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The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock

Author(s): Mara Elena de las Carreras Kuntz

Source: Film History, Vol. 14, No. 2, Film and Religion (2002), pp. 121-135
Published by: Indiana University Press
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FilmHistory,Volume 14, pp. 121-135, 2002. Copyright John Libbey
ISSN:0892-2160. Printedin Malaysia

The Catholic Vision in

Hollywood: Ford, Capra,
Borzage and Hitchcock
MarfaElenade las CarrerasKuntz
This articleexploresthe differentways in which fear of being involvedin anythingevil. I alwaystried
a Catholicview of the humanconditionis re- to avoid it',he acknowledgedto Truffaut.4
flected in the cinema of John Ford, Frank FrankCaprawas the most explicitof the four
Borzage, FrankCapra and AlfredHitchcock. directors in discussing his religious affiliation.
The belief system at work in the canon of these Capra'sbiographersand criticsagree thatthe power
Hollywoodfilmmakersof the studioera is rootedina and consistency of the filmmaker'smoralvisionare
Catholicunderstandingof the humanpersonand his rootedinhisownlifeand experiences.EvenifJoseph
relationshipto others,to the worldand to God. No- McBride'sbiographyFrankCapra:TheCatastrophe
tions of love, sin, redemptionand communion- as of Success (1992)shows thatCapra's1971 memoir
taughtand livedinthe Catholictradition- are central shouldbe readwithqualifications,itstillprovidesthe
to understandthe worldviewof fourfilmmakerswho point of departureto examine the extent to which
were raisedinthe Catholicfaith.1 Capra'smoralvision is shaped by the Catholicism
Ford(1894-1973), Borzage (1894-1962) and into he was born, There are many revealingrefer-
Capra (1897-1991) share a common immigrant ences in Capra's The Name Above the Titleto the
background:theywere borninthe lastdecade of the Catholicfaithinconnectionwithhis personallifeand
19th centuryinto large Europeanfamilies of rural work.An individualistby temperamentwho did not
backgroundwho had leftthe OldWorldsearchingfor accept his religiousheritageas a givenbutgradually
a betterfutureinthe UnitedStates. Fordand Borzage came intoit,Caprawritesthatin his earlyadulthood
were first generationAmericans of Irishand Ital- he was a 'ChristmasCatholic'.5Inthe mid1930s, the
ian/Austrian/Swiss origins,respectively;and Capra astonishing success of It Happened One Night
was bornin Sicilyand immigratedto the US at age (1934)triggeredan artisticcrisis,whichresultedin a
six. As noted by theirbiographers,the culturaland conversionexperience,not unlikethe one faced by
religiouspatternsof these hyphenatedfamilieswere manyof his characters.He relatesthatthe admon-
absorbedbytheirchildrenand combined,inthe case ishmentof an anonymouslittleman catapultedhim
of Caprawith long-lastingrepercussions,with the backto action:'Thetalentsyou have, Mr.Capra,are
prevailingvalues of the Anglo Protestantestab- notyourown,not self-acquired.God gave you those
lishment.2 talents; they are His gifts to you, to use for His
Hitchcock(1899-1980), on the other hand,
was born in Londoninto a middle-classfamily,of Maria Elena de las Carreras-Kuntz is a film critic
English and Irishdescent. He noted to Francois and Fulbright scholar from Argentina. living in Los
Truffaut: 'Ourswas a Catholicfamilyand in England Angeles. She has a Ph.D. in Film Studies from UCLA.
He attendedCatholic
this in itselfis an eccentricity'.3 and teaches at both UCLAand California State Uni-
versity at Northridge. She reports on the international
schools, includingthe Jesuit St. IgnatiusCollege, a film scene for several Argentine publications and
formativeexperiencethat lefta lastinginfluence.'It currently is writing a series of articles on cinema and
was probablyduringthis periodwiththe Jesuits that Catholicism for CRISIS.
a strong sense of fear developed - moralfear - the Correspondence to jkuntz(o)
122 MariagIPlgV~~~~oPnir
l Elena9--V-----
CII~~P ~Elena de las Carreras Kuntz
conflict:the clash between a Catholicmoralview -
an idealisthero - and his desire to be a successful
Hollywooddirector- the materialistic worldwhichhis
John Ford'sCatholicismis also a knownfact:
a complex personality,he was a man of faithand
deeply held convictions.His biographers- begin-
ningwithgrandsonDan Ford- attestto this fact but
fall short of exploringthe full implicationsof this
lifelongfidelityto the Church,which resulted, for
example, in the conversion of his Protestantwife.
They tend to dwell (sometimes rathernegativelyin
the case of RonaldL. Davis)on whatthey perceive
as the Irishqualitiesof Ford's religiousbeliefs, like
superstition,childishness and the adorationof the
Virgin Mary. The two most recent biographers,
Joseph McBrideand Scott Eyman,tend to empha-
size the ethnic component of Ford's Catholicism,
examiningit primarily in relationshipto the liferather
thanthe work.
Hitchcock,an intenselyprivateperson,did not
disclose publiclythe importanceof Catholicisminhis
adultlife.He was a parishionerof the Churchof the
Good Shepherdin BeverlyHills,where he attended
Mass withhis wifeAlmaReville,a close collaborator
duringhis entirecareer, who convertedto Catholi-
cism beforetheirmarriagein 1926. LikeFord,Hitch-
cock was reluctantto discuss his cinema otherthan
incinematicterms.So to assess the Catholicoutlook
that Frenchcriticssaw as shaping his work,one has
to look at the evidence of the films.WhenTruffaut
asked Hitchcockif he consideredhimselfa Catholic
artist,the filmmakerwas not so much evasive as
cryptic:'Maybeone's earlyupbringinginfluencesa
Fig.1. The purpose. And when you don't use the gifts God man's lifeand guides his instinct.I am definitelynot
youngFrank blessed you with- you are an offense to God - and antireligious;perhaps I'msometimes neglectful.'9
a starof
Borzage, to humanity.'6WhetherCapra wrote the facts or
westernsfor Dealingwith FrankBorzage's Catholicismis
Thomas Ince, printedthe legend about this definingepisode, as not possible on a purelybiographicallevel.Borzage
about1915. McBridenotes, it doesn't alterthe autobiographicalgrew up in a Catholicfamilywho had settled outside
resonance of Clarence,the guardianangel in It'sa of Salt LakeCity,staunch Mormonterritory. Accord-
[Allphotos Wonderful Life(1946):throughhimthe herobecomes ing to his Swiss biographerHerv6Dumont,Borzage
of awareof the effects of his God-giventalents.
courtesy had not been baptised and did not wantto convert
Koszarski Inlateryears,throughhiswife,LucilleReyburn,to the familyfaithat the time of his death. In 1997 I
Collection.] who had convertedto Catholicism,Caprareturned interviewedBorzage's nephew Frank, who con-
to the faith.He definedhimself'as a Catholicinspirit;
firmed this information.FrankBorzage, Jr., com-
one who firmlybelieves thatthe anti-moral,the intel-
mented on the long-runningfamilyjoke about the
lectualbigots and the Mafiasof illwillmay destroy unbaptisedBorzages faringmuch betterin lifethan
religion,buttheywillneverconquerthe cross'.7Ifhis the Catholicones.
films are seen as a form of submerged biography Dumontpointsoutthatthe enigmaof Borzage
then one can understandwhy in so many of them - an extremely private person - can start to be
Capra is fashioningplots that reflect his personal unraveledby notingthatat age 25 the filmmakerhad
The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock 123

