Thursday, April 29, 2021

Miracle Month Concludes: The Virgin of Juarez

The Virgin of Juarez
Stigmata, the miracle showcased in this week's film, isn't a favorite here at Movie Churches. (Stigmata is the appearance of bodily wounds, scars, and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet. As mentioned when we looked at The Unholy earlier this month and Final Prayer back in January, stigmata is one of the easier miracles to fake.)

And really, what good does stigmata do for anyone? Healings are obviously very healthy miracles. Exorcisms have unquestionable spiritual benefits. Resurrection? Definitely adds something to life (such as -- literally -- life). Even levitation provides some amusement to the world. But if you believe that Jesus's crucifixion redeemed humanity in one act, there is no need for a repeat performance.

From Francis of Assisi on, the miracle has been recognized, but fraudulent claims have been around for centuries as well. In the 14th century, for example, a Franciscan nun called Magdalena de la Cruz was considered a living saint until shortly before her death, when she confessed that she'd faked her stigmata. 

The stigmata in The Virgin of Juarez is presented as truly supernatural and a hopeful sign in a truly horrific time and place. The film is set in the Mexican border town of Juarez (near El Paso, Texas) at a time when women were being murdered at an alarming rate. (This tragic aspect of the film is based in fact. Between 1993 and 2005, more than 370 women died violently in or around that Juarez. The killings drew international attention because of the perceived lack of government attention to ending the murders or bringing the perpetrators to justice. It seems the film was made in part to draw attention to this injustice.)

Written by Michael Fallon and directed by Keven James Dobson, the film tells the story of an investigative reporter, Karina Danes (Minnie Driver), who goes to Juarez to investigate the murders. While there, she meets Mariela (Ana Claudia Talancon), who survives being raped and buried alive (she was thought to be dead when she was buried). In her hospital bed, Mariela exhibits the signs of stigmata, but Father Herrera (Esai Morales), who also believes that stigmata are a miraculous sign, asserts that the real miracle is her survival. 

Mariela was found in the desert, and she claims to have no memory of being attacked. She only remembers a visitation from the Virgin Mary in the desert. 

Before the police have an opportunity to interview her, Father Herrera takes her from the hospital and hides her in an abandoned church where nuns care for her. As news of the miracle of her survival and the stigmata spreads among the faithful of the community, many come to see her. The police are somehow kept ignorant of the woman’s whereabouts.

Danes learns where Mariela is hidden and goes to visit her, taking along mugshots of suspects from the investigation of the murders (she stole the photos during a visit to the police station). Mariela is quite obviously disturbed by some of the faces she sees but doesn’t admit she recognizes any of the men. However, she has copies of the photos made and distributes them to the faithful pilgrims who come to visit her, many of them families of victims of the murders.

Fearing that the killers will find Mariela, Father Herrera takes her to live with his brother, a member of a gang in Los Angeles. In California, pilgrims continue to visit Mariela. She has such a following that she begins pirate radio broadcasts.

Danes returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and sees a billboard dedicated to the Virgin. She is puzzled by the number “1478” on the poster. Father Herrera has also returned to the City of Angels, and the reporter asks the priest what that mysterious number might represent. The priest feigns puzzlement, saying, “An address? A bank card? The start of the Spanish Inquisition authorized by Pope Sixtus IV in the year of our Lord 1478.” Eventually, he admits it is the frequency of Mariela’s radio transmissions.

Mariela continues to distribute the mugshots of suspects. Back in Juarez, many of these suspects are murdered, with the killers crying out, “In the name of the Virgin!" Some of these murdered suspects had been employed in a large factory in Juarez, and the police and local government take these deaths much more seriously than they had the murders of hundreds of women, to the point that Mariela and the street gang who provide her protection are pursued. 

We see an ominous meeting of law enforcement, businessmen, and government officials with a bishop and other Roman Catholic authorities to discuss how to put a stop to the work of the Virgin of Juarez. There is a coordinated attack on the abandoned church where Mariela is hidden and many of the gang members are killed. Nonetheless, Mariela survives. Danes sees her and assumes that her message will continue. 

The film ends with a title card reading, “Women continue to be abducted and murdered in Juarez.” 

That wasn’t quite true. By the time of the film’s release, the murders had largely ceased. The killings seem to have been a result of a combination of organized crime, drug cartels, sex trafficking, and practices of exploitative labor practices (maquiladoras -- companies that were duty-free and tariff-free but took advantage of cheap labor). International attention seemed to bring an end to the killings, though there was little effective investigation or prosecution of the killers.

