The Scarlet and the Black (1983)





Director:     Jerry London. 

Starring:     Gregory Peck (Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty),  Christopher Plummer (Col. Herbert Kappler),  John Gielgud (Pope Pius XII),  Raf Vallone (Father Vittorio),  Kenneth Colley (Capt. Hirsch),  Walter Gotell (Gen. Max Helm),  Barbara Bouchet (Minna Kappler),  Julian Holloway (Alfred West),  Angelo Infanti (Father Morosini),  Olga Karlatos (Francesca Lombardo),  Michael Byrne (Reinhard Beck),  T.P. McKenna (Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler),  Vernon Dobtcheff (Count Langenthal),  John Terry (Lt. Jack Manning),  Peter Burton (Sir D'Arcy Osborne).

Vatican priest hides downed Allied pilots and coordinates with the Italian Resistance


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

Based on a true story. 

Rome 1943.  Gen. Max Helm and Col. Herbert Kappler arrive at the Vatican.  They go in to see Pope Pius XII.  The Pope dressed in white is a stark contrast with the two Germans dressed in their black uniforms with Nazi armbands.  Helm is the head of the SS in Italy.  He informs the Pope that Rome is now totally controlled by the Germans.  Hitler has guaranteed that Vatican neutrality will continue to be respected.  Helm also would like to have the Pope write some warm accounts of how the Germans are behaving well during the occupation.  Kappler is the head of police in Rome.  He tells the Pope that his job is to maintain order in the streets, discourage any resistance to the occupation and round-up escaped prisoners.  When Italy switched over to the Allied side, many prisoners were released from prison and Kappler is determined to catch all of these ex-prisoners.  Kappler also will have white lines painted around the Vatican so everyone will know what property properly belongs to the Vatican. 

As a German convoy passes by, two ex-prisoners watch its progress from the top of a cliff.  After the convoy goes by, the prisoners continue on their journey trying to get to the Vatican. 

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty is showing a young man how to box.  He knocks the fellow down and then helps him get back up.  Later O'Flaherty hears the two ex-prisoners trying to explain to a silent Vatican guard who they are and that they are seeking asylum and not having much luck.  The soldiers get discouraged, but the Monsignor is there to help them.  He tells them to trust him, quit talking out loud in English and follow him.  He sends them up to the third floor to a hostel in Vatican territory.   

The men are eating when Francesca Lombardo comes in and introduces herself to the men, Lt. Jack Manning, US Air Corps, and Corporal Tate, British 6th Army Division.  The Germans had thrown them in the back of a truck headed to Germany and they escaped.  Francesca explains that she is from Malta and says, in a way, she is British.  The Monsignor comes into the apartment.  The escapees want to know what position the priest has.  O'Flaherty explains that he is just a Monsignor, a high honorary religious title given by the Pope to reward certain priests. 

Francesca tells the Monsignor that the escapees can go home with her, since all the other facilities seem to be full.  The Monsignor rejects the idea, but Francesca insists that she wants to help, so the priest gives in to her. 

Kappler shows his wife Minna the sights of Rome from the balcony of their home.  They have two children, a girl and a boy.  Kappler points out St. Peter's church in the Vatican.

The Monsignor and Francesca are riding a street car moving the two escapees to their new place of residence.  At one of the stops, two Italian policemen come aboard to check everyone's papers.  The group of four are very worried, but suddenly a man jumps out from the street car and runs.  The policemen chase him and the runner is shot down by a German guard.  The street car is allowed to proceed. 

In the home of Francesca, the men are introduced to Francesca's younger daughter Emilia and her older daughter Julia.  They also meet Julia's love interest, a Jewish medical student named Simon Weiss.  The Monsignor warns the two soldiers that if they are captured and tell where they were staying, Mrs. Lombardo and her two girls will be shot. 

In his office Kappler learns from Capt. Hirsch that so far they have only rounded-up some 53 escaped prisoners.  Kappler suspects many of the escapees are hiding in places provided by Roman citizens.  The Captain says that many head to the Vatican.  It is now that Kappler hears about O'Flaherty who has been somewhat of an activist in looking out for others.  Kappler tells Hirsch to find out how this Monsignor fits in with others suspected of resistance. 