become a Masonand was active in his CulverCity, been created in God's image and resemblanceand
CaliforniaLodge.Dumont,in his definitivebiography by virtueof this filiationwe are all,the livingand the
(unavailableso farin an Englishtranslation),makes dead, part of the same body - the communionof
the case that the Borzage canon should have a saints - held together by the redeemingpower of
Masonic interpretation,whose thematic model is love. Inthis sense, Capra'smainnarrativetrope (an
Mozart'sThe Magic Flute with its hero's Gnostic idealistherorisingupto defendthe commonpeople)
journeyof enlightenmentthroughthe acquisitionof partakesof this notion.A joyfulsense of community,
knowledge.10 Thecontentionof this articleis thatthe of belongingto somethinglargerthanthemselves,of
Borzage canon - not the biography- reflects a being partof a familyand family-like institutions,is at
Catholicview of love in its theological meaning of the heartof Capra'sworksof maturity fromMr.Deeds
CharityorAgape, unselfishlove, self-sacrificingand Goes to Town(1936)to It'sa Wonderful Life.Butit is
freelygiven, an analogy to the love of God for his also presentveryforcefullyinearlierfilms,likeAmeri-
creatures. can Madness (1932),the social melodramaabouta
Inthe last decade, the most compellingargu- Quixoticbanker (WalterHuston),whose business
ments about Catholicismin film - in English-lan- philosophyis to lendon character,notcollateral,and
guage scholarship- have been advanced by Lee who is repaid handsomely by hundreds of small
Lourdeauxin his bookItalianand IrishFilmmakers in customers when bankruptcyseems imminent.The
America:Ford,Capra,Coppola,and Scorsese. 1 The comedy Ladyfora Day (1933)operates on a similar
authorargues thatthe Catholicidentityof these four principle:Apple Annie is helped by her beggar
directors- notwithstandingthe crucialdifferences friends,a racketeerand his associates, and the New
between first and second generation hyphenated Yorkeliteto impersonatea ladyof distinctionso that
Americans- can be probedby examininghowthree her daughterwill marrya Spanish aristocrat.Lost
keyCatholicideas and beliefsarerenderedcinemati- Horizon(1937) shows the Utopian Shangri-La,a
cally: communion, mediation and sacramentality. mysteriouscommunityinthe Himalayasfollowingthe
Centralto Lourdeaux'sviewis the notionthatethnic- teachings of their Lama, a two-hundredyear old
ity and Catholicbeliefs are two sides of the same Frenchmissionary.
coin, thatis, an Irishand Italianwayof beingCatholic Capra'sfilmscelebratethe values associated
resultsin certaintypes of themes and imagery.This withlifein a community- solidarityand selflessness
appreciationof the artist'sethnicbackgroundis un- as the best way to livea fulfillingexistence - but do
doubtedlyusefulto accountforcertainthematicand so ina non-ethnicway,unlikethe second generation
visual aspects in the workof a director:Bunuel,for Italian-Americans representedby FrancisCoppola,
example, cannot be fully grasped withoutunder- MartinScorsese and MichaelCimino,who tend to
standing his lifelongrebellionagainst the Catholic keep the forms, ratherthan the spirit,of communal
Churchof 19th centurySpain;nor Fellini'sbrandof activities.Lourdeauxnotes that Capra'scommuni-
anticlericalismoutside of Italianculture.Butan em- ties - however idealised, one may add - are a blue-
phasis on ethnicitywill tend to disregard how a printforthe principleof subsidiarityso fundamental
Catholicidentitycan be reflectedin filmmakerslike inthe Catholicsocialvision.Thisdoctrineposits, and
Hitchcockor Borzage,whose ethnicidentitiesdo not Caprashows, thatinorderto protectthe socialorder,
playa crucialrole in theircanon. and especially those most vulnerableand needy,
One should be carefulin assigning values to intermediateinstitutionsare needed. These family-
an artworkby virtueof ethnicityor religiousaffiliation. like organisationsprovideprotectionagainst anar-
Yetthe specificallyCatholicconcepts of communion, chy,the despotismof the powerfuland the intrusions
mediationand sacramentalityare centralto explain- of the state.
ing the key filmsand overallthemes of these classic The idea of communion- be itthe celebration
Americanfilmmakers. of communitylifeorthe unionbetweenthe livingand
theirdeardead - is a visualhallmarkof Ford'sworld.
Communion Ritualslike births,weddings, burials,dances and
Intheologicalterms,communionis the beliefthatour meals cement the linksamongstthe communityand
relationshipwithGod does not excuse us fromour bringto the screen some of Ford'smost memorable
responsibilitytowards our neighbor,for whom we moments.The Irishritualsof courtshipplaya comic
should care, especially for one in need. We have rolein TheQuietMan(1952).The dance is an act of
124 124 Maria Elena de las
las Carreras Kuntz
- Maria- Elena~- del~-p Carreras-~ Kuntz~)-~-~~-
Fig.2. Former
Rambeau isout
Young captures
Spencer Tracy

thanksgivingforthe ruggedpioneersof DrumsAlong unity,as in 3 Bad Men (1926), How Green WasMy
the Mohawk(1939).The people of Tombstonecele- Valley(1941)and 3 Godfathers(1948).
bratewitha folkdance the buildingof a churchinMy FrankBorzage dwells on a differentmanifes-
DarlingClementine(1946). Dances bringsolace to tationof communion:the linksamong humanbeings
the wearyfarmersof TheGrapesof Wrath, and refine- are actualised throughthe transformativeeffect of
mentto the frontieroutpostsofthe cavalrytrilogy,Fort love,primarily thatbetweena manand awoman.This
Apache (1948),She Worea YellowRibbon(1949)and is the overarchingtheme of the Borzagecanon. Love
Rio Grande(1950), as well as TwoRode Together is a healing and redemptiveforce that propels the
(1961),each a studyof leadershipin times of crisis. loversand those who surroundthem intoa transcen-
Burialshave a movingsolemnityin The Lost Patrol dental dimension,a spiritualrealm beyond death,
(1934), TheLongVoyageHome (1940), TheGrapes timeand space.12ThequintessentialBorzageannar-
of Wrath,TheBattleof Midway(1942),and TheyWere rativeinvolvesa couple bravingthe storms of life-
Expendable (1945). Burialsmatterbecause these mainlypovertyand war, but also intoleranceand
films describe the dignityand courage with which selfishness - to find,throughtheirloveand suffering,
charactersface danger and death. Death, in turn, a safe port. The opening intertitleof StreetAngel
does not breakthe unionbetweenthe livingand the (1928)summarisesthe definingtheme of Borzage's
dead, and charactersoftentalkto theirdead friends. whole work: 'Everywhere ... in every town ... in every
InJudge Priest(1934),YoungMr.Lincoln(1939),She street ... we pass, unknowing, human souls made
Worea YellowRibbon(1949), TheSun Shines Bright great through love and adversity'.The two other
(1953) and the Fordepisode of How the WestWas pairingsof Janet Gaynorand Charles Farrell,7th
Won(1962), husbands share theirjoys and sorrows Heaven (1927) and LuckyStar (1929) are delicate
withtheirlong-deceased wives as if they were still romances about the powerof love to transcendthe
alive. In other films, the ghosts of the loved ones harshness of life.
accompanythe livingintheirjourneyas a symbolof Initially,the treatmentof romanticlove may
The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock 125

seem traditional,followinggeneric Hollywoodcon- cumstances surroundingthe couples - bless the