So how do the clergy and the church rate in The Virgin of Juarez? Well, we do see church bureaucrats who seem more interested in power than the poor, but we also see clergy like Father Herrera who are concerned about the plight of the exploited and mistreated women of Juarez before many others took any interest. For his sake, we’re giving the priests and nuns of this film Three Steeple rating.

(This is the last of this month’s Miracle Churches, but The Virgin of Juarez provides a nice transition to next month’s theme: Crime Churches.)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Miracle Month: Resurrection (not THE Resurrection)


An ongoing challenge here at Movie Churches is the definition of "clergy," and this week's film is especially problematic. At an outdoor barbeque, a friend is pointing people out to our heroine, Edna May (Ellen Burstyn), who has just returned to her hometown in Kansas (filmed in Texas).

As Edna May's friend looks at an elderly couple at a table at the edge of the crowd, she says, “Ava and Earl Carpenter. They bought the Foley place about 10 years ago. They’re from West Virginia, Holy-Ghosters. She’s nice enough, but he’s kind of a self-styled parson. Fire and brimstone, hell and damnation. All that kind of stuff. Doesn’t seem to affect their son Cal though, he’s a piece of work.”

Now, what are we at Movie Churches to do with a “self-styled parson?” If he calls himself a parson, is he a parson? Denominations and religious institutions generally have a process to certify someone as an official member of the clergy, but if people in a movie call themselves ministers or pastors (or parsons or priests), should we take their word for it? Should it be necessary for such a person to present ordination papers? This would have quite a negative effect on a film’s pacing.

In this film, 1980's Resurrection, we're stuck with Parson Earl Carpenter as the most official clergy member, which is quite odd. Considering the story the film tells, it seems we should have more in the way of clergy and churches.

The film begins with Edna May happily married to Joe (Jeffrey DeMunn), living somewhere near a beach. For his birthday, Edna May, through creative financing, gives her husband a sportscar. They go for a wild ride, without safety belts (take note, kids), and the ride ends in a deadly crash. Joe is killed and Edna May is as well -- for a bit. 

Eight minutes after she's declared dead, Edna May comes back to life. While "dead," Edna May found herself heading toward a great light. Along the way she saw people she knew who had died, including her mother. Before she reaches the light, her doctors bring her back, and she is told her legs are paralyzed and she will never walk again.

She decides to return to her hometown in Kansas. Her father drives her back, and along the way, they stop at an odd service station run by Esco Brown (Richard Farnsworth). A sign at the station reads, “God is love, and versa visa.” Esco offers to show Edna a two-headed snake and she eagerly agrees. She pets it, and he says its name is Gemini and it’s a miracle. He informs her that to the Hopi, snakes are a symbol of Mother Earth. Her father wants to hurry along, but before they leave, Esco tells Edna, “If life don’t hand you nothing but lemons, make lemonade, Esco Brown, chapter 1, verse 1.”

Back at her father's home in Kansas, Edna May spends a great deal of time with her Grandma Pearl (Eva Le Gallienne, who was Oscar-nominated for this film, as was Burstyn). While looking through an old photo album for the first time, Edna May recognizes people who died before she was born. Grandma Pearl tells her about another woman she knew, a friend, who also was declared dead and came back. That woman then had the power of healing.

At a family picnic, Edna May’s touch heals the nosebleed of a niece who is a hemophiliac. Edna May decides she must heal herself, and after much effort, she rises from her wheelchair and walks. She begins to heal other people. When “Parson” Earl’s grown son, Cal (Sam Shepard) is shot in the stomach in a barfight, Edna May stops the bleeding with her touch.

Edna May begins to have worship services of a kind, meetings where people bring their sick for Edna May to heal. At such a meeting, “Parson” Earl confronts her, “I’ve been watching these healings of yours, and I haven’t seen you mention Scripture or the Holy Ghost once. What is the source of this power of yours?”

“I don’t know,” she tells him.

He tells her that her power comes from “Hell itself.” Then he says, “Because if this was the work of the Holy Spirit, you would speak His name. You couldn’t hold back because He’d be speakin’ His own name through you! I tell you this woman, even if you heal 100, 1,000, 10,000, these works are damned. Isaiah! Isaiah speaks it plain! Your hands are defiled with blood!... And Matthew says, ‘False prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead people astray.”

