While I have seen John Ford’s 1947 film, The Fugitive, at least twice, this time around I was floored by the dialogue between the “Mexican Clark Gable” Pedro Armendariz (The Lieutenant) and Henry Fonda (The Priest) who was going to face a firing squad in the morning. The film is loosely based on Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory. Fonda is an alcoholic priest (Greene’s The Whiskey Priest) attempting to flee a country (probably Mexico) where priests were persecuted and executed.
Our cowardly priest played superbly by Fonda, has finally found himself on the evening of his execution. The Lieutenant, the avid atheist and priest hater shows he has a heart when he says, “Can I give you some brandy? It will help you forget.”
The priest answers, “No thank you, I want to live my death.”
The novel and the film are quite different as there are many more characters in Greene’s book including an English dentist. In many ways while they are indeed different, the novel is as good as the film. That it inspired writer Dudley Nichols to see eye to eye with Ford and Figueroa is a wonder.
But the film is simpler and starker (thanks to Gabriel Figueroa’s luminous black and white film shot in several Mexican towns) and it plays on the idea that in the novel the priest is Christ, who has been forsaken by His Father. There is a bad gringo, Ward Bond who represents the good thief. The wavering Chief of Police, Leo Carillo is Pontius Pilate, Dolores del Río (never named, just the Indian woman) Mary Magdalene and the nasty and oily informer (really scary) J. Carol Naish is Judas.
To me this film is as perfect a film as can be made. It is interesting that Mexican director Emilio “Indio” Fernández helped John Ford but is uncredited.
The film and that stark quote served to throw cold water on me and make me realize that at my age of 77 there are still new things under the sun and that I have yet to become an automaton without feeling.