ventions. However,the understandingof how love hastyweddings of soldierscalled to the warfrontin
shapes the dynamicof a couple follows a unique 7thHeaven,AFarewelltoArms(1932)and ChinaDoll.
Borzageanroute.Inhis films,love is a process that Priest-likemediators provide the spiritualatmos-
starts as Eros, a sensual attraction,and becomes, pherewherecouples indangercan exchangevows.
through redemptivesuffering,Agape, the selfless The preacher in Man's Castle performsa moving
care and concernforthe wellbeing of the lovedone ceremony,remarkingthatalthoughthey are not in a
and others.13Inthe most overtlyreligiousfilms,The church, in the eyes of God, Spencer Tracy and
GreenLight(1937),DisputedPassage (1939)- two LorettaYoungare husband and wife. Man'sCastle
pictureswhereagnosticdoctorsbecome believers- contains meaningfulreligiousepiphanies:Spencer
Strange Cargo (1940), a Christianparable in the Tracy reads from the Song of Songs, and the
guise of an adventurefilm,TillWeMeetAgain(1944), preachercites the FirstEpistleof Saint Paulto the
wherea fearfulreligiouswomanaccepts the designs Corinthians,Chapter1, verse 27: 'Godchose those
of Providenceto enter a hostileworld,and TheBig who by human standards are fools to shame the
Fisherman(1959) about Simonof Galileebecoming wise; he chose those who by humanstandardsare
a fisherof souls, the love of the couple becomes a weak to shame the strong'. In Three Comrades
subtlystated analogyof God's deep love and joy of (1938) MargaretSullavan and Robert Taylorex-
his creation. God is everywhere,Ray Milland,an change vows among friendsinthe restaurantwhere
Americanpilot hidingfrom the Germans,tells the theyhavecourted.ThemotherinMortalStorm(1940)
Frenchnovicewho saves himin TillWeMeetAgain. blesses the cup of wine exchanged by James Ste-
The psychological crime drama Moonrise (1948) wartand MargaretSullavanbefore fleeingfromthe
shows a young man responsiblefor a murderwho Nazis.
redeems himselfthroughthe loveof a youngwoman. The sting of death has no powerovercouples
Bymeans of delicatevisualellipses,the sexual made one by love and suffering.The dead enter a
unionis accomplishedat an earlystage of the rela- spiritual,disembodied stage, and watch over the
tionshipand seals the formationof the couple. What living.As in Fordfilms,the dead and the livingare
begins as Eros - a physical longing that is soon partof a mysticalbody, heldtogetherby love,as the
fulfilled- triggers a process of spiritualgrowth endingof ThreeComradeseloquentlyshows.
throughwhichthe two become one flesh and soul. Borzagealso excelled in capturingthe lighter
QuintessentialBorzagefilmslike7thHeaven,Man's side of romanticlove. Inmanycomedies, he delights
Castle (1933) and ChinaDoll (1958) show the proc- the audienceby showingthe veryinstantloveis born,
ess bywhicha fiercelyindependent- butincomplete be itthe hitof Cupid'sarrowatfirstsight,orthetender
- man slowly enters into the realm of domesticity momentwhen reciprocatedfeelings are confessed.
inhabited by the woman, who 'makes an empty The scenes are alwaysstaged in a similarmanner:
house intoa home,a home intoa haven',inthewords camera, lightingand music create a privatespace
of Ray Milland.A shy Janet Gaynorturnsa shabby forthe manand womancaughtinan intenseroman-
Montmartreattic into a domestic paradise, in 7th tic spell. KayFrancisand GeorgeBrentare magneti-
Heaven. InMan'sCastle, Spencer Tracyis tornbe- callyattractedto one anotherin a crowdedroomin
tween the pullto abandona pregnantLorettaYoung Livingon Velvet(1935);SpencerTracy,a street-smart
or stay, and thus relinquishhis cherishedfreedom. New Yorkcab driver,courts on a busy sidewalka
The dilemma is visuallyand aurallylaid out: the flustered Romanian immigrantplayed by Luise
beckoningwhistleof passing trainsversus the stove RainerinBig City(1937);underthe Spanishmoon,a
he has boughtherto be paidininstallments.InChina sophisticated MarleneDietrichfalls for the bashful
Doll,the blase warpilotVictorMaturelearnsto enjoy GaryCooperinDesire (1936);a Spanishredheaded
the home his 'temporary'Chinesewifehas made of seiorita (MaureenO'Hara)is swept away- and wed
the shack assigned to him. by - a daring Dutch pirate (Paul Henreid)in The
Thepassage fromErosto Agape is markedby SpanishMain(1945).
a simplebutsolemn ritualof marriage.Theexchange However,in Borzage'suniverse,the trajectory
of vows is sacramental,thatis, a sign of the actionof fromErosto Agape - the transformation of selfish-
God's grace uponthe lovers.Catholicpriests- sym- ness intoselflessness - is not confinedto romantic
patheticcharacterswho understandthe unusualcir- love. Inthe films infusedwitha religioussensibility,
126 1MariaElona de: las Carreas Kuntz

Agape coincides with a Christianunderstandingof criminals die at peace with themselves, having
the relationshipbetween man and his neighbour,as reached redemptionthroughthe serene example
a reflectionof God's loveforhis creation.Therational and words of Cambreau.Afterthe mysteriousman
doctorsof GreenLightand DisputedPassage realise dies and resurrectsina climacticsea storm,and later
in an epiphanythat they can belong in the human disappears, Vernedecides to returnto the colony
familyonly if they sacrificethemselves forthe good and pay his debt to society,whileJuliewaitsforhim,
of others. Riskingdeath, ErrolFlynntests on himself The trajectoryfromEros to Agape has been com-
a vaccine for a deadly disease, and John Howard pleted.TheChristianallegoryis unmistakable:Cam-
behaves heroicallyduringa Japanese bombing.The breaufunctionsas a Christfigure;he gives Gable a
redemptivevalue of sacrifice is at the core of the map withthe escape routedrawnon a Bible;Gable
beautifulromanticdrama The ShiningHour(1938), courtsCrawford withthe Song of Songs, a sacramen-
where the goodness and immolationof Margaret tal act that triggersher conversion.StrangeCargo,
Sullavanheals a whole family,transformsa cynical certainlyan unusualfilmfor its time, withits mixof
lady played by Joan Crawfordand saves two mar- sensualityand spirituality, was condemned by the
riages. Legion of Decency. The Catholic organisation
In many Borzage films spiritualgrowth is deemed offensivethe portrayalof the Christ-like fig-
achievedthroughphysicalloss. Thedirectorrenders ureand irreverent the use of the Scripture.Timehas
invisualtermsthe paradoxatthe heartof the Gospel: shown the Legionwas woefullyshortsightedin its
the grainof wheatmustdie inorderto give fruit.Even judgementof one of the most Catholicfilmsmade in
thoughthe Gospel message is nevermade explicit, Hollywood.
filmafterfilmshows that love overcomes the havoc
wrought by selfishness, poverty and war. In the
Borzageanuniverseevilis a forcethatcauses moral Closelyassociated to communion,mediationis the
degradation,and there are not so much villainsas idea that people need someone or something - a
weak characterswho inhabita spiritualhell. This is person,nature,symbols- to resolveconflicts.Christ
especially true of the anti-warfilms made between is the mediatorparexcellence. Fordand Capracon-
1932 and 1940:A Farewellto Arms,No GreaterGlory sistentlyuse mediatingfigures.The Borzagehero is
(1934), the remarkableanti-Nazitrilogy:LittleMan, notdefinedby mediationtraitsbutby his capacityto
WhatNow? (1934),ThreeComrades(1940)and The reflectlove by analogywithDivineLove.The Hitch-
MortalStorm (1943) and the French Resistance cock hero - an ordinaryman or woman facing ex-
dramaTillWeMeetAgain.Theyare nottopicalpoliti- traordinary evil- is neithera mediatornora reflection
cal denunciationsbut timeless explorationsof what of transcendentallove. He is defined by the willing-
dehumanising behaviour,violence and legalised ness to fighteviland by the pricehe has to pay.
brutality- in sum, spiritualchaos - can do to the InCapra'snarrativepattern,the herofunctions
humansoul. In some instances, the only heroicre- likea mediatorbetweenthe needs of the community
sponse is martyrdom, embodiedbythe
as beautifully and the entrenched forces of greed: Dickson in
young novice in Till
We Meet Again,who learnedof AmericanMadness(1932),Deeds inMr.Deeds Goes
love and evilby riskingher life. to Town(1930) Vanderhofin YouCan'tTakeItwith
Strange Cargo is perhaps the filmthat best You(1838), Smithin Mr.SmithGoes to Washington
shows the individualand communalimplicationsof (1939), Doe in MeetJohn Doe (1941) and Baileyin
ErostransformedintoAgape. Itis a Gospel narrative It'sa Wonderful Life(1946)playthatrole.Inthe most
of the redemptionof assorted sinners,amongwhich Christ-likeof these figures- Smithand Doe -there
is a repentantprostitute,toldas a romanticadventure are concrete allusions to their 'crucifixion'at the
with glamorous Hollywoodstars dressed in rags hands of the powerful.Ifanything,the trajectoryof
throughoutthe film. In an isolated penal colony, the archetypicalCapramessianic innocentis one of
Cambreau (lan Hunter),an enigmatic man who passion, death and resurrection.
emerges fromnowhere,leads a group of prisoners Music not only mediates between the oppo-
to freedomthroughthe jungle.Onlytough guyVerne sites - as the harmonicaduet inYouCan'tTakeitwith
(ClarkGable)and Julie(JoanCrawford), a hardened You(1937)- but also contributesto the creationor
prostitutein search of better horizons,survivethe reaffirmation of a communalspirit:the impromptu
perilsof the journeyand fall in love. The rest of the singingof 'TheManinthe FlyingTrapeze'on the bus
The-Catholic Vision in
Catholic Vision in Hollywood:
- - Ford, Capra,
Ford, Capra, Borzage
Boza and- Hitchcock
adico 127