It is strange that this “Parson” keeps talking about how “the Holy Spirit” should be exalted but never mentions “Jesus”, which you would expect a Christian pastor to do. His reference to Isaiah seems completely out of context. But he does have a point with Matthew. There have been many charlatans through the years that Jesus rightly warned against. But Earl is so mean about the whole thing, and Edna May just walks away.

Earl’s son, Cal, goes to see Edna May and asks if he can buy her a drink. At a busy local bar, Cal tells her about how his father forced him to learn Scripture, “Yeah, when I was a 13, I had to learn Matthew, Luke, and John to the tune of a razor strap.” (Why Mark is excluded is not explained.)

Eventually, Cal and Edna May have an affair. But Cal begins to return to the Bible (such as the retelling of Jesus’ birth in Revelation 12) and becomes convinced that God is working through Edna May. He tells her he feels her healing is “something holy.” 

She tells him, “I’m not the Virgin Mary, and you should know that as well as anyone.” 

He says, “You shouldn’t talk like that.” 

She responds, “I will talk any way I damn well please. If anything is holy, it is Love.”

Edna May continues to hold healing meetings, in tents or in open fields. They certainly have a feeling of worship services, but Edna May just talks of generalized “love” and tells Mom Jokes (“Did you hear about the hypochondriac with the tombstone that read, ‘I told you I was sick’?”) She seems to want to avoid talking theology, but says, "I don’t want any of you to think I deny Jesus in any way, because I don’t. But if you ask me where my power comes from, I don’t know, I just know what it does. And I offer it to you in the name of love.”

At one of these meetings, Cal, apparently driven mad by his Scripture reading, shoots Edna May with a rifle, wounding her shoulder but not killing her.

Edna May is understandably shaken by this. She leaves her hometown. We see her, years later, running Esco Brown’s service station. A family in an RV stops by, with a child stricken with cancer. It seems Edna May will heal the child, but the film ends before this takes place.

This all leaves us here at Movie Churches with a dilemma. Were there really any clergy in the film? Earl claimed to be clergy and Edna May acted like clergy, but do either of them count?

Another strange thing in the film is that in this small town in Kansas, with a thriving bar, there seemed to be no church. In 2016, we set out on an adventure to visit a bar and church in each of the fifty states. There were rare small towns that had no bar (usually because of local ordinances and laws), but we never found a town of any size that didn’t have a church.

One gets the feeling that the film didn’t want Edna May to confront any “real” clergy or churches to avoid offending any religious sensibilities in the filmgoing audiences. But here at Movie Churches, we have to make do with what we have, so we'll give Earl for his lack of love and Edna May for her lack of theological depth a Two Steeple rating.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Miracle Movies in Theaters Now: The Unholy

The Unholy
While reading the Easter story a week or so ago, I was struck again about how many Marys there are in the Gospels. Obviously, it's easy to think of Mary, Jesus' mother. There's Mary Magdalene (who was possessed by seven demons, was healed, and followed Jesus). Then there's Mary of Bethany, Lazarus and Martha's sister. She might be the same as Mary of Galilee, but we’re really not sure. There’s also Mary the wife of Clopas. And Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Some combination of these Marys was at the cross and the tomb, but it's really confusing which is which.

Mary confusion is at the heart of The Unholy, a new horror film written and directed by Evan Spilotopoulos and based on the novel Shrine by James Herbert. It tells the story of a deaf and mute orphaned teen named Alice (Cricket Brown) who lives with her uncle, a priest, Father William Hagan (William Sadler). After a supernatural visitation from “Mary,” Alice is able to hear, speak, even sing. The healing is witnessed by a disgraced reporter, Gerry Finn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who sees an opportunity to revive his career with the story of a “divine” miracle. The problem is that everyone assumes the Mary that Alice saw was the Mother of God. 

It’s just an old-fashioned case of mistaken identity. Alice was actually healed by Mary Elnor, a woman executed as a witch back in 1845. As one would expect, complications from this mistake ensue.

We first see Father Hagan chasing a cow off the property, “It’s crapping all over.” He and Alice live in the small town of Banfield (the town sign reads, “A Little Bit of God’s Country”). The priest seems to be well known and liked in the town. Finn comes to that small town to investigate a false story about cattle mutilation by aliens (actually a local teen painting graffiti on a cow). Buried under a tree in the field, Finn finds a corn doll possessed the soul of Mary Elnor, and he sets it free. (Just trust me on this one, okay.)