O'Flaherty speaks with the British minister to the Holy See, Sir Darcy.  Darcy says he can't help the Monsignor with his ex-prisoners because he himself has been a virtual prisoner of the embassy from the start of the war.  The Monsignor becomes angry and leaves.  Back in his apartment, an aide to the British minister known as Mr. West, brings O'Flaherty 60,000 lira to support the cause.  This is much appreciated by the Monsignor and by way of apology, he says he is known for his rather hot temper.  Mr. West says he has some contacts in the black market that may help the Monsignor.  O'Flaherty immediately recruits Mr. West to help him find places in which to stash the escapees. 

A group of seven escapees comes to O'Flaherty to ask for his help.  The Monsignor helps them. 

Capt. Hirsch reports on O'Flaherty to Kappler.  He was born in Ireland, his family were peasants, he attended a Jesuit college, and was appointed vice-rector of propaganda at the Vatican.  Later he was transferred to the religious diplomatic service.  A spy named Beck reports that they think O'Flaherty went on a secret mission to Czechoslovakia, probably to help some Czechs escape from the Germans.

O'Flaherty convenes a meeting of important people that are working with him.  One of the priests suggests that some of the escapees could become part of the Italian Resistance and help blow-up some German targets, but O'Flaherty says that priests cannot help in the killing of people, but rather help those who are in need of help.  The Monsignor says he will stand outside the church everyday from 3 to 5 p.m. for anyone who needs his help. 

Kappler calls in the representatives of the Jewish community in Rome and tells them that their property or persons will not be hurt, nor will they be taken away to any "camps", which do not exist anyway.  Ah, but there's a catch.  He wants the community to give him one million lira and 100 pounds of pure gold.  And they only have 36 hours to gather the money starting now.  Some of the Jews go to see O'Flaherty for help because of his many influential contacts.  O'Flaherty will help them.  He even gives up a small gold crucifix figure to help in the raising of the 100 pounds of gold.  O'Flaherty helps round up more gold jewelry to assist the cause. 

German trucks filled with soldiers arrive in the streets of the Jewish community.  The people run for their lives.  Some of those who run are shot down with automatic weapons.  The Monsignor protests, but the officer in charge says that they need more people for the work camps.  O'Flaherty tells the officer that the Jewish community was granted exemption, but now that is not being honored.  The officer tells the Monsignor to take it up with Kappler.  (Kappler tells his two children that the Germans are never going to leave Rome.) 

O'Flaherty attends a social party thrown by Prince Mataeo.  The Prince gives the Monsignor some money for the resistance.  He also tells O'Flaherty that the Gestapo has him under constant surveillance.  The Monsignor just laughs it off. 

Kappler wants the Gestapo to treat O'Flaherty with kid gloves because he is a protégé of the Pope.  But he does want a curfew established for the city and punishment be dealt out to all Romans who help the efforts of O'Flaherty.  Anyone who runs from being stopped and questioned is to be shot on sight.  Moreover, he puts guards along the white line marking Vatican territory.  

The soldiers and Gestapo are checking everyone's passes and hunting down some citizens.  All through this, O'Flaherty keeps active in helping those who need to escape the grasp of the Germans.  The Pope tells O'Flaherty that each priest can act according to his own conscience, but that means that if they are caught by the Germans, the Pope might not be able to save them. 

At the meeting of O'Flaherty and his helpers, the Monsignor says they are caring for over 1,700 escapees.  That means that they are going to have to refer to each other using code names from now on. 

The Gestapo raid Francesca's place.  They get a little pre-warning and the ex-prisoners get away. 

Father Vittorio tells O'Flaherty that he has some enemies within the Vatican and he should be careful.  The Irish priest says he's too busy with the Germans to worry about Vatican politics.  He has just learned that Kappler had previously organized the transfer of Austrian Jews to concentration camps.  And he has personally ordered hundreds of citizens to be tortured. 

The Monsignor learns that Father Morosini has been arrested by the Gestapo for working with the Italian Resistance.  The Gestapo tortures the priest, but he doesn't give up any names.  They then transfer him to the Italian prison.  There he is to be shot by the Italian guards.  The firing squad fires their weapons, but none of them strike the condemned man.  So Kappler wants the man in charge of the firing squad to shoot the father in the back of the head, but the fellow cannot shoot him.  So Kappler takes the man's pistol and dispatches Father Morosini.  The Vatican grieves for the death of Father Morosini. 

At Christmas present opening time, Minna tells her husband that he looks exhausted.  He wishes her a "happy" Christmas.  Later, Kappler shows documentary films of the war to his comrades.  He says the Allies landed at the beaches of Anzio, but then for some strange reason failed to advance.  This gave the Germans the opportunity to move their forces between the Allies and Rome.  This is good news for Kappler and his associates, but the general is still worried that there are too many ex-prisoners in Rome.  Kappler mentions that there is one man, a priest, behind the organization that helps the ex-prisoners.  The general tells Kappler to deal with him now. 