inItHappenedOne Night(1934),the tuba playingof

Deeds in MandrakeFalls,the singing of AuldLang
Syne at the end of It'sa Wonderful Life(1946).
Other types of recurrentmediators are the
benevolentfathersand fatherfigures,who dead or
alive steer the heroes and heroines towards the
commongood. To cite one of many,the dead father
in TheMiracleWoman(1931),whose Christianethic
standards end up destroying the religious scam
cooked up by his vengeful daughter, Barbara
The Fordianhero is characterisedby a secu-
trait,the willingnessto be a media-
tor - to the point of self-sacrifice - for the good of the
family,the community,and even the nation,as inthe
case of YoungMr.Lincoln(1939). The hero, a man
or a womanand even a child likeShirleyTemplein
WeeWillieWinkle(1938),strivesto moderateintoler-
ance (socialprejudice,war,discrimination) by medi-
ating between the opposing forces of chaos (the
lawlessness of the West,the exploitationof the weak
or poor) and repression (the letterof the law, rigid
Whatmakes Ford's heroes so interestingis
theirhumanscale: they are not largerthan life.They
embody contradictions,complexitiesand flaws. In
Catholicterms,they are of fallennature,susceptible
of redemption.Theysucceed but also fail.Theyare
unique creatures:Tom Joad leaves his familyto
become a unionorganiserin The Grapes of Wrath
(1940), Nathan Brittleswisely averts war with the
IndiansinShe Worea YellowRibbon(1949),a com-
passionate and astute Lincolndefends innocent
peoplefroma lynchmob inYoungMr.Lincoln(1939); pel's commandto love one's neighbour.Atthe end Fig.3. Frank
HannahJessop redresses the moralwrongshe has of the film, a new priest named Serra - like the Capra
done in Pilgrimage(1933); an idealist pastor con- Franciscanfounder of the 18th century California the
frontsprejudiceand the weight of rigidtraditionsin missions - willstep intothe shoes of the martyred needsofthe
the smallWelsh communityof How Green WasMy hero, assuring the continuityof the churchfaithful. thesetofMr.
Valley(1941);Judge Priestshows how toleranceis Fordwrote to producerDarrylF. Zanuckthat 'my DeedsGoesto
possible in the deeply prejudicedKentuckytown in heartand my faithcompel me to do it'.14 Town (Columbia,
The Sun Shines Bright(1956). Ford sums up the Threeof the morecomplex- and writtenabout 1934).
mediatortype in his last feature 7 Women (1966) - Fordheroes are EthanEdwards(a hero and anti- [PhotobyIrving
makingthe worldlyheroine - an agnostic among hero)inTheSearchers(1956)and RansomStoddard Lippman.]
Protestantbelievers- the onlyone to livethe spiritof and TomDoniphon(one herosplitintwo characters)
the Gospel by sacrificingherselfforthe community. in The Man WhoShot LibertyValance(1962). They
In The Fugitive(1947) Ford and screenwriter reflecta viewof the Westas a morallandscapewhere
DudleyNichols transformGrahamGreene's novel good and evilcan stillbe discerned- civilisedbehav-
The Power and the Gloryabout the individualre- iouris betterthatlawlessness and revenge- butthe
demptionof a 'whiskey'priestintoa full-blownalle- heroes cannotfulfillsuccessfullytheirroleof media-
goryof Christ'sPassion, Deathand Resurrection: an tors withoutsacrificingthemselves to a nameless
ordinarypriest ends the
up fulfillingheroically Gos- limbo 'between the winds'. Edwards returns her
128 MariaElena de las Carreras Kuntz

