Still The Fugitive might be worth a look for Ford, Greene, and Fonda fans." - Internet Movie Database.

The Power and the Glory (1961)
directed by Marc Daniels
screenplay by Dale Wasserman
starring Laurence Olivier, Julie Harris & George C. Scott

Critical Responses:

"Graham Greene's novel 'The Power and the Glory' got the Hollywood treatment in 1947, as a film called 'The Fugitive' (starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford). It's a decent movie, quite faithful to Greene's novel ... although the title change suggests a cynical (and misleading) attempt to dilute the very Catholic themes of Greene's story in favour of a more 'box-office' chase drama. The 1961 version of 'The Power and the Glory' is also faithful to the novel, but is very different. This version was produced by David Susskind for U.S. television (and for cinema release in Europe, where I saw it). Alas, it suffers from a low budget and very slow, stolid direction. All of the exterior scenes were very obviously shot on an indoor soundstage.

Although a big-name cast are on offer here, most of them are sadly miscast. Early in the story, Laurence Olivier plays a scene with a young Mexican girl... depicted by Patty Duke. Even at this young age, Patty Duke was an astonishingly talented actress ... but not for one instant do we accept her as a Chicana, and this lapse is absolutely fatal to her characterisation. Similarly, Keenan Wynn (who has impressed me in many other roles) is about the most un-Mexican actor I've ever seen, and he too is miscast here. I shan't even discuss Roddy McDowall as a Mexican Indian...

Another casting choice is unfortunate in hindsight. The comedian James Coco (already going plump at this early age) appears briefly, unbilled, in a serious role as a Mexican soldier. Unfortunately, when he strolls across the screen (sauntering in a most unmilitary gait), modern viewers will recognise Coco from his comic roles, and this harms the dramatic effect of his two brief appearances.

Olivier plays a 'whisky priest' in post-revolution Mexico: a Catholic cleric who risks his life by continuing to conduct the Catholic Mass in secret after the totalitarian government have outlawed the Catholic Church. In order to confer the Christian sacraments, the priest must have wine ... but his attempts to obtain wine will call attention to his clandestine activities. Despite Keenan Wynn's miscasting, there is an excellent scene in which Olivier purchases wine from black marketeer Wynn and his crony. To avoid arousing suspicion with his wine purchase, Olivier buys some whisky too. After the deal is done, Wynn and his partner bully Olivier into 'sharing' the wine with them ... meaning that Wynn and his partner proceed to guzzle all the wine (which Olivier needs) while letting Olivier keep the whisky (which he only needed as a decoy). Olivier's reactions are very believable indeed.

Although most of the actors here are excellent, the whole affair has a stagebound flavour. Acting for the camera (whether movie or television) is a very different craft from stage acting, and most of the performers here seem to be working in stage-play mode. Julie Harris is very appealing here, both physically and emotionally.

This is a slow, earnest drama with a great deal of dialogue and very little action, but there are several good performances ... and most of Greene's themes and ideas make the transition successfully. If you're hostile towards the Catholic Church, be advised that this production depicts the Catholic clergy as the good guys. I'll rate this production 6 points out of 10." - Internet Movie Database.

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