That night, Finn is driving after drinking a bit, and he almost hits a sleepwalking Alice on a country road. Swerving, Finn runs his car into a tree. He gets out of the car and follows Alice to the tree where he found the doll. Alice begins to speak to Mary and then collapses. Finn takes her to her uncle’s, and Father Hagan calls the town doctor, Natalie Gates (Katie Aselton), who thinks Finn is imagining Alice’s healing.

But the next day at Mass, when Alice is in front of a statue of Mary (the one who was Jesus' mother), she stands up, seeming to be in a trance, and walks out of the church. A number of young women follow her, and soon the whole congregation (including Finn, Dr. Gates, and Father Hagan) follows. 

Mary walks to the tree she went to the night before, then turns to the crowd and speaks, “The Lady has an urgent message. She wants all of you to come back tomorrow. Her name is Mary.” All are in awe as the formally mute girl speaks. But Finn films it all and posts the story. Soon crowds come to the church because of this miracle.

Alice is thrilled to be able to hear and speak (part of the miracle, of course, is that she can speak English clearly, in spite of not having heard it her whole life). Finn is excited to have a story. Dr. Gates is thrilled with Alice’s healing, which she believes is a sign from God. Only Father Hagan seems leary. He is concerned about people exploiting Alice. The priest points out to Finn all the times in church history that people have been taken advantage of with signs and wonders. 

The priest says, “For where God built a church, there the devil would also build a chapel.” 

Finn replies, “I never thought I’d hear a priest quote Martin Luther.” (That attribution is correct.)

Alice overrides her uncle's wish that she stay out of the spotlight and instead has a gathering at the tree the next day. A boy with muscular dystrophy rises from his wheelchair and walks, which is live-streamed. More people flock to the small town, including reporters. Alice agrees to a press conference, but only answers questions from Finn.

The Vatican sends a bishop and an inquisitor to Banfield. Bishop Gyles (Cary Elwes) is quite obviously thrilled by the attention the church is receiving from the spectacle. Monsignor Delgrade (Diogo Morgado) has the duty of doing his best to disprove the miracles. The inquisitor has three criteria for testing the miracle: the affliction must be incurable, the healing instantaneous, and it must be complete. Those criteria seem to be met in Alice’s healing as well as the boy in the wheelchair. Another miracle soon follows, when Father Hagan is cured of his emphysema, which Dr. Gates had deemed terminal.

Alice claims Mary has called her to have a great service where, through the internet, the whole world will be called to place their faith in Mary. But as Bishop Gyles helps prepare for that service, Father Hagan, Monsignor Delgrade, and Gerry Finn begin to investigate the sinister truth about “Mary”.

Father Hagan discovers a book in the church that tells of Mary Elnor’s trial as not only a witch, but a bride of Satan who performed miracles in Banfield, similar to the miracles of Alice. Before he can tell anyone about his discovery, someone comes to the church for confession. 

During the confession, Father Hagan realizes he is talking to Mary Elnor. Soon afterward, Finn comes to the church to find the priest hanging from a rope, tied to the rafters. Suicide is presumed.

Bishop Gyles asks Monsignor Delgrade to perform a funeral for the priest, insisting the means of death be covered up since it might spoil the upcoming big event to celebrate Mary. That big event becomes a confrontation between the forces of good and evil with much in the way of CGI effects and pyrotechnics as one has come to expect in even moderately budgeted horror films. (Spoiler… Good wins, but at a cost.)

So how do the little Catholic church of Banfield and the various clergy rate on our Movie Churches scale? The church seems to serve the community well, up until when it opens a Hellmouth and threatens to be the focal point of many descending into eternal damnation. Father Hagan and Monsignor Delgrade are men who pursue truth before fame, riches, or health, and they're quite aware of Jesus’ teaching of Matthew 7:15, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (This verse is posted as a title card at the film’s conclusion.)

On the other hand, Bishop Gyles is quite willing to put fame and riches before truth, and before, you know, God. But because of the sacrificial service of the priest and the monsignor, the bishop only knocks one steeple off the film’s rating, resulting in 3 Steeples.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Miracle Month goes to Spain: The Miracle of Marcelino

The Miracle of Marcelino

I’ve noticed that children have a clever strategy to keep the lights from going out and stay up a little later. They ask the tough questions during tuck-in time. 

“Why is the sky blue?” “Where do babies come from?” “Why is the ocean near the shore?” If the family is religious, kids learn that theological questions buy even more time. When he was a kid, my nephew Jordan once asked at bedtime, “Who is more powerful? Luke Skywalker or Jesus?”