the Sermonon the Mount,an explicitreferenceto the

core of the Christianmoral doctrine in the New
Testament,whichopens withthe Beatitudes- para-
doxical in purelyhumanterms - and found in the
Gospel accordingto Matthewand Luke.15
LikeCapra,Fordshows an undisguised- for
some, overlysentimental- affectionforthe poor,the
dispossessed, and the humble, that is, for those
blessed by Christinthe Beatitudes:the Joads in The
Grapesof Wrath(1940),expelledfromtheirland;the
Mexicanpeasants who keep the Catholicfaith in
spite of brutalpersecution in The Fugitive(1947),
Ford'snod to the countriesbehindthe IronCurtain;
the Mormonfamiliesinsearch of theirpromisedland
in Wagon Master (1950); and the blacks and the
prostitutesin the moving Christianallegoryof The
Sun Shines Bright.16Ford's particularfondness for
the sinnertranslatesintothe recurringcharactersof
drunkardsand MaryMagdalens,who are endowed
withredeemingvalues of wisdomand Madonna-like
purity:Doc Boone and Dallas, the drunkendoctor
and saloon girlof Stagecoach (1939), chased from
town by self-righteousladies of the league of de-
cency; MariaDolores,the fallenwoman who helps
the priest in The Fugitive(1947); Doc Hollidayand
ChihuahuainMyDarlingClementine(1946);and the
vulnerablebruteGypo Nolanin TheInformer(1935).
InGypoNolan,Fordand screenwriterDudleyNichols
transformedthe renegade IrishCommunistof Liam
O'Flaherty'soriginalinto an entirelydifferentcrea-
Fig.4. Victor niece to the whiteworldbut is destinedto roamand ture,forgivenbeforedyingbythe motherof the friend
McLaglen and wander;Doniphonis the unsungcowboy heroof the he betrayed.
MargotGrahame Old West who made the New West Ford also utilises the landscape in a sacra-
asthedrunkard possible by
willinglybestowing on Stoddard,a manof law,credit mentalmanner.Inthe lingeringshots of Monument
inJohnFord's forthe shootingwhichpropelledhis career. Valley- where he made nine of his Westerns and
TheInformer whichhe turnedintoa universalsymbolof the Ameri-
(RKO, 1935). Sacramentality can West - the directorconveys a uniquesense of
DistinctivelyCatholic,sacramentalityis the capacity beautyand mystery,establishinga sacramentalre-
of materialthings - people, objects, places, the lationshipbetween man and landscape. Fordturns
cosmos - to carry,so to speak, the presence of God. it intoa primordialspace wherethe childrenof God
To see God in and throughHiscreation. are faced withthe basic issues of life:family,com-
InCapra'sfilmicvisionone waythisis reflected munity,justice, solidarity,repentance, forgiveness
is inthe portrayalof the littlepeople andtheirinherent and mercy.Or,as McBridewrites:'Ford'spoeticway
dignity.Eventhoughit is truethatthey also have the of conveyingthe transcendence of the eternalover
potentialto become a mob - as the darkMeetJohn the temporal'.17
Doe (1941)shows - it is even truerthatthe common Intheirfilmworkmade forthe US government
men are the meek of the Gospel. 'The meek can between1942 and 1945 as partof the wareffort,Ford
inheritthe earthwhenthe John Does startlovingtheir and Capraalso broughtto the screen this distinctive
neighbors',says Doe at the end of his first radio approach to the inherentdignity of each human
broadcast.Capracommentedon severaloccasions person. Headinga combat photographyunit,Ford
that the underlyingidea of his movies was actually personallyshot and edited the poetic documentary
The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock 129

Fig. 5. Alfred
a Doubt
_...... : (Universal,

short TheBattleof Midway(1942), fromthe pointof Negro Soldier(1944) not partof the series, sets this
view of the soldiers who fought it, so that their propagandafilmaboutthe contributionof American
sacrificeand heroismcould be seen and felt by the blacks in a stillsegregated Army,in a vibrantChris-
audiences at home. As part of the secret photo- tianchurchgatheredforSundayworship.
graphicmissionsforthe Officeof StrategicServices, Borzageshares withCapraand Forda sacra-
a forerunner of the CIA,he documentedthe Doolittle mentalsense of reality,butinhis filmsitdwellson the
raidagainstTokyotakingoff fromthe carrierHornet humanface. Some of the most memorablemoments
in 1942, dwellingon the 'faces of ordinaryseamen, in Borzageare the intenselyspiritualfarewells,fore-
supportingthe heroicmission',as McBridenotes.18 shadowingdeath:HelenHayesat herdeathbed inA
As the executiveproducerof the WhyWeFight Farewellto Arms(1932) to the music of 'Deathand
series commissioned by Chief of Staff General Transfiguration' from Wagner's Tristanand Isolde;
George MarshallfollowingPearlHarbor,Capralaid FrankMorgan,as the GermanJewishprofessortalk-
out the basic rhetoricaldevice of contrastingthe ing to this wife forthe last time in the concentration
Americandemocraticideals - includingthe value of camp, in TheMortalStorm(1940);MargaretSullavan
religion- to the dehumanisingideology of the Axis dying in JimmyStewart'sarms, also in The Mortal
powers.The director'spredilectionforthe common Storm,sacrificingherselffor her husbandand friend
people - and theirsuffering- is a constanttheme of in ThreeComrades(1938).
the series. Itcomes across most forcefullyinthe last Forthese three directors,music - an instru-
episode, WarComes to America,a celebrationof the mentof mediation- also plays a sacramentalrole;it
Americanvalues he so prizedin his 1930s films.The is a means to create a communal sense and a
130 MariaElena de las Carreras Kuntz

reminderthat we are connected to a realitytran- flawlessheroes, and the forces of destruction,chaos

scending our senses. To mindcomes the beautiful and disorderunleashed against them. Exceptfor a
scene - and unnecessary for plot progression - of few instances of ambiguous endings - Vertigo
the blindorphansinging 'CaroNome',fromVerdi's (1958),Psycho (1960) and TheBirds(1963)- good
Rigoletto,inCapra'sHereComes the Groom(1951). triumphsovereviland the moralbalanceis restored,
Theuse of traditional and religiousmelodiesthrough- but not without the providentialinterventionof
out Ford'scinema providescinematographicshort- chance. The protagonists,and also the characters
cuts into his universe, incarnatingthe essential caught in the turmoil,do not come out of these
Fordianthemes, forexample'ShallWe Gatherat the ordeals unscathed;they pay a price,eitherin a loss
River'symbolisingan ideal communityin countless of innocence (Rebecca, 1940; ForeignCorrespon-
films.InBorzagethe experienceof beautyis gener- dent, 1940;Shadowofa Doubt,1943),the acquisition
ally renderedthroughmusic. It performsa radical of guilt(Blackmail,1929; Sabotage, 1936), or more
transformation, delicatelyportrayedin the television disturbingly,throughtheir contaminationwith evil
play The Day Met Caruso (1956), by changing (Tor Curtain,1966; Topaz,1969, Frenzy,1972). In
forevera littleQuakergirl'saustereviewof joy. their seminal 1957 study on the director,Claude
Chabroland EricRohmerdefinedthis intertwining of
Catholic narrates good and evil as the 'transferof In
guilt'.20 the later
Ford,Borzage,Capraand Hitchcockalso have sig- films,notuntouchedby hintsof despair,evilis clearly
nature narrativeforms that lend themselves to a presentedas the absence, or the slaughter,of love:
Catholicreadingof the humancondition.TheCatho- Rear Window(1954), Vertigo,Psycho and Mamie
lic understandingon thismatteris thathumannature (1964), studies of isolated or obsessed individuals
is weakened by originalsin but capable of redemp- confinedin emotionalor pathologicaltraps.
tion, throughthe exercise of free will.19Salvationor Inthe two filmswithspecificallyCatholicsub-
damnationare not predestined,and it mattershow ject matter,I Confess (1953) and The WrongMan
we choose to behave, forinthis choice lies whatwe (1957),the protagonistsaremenof faith:one a priest,
willbecome. played by MontgomeryCliff,and the othera family
InBorzage'sfilms,goodness, beautyandtruth manand NewYorkmusicianof Italiandescent, Henry
- attributesof God in classic Catholictheology- Fonda.Bothstand accused of crimesthey have not
move a person,a couple, a familyand a community committed - a recurrent Hitchcockian motif - but
to transcendthe limitsimposed by a flawedhuman neither can prove his innocence: The priest has
condition,become whole,and thus fulfilltheirhuma- heardthe confession of the murderer,and is there-
neness. In his stories of conversionthroughlove, fore boundto secrecy; the musicianhas been misi-
thereflowsa predilection- likeCapraand Ford- for dentified as a robber in a police lineup. The
the littlepeople, for the weak, the wounded, the machineryof authorityis about to crushthem when
innocent,the children,orallGod's creaturesblessed providenceintervenes:withoutviolatinghisvows,the
by Christin the Sermonof the Mount.Itwas not by priestis ableto reenacta publicavowalof the murder
chance thatBorzage'slast picturewas TheBig Fish- by the criminal;in TheWrongMan,the realrobberis
erman,and its climaxthatvery passage of Gospel. caughtina scene immediatelyfollowingthe protago-
Inhisfilmsaboutlove,beauty,sufferingandsacrifice, nist's anguished prayerto the Sacred Heart.The
Borzagetranslatedthe beatitudesof the NewTesta- climaxof thisdocumentary-style film,based on a true
mentto the Hollywoodscreen. story, is the close-up of a prayingFondadissolving
overthe emergingface of the realculprit.
Hitchcock's tales of original sinners Thespreadingpresence of evilis a constantin
The archetypicalHitchcockiansituationinvolvesan the Hitchcockianuniverse.Thefilmsare nottheologi-
ordinaryman or womanwho is suddenlyinvolvedin cal ruminationsaboutthe natureof evil, but a pres-
an out-of-the-ordinary situation.This disruptionis entation of its horrificconsequences, mainly its
caused by some manifestationof evil:a malevolent 'desecrationsof beautyand purity',as Truffaut sum-
person, a secret organisation,politicalagents (Nazis marises its impact.21 Like the biblicalJob, the char-
or communists),a sinfulpast of sexual origin,or an acters forced to confrontevil do not understandits
unbridledelement of nature.The plot is played out originor magnitude:the shy new mistress of Man-
as the confrontationbetween these good but not derley,symbolisingthe possibilityof redemption,is
The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock 131

