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Warner Home Video presents
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

"There is one consolation. As pope, I cannot preach error... no matter what folly I may commit. The Church will survive."
- Pope Kiril I (Anthony Quinn)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: April 21, 2006

Stars: Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, Oskar Werner, David Janssen, Vittorio De Sica, Leo McKern
Other Stars: John Gielgud, Barbara Jefford, Rosemarie Dexter, Frank Finlay, Burt Kwouk
Director: Michael Anderson

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:41m:49s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 012569756229
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The Shoes of the Fisherman, Michael Anderson's adaptation of Morris L. West's novel, is an ambitious, sprawling epic that is both a dated Hollywood melodrama and an uncanny prophecy of things to come. Made during the pontificate of Paul VI, and in the immediate wake of the Church's Vatican II reforms, the film tries to take a bite from every piece of a pie that is, well, as big as the Catholic faith itself. Who would have thought, while watching this in 1968, that, in ten years, a young, charismatic cardinal from Poland would essentially fill the shoes of St. Peter just like this fictional pope does?

A humble bishop, Kiril Lakota (Anthony Quinn), is subjected to the iron-fisted rule of Soviet Russia. Working in a forced labor camp, Kiril is summoned by Premier Kamenov (Laurence Olivier) and informed of the world's pending nuclear crisis. China is experiencing a massive famine and, under the lead of fervent communist dictator Peng (Burt Kwouk), plans to invade the rest of Asia. Now the U.S. and its allies are sending troops into the region, planning for a nuclear war that could begin in a matter of months. Kamenov seems to think that this bishop, of whom he has the highest respect, may be able to help bring about peace. Before he knows it, Kiril is arriving in the Vatican and is appointed Kiril Cardinal Lakota by the Pope (John Gielgud).

The screenplay by John Patrick and James Kennaway not only follows the events in Lakota's life, but also touches upon other stories surrounding the Holy See. An American reporter, George Faber (David Janssen), serves as narrator to the film's events while also dealing with his failing marriage and adulterous love affair. When the Pope dies suddenly, Kiril solicits a young priest, Father Telemond (Oskar Werner), to be his assistant during the conclave. Telemond is under investigation by the Church, in the person of Cardinal Leone (Leo McKern), for his controversial writings on Christ. Leone warns Kiril of Telemond's potential danger to the faith, which is only compounded when the conclave unexpectedly elects Lakota as Pope Kiril I.

Each storyline is intriguing in its own right, but the whole becomes somewhat of a mess when absorbed all at once. Every side of the film's multi-faceted plot fights to get its screen time, which results in a seemingly schizophrenic tone. The geopolitical aspect of the story, which has Pope Kiril working alongside Kamenov to dissuade China from starting a war, certainly is the work of Hollywood fiction, as is a rather absurd instance when Kiril leaves the papal apartment to walk through the streets of Rome and assist a doctor with a dying patient. Additionally, the story of journalist Faber is never really developed and only seems to interrupt the flow of the film's larger events. The most interesting aspect of the film, to me, comes with Telemond and his friendship to Kiril. There's a real sense of urgency in Werner's performance, playing a priest who is sincere but mistaken. It's a shame the film isn't solely devoted to this crisis within the Church itself, because it offers the most thoughtful chapters in the story.

The acting is exceptional throughout, especially the performances of Leo McKern and Anthony Quinn. Quinn is utterly believable as a Russian and truly grasps the weight the papacy places on a man's shoulders. McKern is excellent in his role as the strict, traditional Cardinal Leone who articulates the Church's longstanding beliefs with grace. Each of the actors in this immense cast makes up for the movie's lack of character development, using their talent to present three-dimensional characters where the script does not.

I mentioned earlier that The Shoes of the Fisherman is both melodrama and prophetic. The melodrama comes from Anderson's over-the-top direction that is earnest, but also grandiose. He relishes showing large crowds when a much simpler approach would be more effective. However, Alex North's score is astonishingly perceptive and it's kind of difficult to complain about seeing the Vatican photographed in 70-millimeter. The prophecy, of course, is that the events here are not entirely dissimilar from what occurred during the reign of Pope John Paul II. The parallels are obvious and not really necessary for enjoying the movie. However, the more informed one is of John Paul II's own story, the more fun watching the fictional life of Kiril I becomes.

Taken as a work of Hollywood cinema, The Shoes of the Fisherman is a messy bit of entertainment. As a serious examination of political and religious issues facing the world today, it seems to miss its opportunities to shed some light on the issues it raises. However, like its fictional pope, at least the film is trying to do some good.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is somewhat noisy and there's some noticeable artifacting, especially evident on the cardinal's cassocks. The image has a slight flicker at different points that is mildly distracting, especially during the opening credits. Colors seem to be muted, though this could be the result of the source material. Detail is fairly good and blacks look awfully nice, but I can't help but think the picture should look better.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 mix livens up the film during major crowd scenes and highlights Alex North's score quite well. There's not much dynamic range here, though, and the experience is fairly front heavy. Dialogue is always audible and the sound is quite crisp. A French Dolby Stereo track is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The film's theatrical trailer is shown in 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound, but the more noteworthy extra is a vintage featurette (09m:10s) showing behind-the-scenes footage of the production and clips of the movie. Anthony Quinn provides a sound byte about acting the part of the pope, which is worth hearing. Still, it's a rather unimpressive supplemental package.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An unwieldy, confused epic, The Shoes of the Fisherman features excellent acting but can't quite overcome the shortcomings of the script. Warner gives it a nice presentation in its Films of Faith Collection, even though the extras are pretty light.


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