Marcelino, the 5-year-old title character of The Miracle of Marcelino, knows how to play this game. When the orphan boy is put to bed by the Father Superior of the Franciscan monastery where he lives, he asks difficult questions. When told his mother is in heaven, he asks, “Are all mothers in Heaven?” 

The priest answers, “Well, that is where all mothers go.”

Marcelino says, “Brother Cookie said that even you had a mother.” 

“Yes,” the Father responded, “But she too is in Heaven.” 

“How did she get there?” Marcelino asks.

The priest responds, “By being very good.” 

Okay, I’ve got to call a theological foul here. It would be one thing if your average dad gave that answer trying to get his kid to shut up and get to sleep. But a priest shouldn’t just talk about “being good.” There is more to salvation in Catholic theology than “being good.” Nothing about the Sacraments?  Even more, what about the sacrificial death of Jesus? (These Franciscans don’t talk nearly enough about Jesus. We’ll talk more about this in a bit.)

Then Marcelino asks, “And am I good?” 

Father Superior responds, “Oh yes, you are very good.” 

Naturally, Marcelino asks, “Then when will I go there?” 

Classic kid bedtime strategy. Nothing like asking about death at bedtime to stall that light going off. 

The priest answers, “That depends, Marcelino. Whenever God wants you to.”

A big spoiler here. The “Miracle” of the title is the way in which Marcelino is taken into Heaven -- one of the many things that makes this a very odd film. Jose Maria Sanchez-Silva's screenplay was based on his novel, Marcelino Pan Y Vino (Marcelino Bread and Wine) which was inspired by a medieval legend. The Spanish film was directed by Ladislao Vajda and was a critical and commercial success.

The film opens with a narrator telling of a small village’s feast celebrating a miracle, but one priest can’t attend the feast because he is visiting a sick young girl. He asks the little girl if she knows the story of Marcelino. The father suggests it would be best not to tell the story, but the priest asks the little girl if she would like to hear the story. When she says, “Yes,” he begins.

Long ago, not long after the Franciscan monastery of the village was founded, a baby was found at the door. The brothers are unable to find the boy's parents. The Father Superior then sends the brothers out to find a family that will adopt the child. (Some of the brothers don’t do the best sales job. They tell prospective parents that the child cries through the night and never stops eating. It’s almost as if the brothers want to keep the child themselves.) Failing to find a family, the brothers pledge to be the child's fathers. He is named Marcelino because he was christened on the feast day of that saint.

The boy grows to the age of five and brings great joy and delight to the brothers. But like many small boys, he also causes trouble. He was told never to climb the stairs to the monastery attic, yet he climbed those stairs. Brother Cookie (named this by Marcelino) told him there was a big man upstairs. The first time Marcelino went to the attic, he saw a man and ran down the stairs to the outside.

In time, he returns to the attic and again sees the man. The man looks hungry, so Marcelino goes down to the kitchen and returns with bread for the man to eat.

The audience sees the man upstairs is nailed to a cross. It is a statue, a crucifix with Jesus on the cross. But when Marcelino returns, the man reaches down from the cross to take the bread.

Now this bothers me more than a bit. Even at the age of five, one would expect a boy raised by Franciscan monks would recognize Jesus on the cross. Though the brothers read stories about St. Francis at their meals, we never see the Brothers reading scripture, let alone from the Gospels.

Marcelino continues to visit the living statue of Jesus in the attic, bringing him bread and wine (thus the name was given to the boy “Bread and Wine”) and a blanket. In time, Jesus asks Marcelino what he would like to receive in return for his kindness. Marcelino tells him he wishes to go to Heaven. Jesus tells Marcelino he must sleep and then he will go to Heaven. Marcelino says he isn’t tired. Jesus says that Marcelino can sleep in His arms.

The brothers go up the stairs to look for Marcelino and see the statue of Jesus off the cross with Marcelino in His arms. The statue returns to the cross, and Marcelino is dead.

There aren’t many films that present the death of a child as a happy ending (Pan’s Labyrinth is the only other one that comes to mind). But if one believes the words of the Apostle Paul that “to be with Christ is far better” than life on earth, then this is a happy ending -- strange as it seems to modern audiences. But even accepting Heaven as Marcelino's fate, there would be much grief in the monastery and, one would think, in the town, over the death of a 5-year-old boy.