nearly destroyed by the obsessed housekeeper comes across so forcefullyinHitchcock'sworkis the

mourningthe death of evil Rebecca, a character unshakeablepresence of moralabsolutes, rooted
unseen and unheardin Rebecca, but whose malig- not surprisinglyin a Judeo-Christianworldview.
nant presence threatensthe living.InRope (1948), Maybethe Jesuit emphasis on casuistrychanneled
twocollege graduatesmurdera friendinan aesthetic the futurefilmmaker's awarenessof the factorsinter-
attemptat moralemancipation.Psycho offersa chill- vening inthe concreteness of a moralsituation.
ing pictureof hell in the guise of a journeyintothe Ina Hitchcockfilmnotonlyis the moraldimen-
mindof the psychopathicmurdererNormanBates, sion of a key act shown with clarity,but also the
withwhom the audience has emotionallyidentified awareness of the character in such a moment:
untilthe surprisingtwistat the end. A psychoticson ClaudeRainsdecidingto poisonhiswifeinNotorious
acts as ifa pactto exchangemurdershas reallytaken (1946);OskarHomolkasending his young brother-
place inStrangerson a Train(1951);the explosionof in-lawaway carryinga ticking bomb in Sabotage
the merry-go-round at the end symbolisesthe chaos (1936);the motherswho must choose betweenthe
he has generated.Inthislight,TheBirdscan be seen livesof theirkidnappedchildrenor disruptingan act
as a doomsday parableabout contemporaryman of sabotage in bothversionsof TheManWhoKnew
paralysedand helpless beforea forceof evilbeyond TooMuch(1934and 1956);the spyingof the reporter
his understanding. inRearWindow(1953);the detectivemanipulating a
The most effectiveagents of evilare invariably womanto satisfyhis romanticobsession in Vertigo;
seductive,well-manneredand clean-shavengentle- the womanstealing$40,000 inPsycho.
men - occasionallya mysterious,elegantwomanas The heroes are imperfector fight against a
in The ParadineCase (1947). Since one of Hitch- darkpast:the guilt-ridden protagonistsof the period
cock's techniques is to provide the viewers with dramaUnderCapricorn(1949)and the psychologi-
informationwithheldfrom the charactersso as to Spellbound(1945),an obsessivelycurious
cal thriller
create suspense, the design of malevolentmen is James Stewartin RearWindow,the moralweakling
particularly interesting.Joseph Cottonin Shadowof portrayedby FarleyGrangerin Strangerson a Train
a Doubtis a suavelysinisterkillerof richwidows,who (1948),the unfaithfulwifeinDialMforMurder(1954),
explainshis amoralbehaviourto the audienceduring an irresponsibleCaryGrantin Northby Northwest
a familymeal.Thecameradolliesinon his profileand (1959),the sour protagonistof Frenzy(1968).Bythe
when a voice-overremarksthatwidows are human same token, the agents of evil sometimes show
beings, he turnshis face to the camera as if daring moralqualms,likethe troubledspies playedby Os-
the viewers to respond, and chillinglystates: 'Are car Homolkaand HerbertMarshallin Sabotage and
they?' The charming German Robert Young and ForeignCorrespondent,and the woman kidnapper
ClaudeRainsare infact ruthlesskillersinthe pictur- inthe 1956versionof TheManWhoKnewTooMuch.
esque landscapes of Switzerlandand Brazil,in Se- Interestingly,when a scene shows a killing
cretAgent (1936)and Notorious(1946). committedby a decent character,with whom the
In the war drama Lifeboat(1944), about the audiencehas been led to identify,Hitchcockskillfully
Alliedsurvivorsof a Germansubmarineattackwho dissociates the act from the actor: the killingstill
rescue a diabolicalNazi officerand eventuallykill violates the FifthCommandment,even though the
him, Hitchcockcame the closest to openly voicing perpetratorwas forced to act in self-defense. The
the moraland religiousissues faced by a group of most hauntingexample perhaps is in the Cold War
people in an extremesituationof physicaland spiri- spy dramaTornCurtain, wherean Americanscientist
tual confinement.'Whatdo we do withpeople like workingas a spy in EastGermanykillsa communist
that?' is a question asked twice by a character.It secret agent in a gas oven. Likethe equallyhorrific
encapsulatesa moraldilemmawithno easy solution. scene of the bathtubmurderin Psycho, the act of
Shapingthe design of a Hitchcockcharacter killinga human person - however despicable - and
is the beliefinman'sfallennature,orwhatBritishcritic disposing of the corpse, is an ugly, arduous, dirty
RobinWooddiscusses as the 'inextricability of good task. This is the premise developed in the black
and evil', one way of referringto the doctrine of comedy The TroublewithHarry(1955), where the
original sin.22 This intertwiningdoes not mean that directorindulgedhis Britishpenchantforthe maca-
good and evil are interchangeablefactors in a uni- bre and forironicunderstatement.
verse of moral relativism.On the contrary,what Hitchcockis farfromassigning to himselfthe
132 MariaElena de las Carreras Kuntz

role of a moralist,or a Catholicapologist, for that by notkillinghis 'contaminated' youngniece, brought

