BR: Man Called Peter, A (1955)

July 31, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: December 18, 2018

Genre:  Biography / Drama

Synopsis: Affectionate, inspirational biography of Peter Marshall, tracing his ascension from town priest to the chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Audio Sermon by Peter Marshall (26:54) / Fox Movietone Newsreels (22:40) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




While the film’s titular subject of former U.S. Senate chaplain Peter Marshall was (and may remain) the film’s main draw, the production is also known among classic film fans and Foxologists as Jean Peters’ final film before she retired from acting and became the second Mrs. Howard Hughes. The actress would appear in a handful of TV productions between 1973-1988, but Fox’s middle-major star would remain off-screen for a good 18 years, reportedly due in part to a rift with studio Fox, after being built up in high profile productions such as Captain from Castile (1947), Viva Zapata! (1952), and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954).

Richard Todd is uniformly excellent as Marshall, transcending the innate melodrama of Henry Koster’s biopic that traces his seemingly fast rise from freshly anointed graduate from Columbia Theological Seminary to state chaplain before his sudden death at 46 in 1949.

In the short opening scenes, the young Marshall is a reckless, argumentative and rebellious child, and Todd quickly slides into the teenage incarnation when Marshall’s ‘near-death’ event during a fog has him seeing the Light, and taking a boat from Scotland to NYC where he become a star graduate, and develops a frank approach to sermonizing and bonding with communities. Peters is wife Catherine (Peters), whom he meets and soon weds, and shares a son (who later became a preacher).

Eleanore Griffin (Only Angels Have Wings, The Harvey Girls, Imitation of Life) adapted Catherine Marshall’s same-titled 1951 biography, and reportedly interpolated portions of the fiery sermons which are both highlights of the film and delivered in lengthy takes.

A potent oration at a Washington cathedral is a major high point, with the CinemaScope ratio embracing the massive marble structure packed with parishioners and soldiers bound for war. Director Koster treated the scene as the apex of Marshall’s oratory skills, and Todd delivers the lengthy monologue in long, uninterrupted segments which should’ve (but sadly didn’t) earn the actor an Oscar nod.

A later scene in which Marshall abandons a planned sermon and improvises from his gut is similarly powerful, and Todd’s delivery and colourful accent matches Marshall’s style, evidenced by a short surviving audio extract featured on Fox’s 2005 DVD and ported over by Twilight Time.

While Marshall is portrayed as a man at peace with whatever events occur – moves to new churches, Catherine’s lengthy illness, and brushes with death – he’s not a Christ figure; the filmmakers and Todd portray Marshall as a driven man, but his flaws, confusion, hunger for action, and constant self-questioning – ‘Am I being too pig-headed? Too forceful?’ – make him an everyman with a gift for bridging polarized figures and learning lessons on the job.

The love story is very formulaic, hitting all the expected beats of a young woman smitten by an older man, and seeing the couple’s destiny fused into a devoted, supportive model family, but if cynics might smirk at the familiar dramatic peaks which challenge and reinforce the couple’s devotion, Harold Lipstein’s jaw-dropping, gorgeous cinematography still enchants. Nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar, A Man Called Peter features stunning compositions (the seaside shots at the Marshalls’ beach home are exquisite); a colour palette that’s part earthy, matching the preacher’s everyman persona; and lovely pastels for the dresses, t-shirts, and interior décor of homes. Churches and Marshall’s office are linked with browns, deep reds, and amber lighting, adding to the film’s already vivid colour palette of sets and actual locations (including the massive marble columned cathedral).

Alfred Newman’s score is packed with warmth and the composer’s recognizable use of high register strings, but its stealth design has melodic material arching at precise junctures, and receding to allow the later sermons to resonate. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a gorgeous transfer from a fairly crisp print, and the sound mix is punchy in surround sound; as per TT’s usual practice, Newman’s score is isolated in stereo on a separate track.


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Film historian Julie Kirgo wrote an eloquent tribute to Peter as one of the finest religious films produced by the studios as comfort celluloid in a post-WWII world – films that reassured faith, and as Kirgo notes of Marshall’s own words, spoke of an inclusion, as well as translating gospel text into a slightly contemporary vernacular that ‘came from Marshall’s heart.’

A wry quote from William Wyler sums of the brilliance of the men & women behind these iconic and still-loved dramas & epics, but a closing quote from producer Samuel Engel also serves as a diplomatic commentary on the results of tolerance and cooperation among a multi-faith crew versus the present -day, Trumpian divisiveness in play.

Other extras retained from the Fox DVD are the trailer, cut in an unusually fast montage style; the aforementioned sermon recorded April 5, 1942; and a mix of raw camera footage and the edited Fox Movietone Newsreel showcasing the simultaneous premieres in Glasgow, London, and NYC.

Aside from the newsreel proper, the raw footage is mostly silent, save for are moments when a mic was placed for arriving guests, and a specific oration by political and religious figures. Glimpsed in the NYC footage are star Todd presented with a sleeveless LP (?), Fox CEO Spyros Skouras and Catherine Marshall, Fox starlet Terry Moore (Beneath the 12-Mile Reef), and Gloria Swanson.

A stage play was adapted from Catherine Marshall’s book in 1955, and among her collections of writings and her husband’s sermons is the semi-autobiographical novel Christy (1967), which became a 1994 TV series.

Koster directed Todd in Fox’s The Virgin Queen (1955) and the unusual WWII romance D-Day the Sixth of June (1956), whereas Peters’ return to acting was limited to the TV movie Winesburg, Ohio (1973) and Peter and Paul (1981), and the mini-series Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers (1976). He final appearance was in a 1988 episode of Murder She Wrote.



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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