So what rating should we give to the Franciscan Brothers of The Miracle of Marcelino? They do lose a steeple for their faulty Christian education of their young charge. But they also deserve much credit goes for taking in the baby to raise as their own, earning them a Three Steeple rating.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Miracle Month: The First Legion

The First Legion

Atheists don't seem to be villains in movies these days, at least in big studio films. Sure, some Christian films, such as the God’s Not Dead series have bad guy atheists who are just shy of Snidley Whiplash (though they generally don't twist their mustaches while tying the heroine to the railroad track).

But in mainstream films, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking are heroes. Even fictional characters such as Jodie Foster’s scientist in Contact and Nick Angel in Hot Fuzz are heroes -- and often the most rational, compassionate people in their fictional worlds. Ricky Gervais' 2009 film, The Invention of Lyingis a full-throated advocation of atheism. TV features even more fictional atheists as heroes: Greg House (House), Temperance “Bones” Brennen (Bones), and Mal Reynolds (Firefly). Atheists are often portrayed as the only people who see things clearly and are free of hypocrisy. 

This is not the atheist physician in Douglas Sirk’s 1951 film, The First Legion.

Douglas Sirk had a unique career in Hollywood. In 1937 he fled his German homeland with his Jewish wife to begin a career in Hollywood. His commercial hits of the 1950s (Imitation of Life, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession) were dismissed by critics of the time as “women’s weepies” and sentimental melodrama. Today his films are highly regarded by critics and filmmakers for technique, use of Technicolor, and Sirk's compassionate treatment of society’s outsiders. His focus on domestic situations and the problems of women is now celebrated rather than dismissed as unworthy content.

The First Legion was made before those well-regarded classics and very different in form and content. First of all, it was filmed in black and white, and rather than being set in a suburban home, it is set in a Jesuit seminary. (A title card at the beginning of the film gives a history lesson, “Four centuries ago St. Ignatius of Loyola, a former soldier founded a company of priests called the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. This a group of them in the modern world.”)

We meet Father John Fuller (Wesley Addy), a priest considering quitting the ministry. He says, “I’d like to go home. I’d like to be part of a real family again. It’s pretty lonely being a man of God all the time.” He prepares to leave the seminary, but the night before his departure, Friar Jose Sierra (H.B. Warner), who has been bedridden for years, rises from his bed and walks to Fuller’s room and tells him he had a vision which told him that Fuller must not leave the order.

Friar Sierra's healing is considered a miracle by most at the seminary. Headlines across the country proclaim the healing. The Rector of the seminary, Father Paul Duquesne (Leo G. Carroll), is excited by the attention the “miracle” is attracting not just to the seminary, but also to the patron saint of the seminary, Joseph. Crowds surround the seminary, and concession stands spring up (including one selling St. Joseph dolls for a dollar.)

But one priest, Father Marc Arnoux (Charles Boyer) does not share the excitement. He is concerned about those who are making a trek to the seminary seeking healing, fearing the travel will harm people’s health and finances. Arnoux, a former lawyer, is dubious about the healing. He investigates, interrogating Sierra’s physician, Dr. Peter Morrell (Lyle Bettger). The doctor asks Father Arnoux if he can make a confession, and confesses that he gave Friar Sierra a drug that brought about the healing. 

As an atheist, he found it amusing to see the believers celebrating a “miracle” of God when he knew that it was no such thing. Arnoux urges Morrell to publicly disavow the “miracle,” but he refuses and reminds the priest that making the confession public would break his vow of silence. The doctor even burns his records of the Sierra case. He considers it all a fine joke.

The doctor only comes to question his decision when one of his patients, Terry Gilmartin (Barbara Rush), beautiful but wheelchair-bound, seeks healing from Saint Joseph. She wants to go on the seminary grounds, which is forbidden. (Forbidding the public from being on the seminary grounds, particularly the seminary chapel, is a rule I found quite strange.) The doctor confesses what he did to Terry, looking to quash her false hope.

But Terry still believes. She finds a way to the seminary chapel and there prays for the soul of Dr. Morrell. She then finds she can rise from her chair and walk. A true miracle.

Most of the priests of the seminary are good men (there is one priest who is a self-righteous ass, but he’s an exception.) There is also a non-Jesuit priest, Monsignor Michael Carey (William Demarest), who enjoys  teasing “God’s Marines” but seems to be a good man. He delights in dogs and says at one point, “Today I saw a man die and a baby born. It was a good day. Everyone should see a baby born.”

So the priests of this film earn our highest Movie Church Rating of Four Steeples and Dr. Morrell should be glad we aren’t rating atheists.