matter.Inthe televisionseries AlfredHitchcockPre- up as a ComancheinTheSearchers.A compassion-
sents (1955-1965), however,the directorseems to ate doctor forgoes a lucrativepracticeto help the
relishplayingthe roleof a sternfatheradmonishing poorinArrowsmith (1931).InTheFugitive,the perse-
childrenwho deviatefromthe good path,by means cuted priest returnsto a dangerous country,and
of modernday fables. The no-nonsense moralityof martyrdom, forthe salvationof one soul.
the stories is conveyed throughdeceptivelysimple The possibilityof redemptionis an omnipres-
plots:whatyou do to otherswillbe done to you. The ent traitof Ford's universe.No matterhow flawed,
most recurringnarrativeinvolves characters who weak, proud or sinful,a charactercan choose the
murderand cannot extricatethemselves from the pathof redemption,on manyoccasions throughan
physicaland moralconsequences of these acts, for wifeinFlesh(1932),
act of self-sacrifice:the unfaithful
exampleBackforChristmas,WetSaturday,OneMore the amoral flyer in Airmail(1932), the possessive
Mile to Go, Lamb to the Slaughterand Banquo's mother in Pilgrimage,the patheticJudas figure of
Chair. Gypo Nolanin TheInformer; the misguidedFrench
governorof a Polynesianisland in The Hurricane
The moral epiphanies in John Ford (1937);the martinetcommanderinFortApache;and
the cynicalDr.Cartwright in 7 Women.In3 Bad Men
Ford'scinematicuniverseis buildarounda repertory
and 3 Godfathers, two wonderfulallegories
of themes, notablyfamily,community,justice,duty, (1926)
aboutthe ThreeMagi,the outlawsrepresentalso the
tradition,self-sacrificeand redemption.The director Good Thiefof the
favours three archetypicalnarratives,with strong Gospel inWesternattire.
symboliccomponents:journeysof ascensiontoward Capra's gospel parables
home, or a promisedland;journeysof descent from Richard Griffithdescribed the narrativeformula
lost paradises, which can be regainedthroughre-
Capraelaborated,inclose collaboration withscreen-
demption;and isolated communitiesor individuals writerRobert as a 'fantasyof goodwill',in
facingdangers of a physicalor spiritualnature. which a messianic innocent,not unlikethe classic
Fordsets his charactersin a moraluniverse
of literature,pits himself against the
whererightand wrong,good and evilhave an objec- simpletons
forces of entrenchedgreed. His experiencedefeats
tiveexistence.Thetragicmomentina Fordfilmis the
himstrategically,but his gallantintegrityin the face
crisisof an individualconscience, the momentwhen
of temptationcalls forththe goodwill of the 'little
a charactertakes stockofwho he orshe is, a moment
and throughtheircombined protest,he tri-
that'allowsthemto definethemselves'as Fordonce people',
remarked.'itenables me to make individualsaware umphs.24
GrahamGreenephrasedthe Capraformulain
of each other by bringingthem face-to-face with
moralterms, referringto Mr.Deeds, but applicable
somethingbiggerthanthemselves.Thesituation,the to the entire canon: 'the theme of
goodness and
tragicmoment,forces mento revealthemselves and manhandledin a deeply selfishand brutal
to become awareof whatthey trulyare. The device simplicity
world'.25 The formulawas in place by 1936 withMr.
allows me to find the exceptionalin the common-
Deeds. Itwas retooledin Mr.Smithand taken to a
place.'23 darkextremeinMeetJohn Doe. To thistrilogyof the
These moral epiphanies are always subtly commonmanshouldbe added YouCan'tTakeItwith
staged, blended into the action. In The Prisonerof Youand Capra'spost-warcomeback,It'sa Wonder-
SharkIsland(1936), Dr.Mudd,unjustlycondemned fulLife.
for participationin the Lincolnassassination plot, These filmscan also be read as modernday
honors his medicalvows and saves his jailorsfrom parables,not unlikethose foundinthe Gospel.They
the plague. MaryStuartwillface death ratherthan arestoriesdrawnfromreallifeexperience,containing
give up herCatholicfaithinMaryof Scotland(1936). botha paradoxand a challenge.It'sa Wonderful Life
InStagecoach (1939)and SergeantRutledge(1960), comes the closest to the spiritof the Gospel, be-
the outlaw Ringo Kid and the brave black soldier cause it lays out a humanconflictand explores its
choose to stay and helpthe stagecoach passengers transcendentalimplications:how ought we to con-
and fellowsoldiersfromApache attacks.EthanEd- duct our lives?Atthe heartof the filmlies the clash
wardsbreaksawayfroma cycle of rage and revenge betweenthe desires of the heartandthe needs of the
Cahoi Viio in Holwod
The Catholic Fod Borzage and
Hitchcock 133
The~ ~Vision in-Hollywood: Ford, Capra,
commongood. The hero,JimmyStewartas George
Bailey,lives the irreconcilableconflictwithinhimself
untilthe end of the picture.Eventhoughhis nemesis
Mr. Potter (LionelBarrymore)typifies the classic
Capravillain,he is morean externalmanifestationof
Bailey'sdualitythan an autonomous unrepentant
Scrooge character.Most of the filmis an extended
flashback,in which an apprenticeguardianangel
Clarence(HenryTravers)reviewsthe lifeof thissmall
townBuildingand Loanowner,who is contemplating
suicide on ChristmasEve. The angel's challenge is
how to preventhim fromjumpingoff a bridge. By
havingthe hero see whatthe life of the community
wouldhave been if he hadn'tbeen born,Clarence-
functioningas his conscience - triggersan experi-
ence of conversion.The 'unborn'sequence shows in
very cinematographicterms how the absence of
Bailey'sgoodness has meant the presence of evil:
BedfordFalls,renamedPottersville,is an urbanhell
of mean littlepeople, beginningwithhis embittered
motherand the wife he nevermarried.The beautiful
climaxhas Bailey surroundedby the warmthand
affectionof familyand friends,whose jointeffortswill
pullthe Buildingand Loan out of financialtrouble. --^jp5^^ail
. r.

Theprotagonist'swrysmile is a winkto the audience:

he has seen, understoodand accepted lifeinallglory the object of affection,forexamplea contemptuous Fig.6. Capra's
and imperfections. BroadwayactorinMatineeIdol(1928),a cynicalgold post-wargospel:
It'sa Wonderful
Caprawrotein his autobiographythatitwas a digger in Ladiesof Leisure(1930) and the unfaithful Life(RKO,
film 'to tell the weary, the disheartened, and the husbandinStateofthe Union(1946).Arsenicand Old 1947).
disillusioned;the wino, the junkie,the prostitute; Lace (1944) presents a funnyvariant:the misguided
those behind prison walls and those behind Iron love of two endearingeccentric ladies make them
Curtains,thatno manis a failure!To show those born poison twelvelonelygentlemento end theirmisery.
slow of foot or slow of mind, those oldest sisters Likethe Gospel parables- to which manyof
condemnedto spinsterhood,and those oldest sons Capra'sgreatest picturesresemble - his films por-
condemnedto unschooled toil,thateach man's life trayhow love, a giftfreelygiven, comes to ordinary
touches so many other lives. And that if he isn't realityand changes itextraordinarily; inotherwords,
arounditwouldleave an awfulhole.'26 how the transcendentdisruptsthe course of human
One of the reasons why the consistency of events. InIt'sa Wonderful Life,a workof theological
Capra'sCatholicvision may not seem evidentwhen optimism,the divineis above the earthand comes
firstwatchingthe filmsis because of the absence of to it to propose salvationto a soul in despair.27The
obvious religious imagery as in Ford's films: hero accomplishes salvationonly after undergoing
churches,priests,ritualsand bells. Capra'sCatholic an experienceof powerlessness. Hisprayerof deso-
imaginationcan be traced not onlythroughcharac- lation, 'Lord ... I'm at the end of my rope', rings with
ters and plotstructures,but by the way free will,sin, the loneliness of Gethsemane, the eve of Christ's
grace and redemptionare workedout in his entire crucifixion.The Passion pattern culminates with
canon. Perhapsthe single most revealingelementin Bailey'sresurrection.Thisspiritualrebirthis assured
Capra'svisionlies inthe way he shows, fromhis first when he realises that life has the potentialto be
films, the power of goodness to transformsinful wonderful,in spite of its imperfections.His love - an
humannature.Inmanyinstances, and especially in analogy for God's love - has created a spiritual
his earlywork,goodness is translatedas romantic community,a tangiblemanifestationof the Kingdom
lovethoroughlymetamorphosingthe people whoare of God.
134 Maria Elena de las Carreras Kuntz

the religious tradition that shaped their worldview.

