The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)

Peck, Mitchell & Price

The religious drama that made Gregory Peck a star

This adaptation of AJ Cronin’s 1941 novel, The Keys of the Kingdom, explores the life of Catholic missionary Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck). Told in flashback, it spans some 60 years, from his childhood days in Scotland to his helping the poor in a remote rural Chinese province. Along the way, we see the compassionate cleric’s tireless devotion to his cause in spite of such obstacles as a civil war, a disagreeable mother superior (Rose Stradner) and a pompous monsignor (Vincent Price).

If you can ignore the inherent flaw of a white man going to China to cure the sick and spread the love of Christ, what you find here is a film about the power of being good and not imposing goodness on others. Father Francis tends the poor and sick, and when a rich and powerful man offers to convert to Christianity as a response to his son being saved, Francis refuses. He declares that he cannot accept this conversion because it is not sincere. This is not the act of a fanatic, but of a man who understands Christ’s love and love in general.

While only his second film, Peck scored a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. His next film, Spellbound for Alfred Hitchcock, would further cement his leading man credentials. Also impressive is Rose Stradner whose backstory is more interesting than her commendable work itself.

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