I have only seen three of the ten. But two of those three, Going My Way and The Quiet Man,, rank among my favorite movies of all-time and touched in me in a way way that few other movies have.
I suppose I’ve seen 3000 movies.
I’ve written about a couple here (Doubt and Death Takes a Holiday), and I’m not alone in believing that the evolution of this quintessentially American art form reflects changes in the larger culture. Consider especially the evolving status of Catholics on the big screen.
Before the talkies, there were few priests or nuns or genuflecting laymen on film, although there were Catholics. Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops were based upon the myth – or was it the reality? – of the ubiquitous Irish-Catholic cop. But American Catholic moviemaking began in earnest when John Ford (born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna or John Martin Feeney, depending on when you asked him) first started directing silent movies in the Twenties.His part-silent, part-sound feature Mother Machree (1928) was notable for its sympathetic portrayal of a Catholic family – and for the beginning of Ford’s twenty-four-film collaboration with a then twenty-one-year-old actor named John Wayne. (Wayne converted to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1979.) The Informer (1935) with Victor McLaglen – Catholic in that it deals with the Irish Republican Army – cemented Ford’s reputation as Hollywood’s top director and won him his first Oscar. He would go on to adapt Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory as The Fugitive (1946) with
Gregory PeckHenry Fonda, The Quiet Man (1954) with Wayne, and The Last Hurrah (1958) with Spencer Tracy. Ford had directed 140 films by the time he died in 1973.
But until The Quiet Man, Ford’s work mostly featured Catholic characters but didn’t celebrate Catholic life. The first movies to succeed in that came in two 1938 classics not directed by Ford, Boys Town and Angels with Dirty Faces. The former, directed by Norman Taurog, won Spencer Tracy a Best Actor Oscar, for his portrayal of Father “There’s-no-such-thing-as-a-bad-boy” Flanagan, and was the most celebrated movie of the year. The latter, with James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Pat O’Brien (as Father Connolly), was also a big hit. Angels was directed by the great Michael Curtiz, famous for his work with Erroll Flynn and Bogart in Casablanca. But the point is this: In Angels with Dirty Faces and in Boys Town, the heroes are priests. This was new to American moviegoers and apparently welcome...Continued