The cinema of John Ford, Frank Borzage, Frank These four directors excelled in a visual medium
Capra and Alfred Hitchcock bears the mark of a eminently suited to the Catholic concept of art as
Catholic identity, reflected in the themes and beliefs beauty incarnated in an imperfect world, susceptible
at the core of their canon, both of which stem from of redemption.


1. I began to study the cinema of John Ford,Frank book-lengthinterview,Hitchcock-Truffaut (revised

Borzage, FrankCapra and AlfredHitchcockin a edn) (NewYork:Simon&Schuster,1983).
series of articlesforCrisis,a monthlyCatholicmaga- 3. Truffaut,26.
zine of cultureand politics.Essays on these and
otherfilmmakerswhose worldviewis Catholic,like 4. Truffaut,26. Note the opposite evolutionof Hitch-
WimWendersand KrzysztofKieslowski,have ap- cock's contemporary LuisBunuel,bornin 1900,and
peared there since 1996. Forthis articleI studied also profoundlymarked by a Jesuit upbringing.
over40 JohnFordfilmsfromthemorethan130made Bunuellove-haterelationshipwiththe Jesuits and
between1917and 1970. Ihavereviewed37 ofAlfred the Churchhas been exploredby ManuelAlcala,a
Hitchcock's53 filmsmade between1926 and 1976, Jesuit,inBunfuel,Cinee Ideologia(Madrid,1973).
plus 12 of the 20 episodes he directedfortheAlfred 5. Capra,67.
HitchcockPresentsTVshow.FrankBorzagedirected 6. Capra,176.
more than 100 filmsin 40 years, of which46 from
the silentera arethoughtto be lost. Ireviewedmore 7. Capra,443.
than 40 titles. FrankCapradirectedmore than 35 8. See CharlesMaland,FrankCapra(Boston, 1980),
films,producedmanypropagandafilms fortheWorld 91-92,179-180,182.
WarIIeffort,and directedfourtelevisionspecials. I 9. 316-317.
saw over24 filmsand the WhyWeFightseries, plus
The Negro Soldier.My husband, JonathanKuntz, 10. Dumont,20-23.
firstinspiredme to enjoyand studythe workof these 11. Lee Lourdeaux, Italianand IrishFilmmakersinAmer-
greatdirectors.Ihavebenefitedimmenselyfromhis ica, Ford,Capra,Coppolaand Scorsese (Philadel-
knowledge,passion and insight.Ourmarriagehas phia, 1990).
been strengthenedand enlivenedby so manygreat
12. The firstcriticsto note a consistent patternof re-
demption and transcendence through love were
2. Researchforthis articlewas based on severalJohn HenriAgel and MichaelHenry,both writingfroma
Ford biographies:AndrewSinclair,John Ford,A Catholicperspective.See HenriAgel, Les grands
Biography(NewYork,1979);Dan Ford,Pappy:The cineastes (Paris,1959)andCinemaet nouvellenais-
Lifeof John Ford (EnglewoodCliffs,New Jersey, sance (Paris, 1981); and MichaelHenryi,'Le Fra
1979);Tag Gallagher,John Ford,TheManand His Angelicodu melodrame'Positif(July-August1977),
Films(Berkeleyand Los Angeles, 1986);RonaldL. 12-15.
Davis,John FordHollywood'sOldMaster(Norman, Twomaincriticalassessments of Borzage'scinema
Oklahoma,1995); Scott Eyman,Printthe Legend, in Englishare John Belton,The HollywoodProfes-
TheLifeand Timesof John Ford(NewYork,1999) sionals: HowardHawks,FrankBorzage, EdgarG.
andJoseph McBride,SearchingforJohnFord,ALife Ulmer(Londonand New York:The Tantivy,1974)
(NewYork,2001). and FrederickLamster,Souls MadeGreatThrough
Loveand Adversity,TheFilmWorkof FrankBorzage
ForFrankCapraIreliedon Joseph McBride'sbiog-
(Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press,
raphy,FrankCapra,The Catastropheof Success
(NewYork1992) and Capra'smemoirs,TheName
Abovethe Title,AnAutobiography (NewYork1985). 13. Agape,inGreek,'banquet'.TheCatholicEncyclope-
dia (Huntington, Indiana,1991) contraststhe Greek
Herv6Dumont'sbiographywas the mainsource for termseros (sexuallove)withphilia(friendship)and
Borzage:FrankBorzage,Sarastroa Hollywood(Mi- agape (charity).Ina Christiancontext,'agape refers
lan, 1993). to God's deep and active love for the world,ex-
Inthe case of HitchcockI used the biographiesby pressed in His desireto save it fromthe powerand
John RussellTaylor(New York,1978) and Donald consequences of sin and death.Thetermoccurs in
Spoto, TheDarkSide of Genius, TheLifeof Alfred the earlyChurchwithreferenceto a communitymeal
Hitchcock(New York,1983) as well as Truffaut's eitherbeforeor afterthe Eucharist.'
The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock 135

14. Citedby McBride,SearchingforJohnFord,438. 20. ErichRohmerand ClaudeChabrol,Hitchcock:The

15. The Sermonon the Mountis foundinthe Gospel of (Trans.StanleyHochman)(New
St. Matthew,Chapters5, 6 and 7, and St. Luke, York,1979).
Chapter6. 21. 20.
16. McBridecalls TheSunShinesBrighta moralityplay, 22. RobinWood,Hitchcock'sFilms(NewYork1970).
SearchingforJohn Ford,521. Inthe contextof this 23. LindsayAnderson,About John Ford (New York,
article,I preferto call it a Christianallegoryabout
1981), 192; and Joseph McBrideand MichaelWil-
imperfectpeople who can redeemthemselves.The mington,JohnFord(NewYork,1975), 21.
director'spredilectionforthe Biblicalallegoryis evi-
dent also in The Informer(the Judas figure),The 24. RichardGriffith,FrankCapra (Londonn/d). New
Fugitive(a Christfigure),3 Godfathers(the Three IndexSeries,n.3.p.Thecitationis fromthe Prologue,
Wise Men). The Sun Shines Brightwas 'reallymy n/p.
favourites,the only one I liketo see over and over 25. GrahamGreene, 'A Directorof Genius: Four Re-
again', Fordnoted in 1968 (McBride,Searchingfor views',in RichardGlatzerand John Raeburn,(eds)
JohnFord,521). FrankCapra,The Manand His Films (AnnArbor,
17. McBride,SearchingforJohnFord,9. Michigan,1975) 110-116.
18. McBride,SearchingforJohnFord,357. 26. Capra,TheNameAbovethe Title,383.
19. Froma Catholicperspective,the doctrineof original 27. StehenJ. Browndiscusses It'sa WonderfulLifefrom
sin explainshow humannaturehas a lackof facility a Catholicperspectivein 'TheologicalOptimismin
in doing good. Itmaintainsthat humanbeings are the Filmsof FrankCapra',Theology(November-De-
not bornwitha positiveinclinationto moralevil.As cember 1998), 437-444. He applies concepts de-
a resultof originalsin, our persons are not ordered veloped by the CatholicSwiss theologianHans Urs
to God and the interiorharmonywhich such an von Balthasarabout the divine,the transcendent,
orderingbringswithit.See TheCatholicEncylopedia. and the revelationof God's glory.