O'Flaherty is with Francesca at the opera.  There he speaks with a lot of people in the resistance.  He makes some arrangements with those who are hiding ex--prisoners. 

Simon and Julia are stopped in the street at a checkpoint.  Julia is passed through, but they arrest Simon because the pass that Simon used to use in no longer valid.  Simon tries to hide his note-book, but a guard sees him and grabs the small book.  At the opera Kappler keeps an eye on the Monsignor.  He watches as Julia tells her mother and O'Flaherty what has happened to Simon.  After the performance is over, Kappler speaks with O'Flaherty.  Kappler is with his wife, so he speaks in general terms with the Monsignor.   O'Flaherty asks Kappler to sign his program and Kappler does sign it. 

In his office Kappler goes over Simon's notebook.  It mentions a lot of code names in it.  Kappler thinks he knows some of the codes are house numbers and numbers of ex-prisoners.  He looks forward to grilling Simon, but is furious when he finds out that Simon was released this morning.   Those who came for Simon had an order for his release signed by Kappler.  Kappler knows that it was O'Flaherty behind this.  The Gestapo uses the code book to raid various apartment buildings.  They pick up quite a few ex-prisoners. 

Kappler and his comrades celebrate their success.  The general says he will send a telegram to Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo.  When O'Flaherty finds out, he organizes the movement of every ex-prisoner under their control.  Now when the Gestapo conducts raids, they don't find anyone at home.  Kappler returns to being furious.  He says that damned priest did it.  He desperately wants to arrest O'Flaherty, but he must go to the Vatican to ask for him, "with hat in hand". 

The Pope refuses to give Kappler his permission.  Kappler says he can grab O'Flaherty anytime he wants, but the Pope stands firm and Kappler gives in, for the moment, anyway.

Heinrich Himmler has arrived and Kappler gets a 5 a.m. wakeup call.  He rushes over to go with Gen. Helm to see Himmler.  Himmler gives the two men Hitler's warmest congratulations for their achievements in Rome.  There's a problem, however.  Kappler had reported that the resistance was squashed in Rome and yet he also refers to an organization that exists to help the ex-prisoners and those in the resistance.  Himmler says that the report was inaccurate and he was misled.  He gets Kappler to agree that Rome is still not fully under German control.  Himmler says at this terrible time in which the Germans have had so many set-backs, he now has to tell Hitler about the false report about Rome.  To save himself, Kappler says he can break the Roman organization in one day.  He will remove the troublesome priest in charge of the organization.  Himmler, however, tells Kappler that he is not to enter the Vatican, but he is to smash the opposition.  He adds:  "Do it now!" 

O'Flaherty attends a Nazi party.  Kappler comes over to speak with him.  The Monsignor is sarcastic to Kappler, who tells O'Flaherty not to provoke him.  He also warns the priest that if he steps out of the Vatican territory, he will be arrested.  The two men start yelling at each other.  O'Flaherty tells Kappler that he cannot tell him what to do.  Kappler's comeback is to say:  "I own Rome."  The father snaps back at him and Kappler yells to the priest to get out!  O'flaherty leaves.

The Pope speaks with the Monsignor.  He mentions that he has been accused of cooperating too much with the Nazis.  He also discusses his fear that the Nazis might invade the Vatican and take it over.  Therefore, anything that would give the Nazis an excuse to attack the Vatican, must be avoided at all costs.  O'Flaherty asks that in fighting evil, how can they compromise with it?  The Pope says sometimes it's best to proceed slowly and with caution.  O'Flaherty says that now he is responsible for more than 4,000 people hid in Rome and outside Rome.  The Pope gasps:  "So many?"  Given the huge number, the Pope tells O'Flaherty that he must decide for himself what he should do. 

O'Flaherty continues his resistance work.  He gets some more money from Prince Mataeo.  The Gestapo arrives with trucks of soldiers.  The Prince tells O'Flaherty to hide in one of the store rooms.  The Prince tries to delay Kappler and his men.  In the store room, the Monsignor sees only one way out.  He asks a potato deliverer to change clothes with him.  The man agrees and the switcheroo is made.  The potato man tells the father to hit him, so he can say he was forced to change clothes.  O'Flaherty comes out of the storeroom and onto the square, grabs the potato cart and heads out.  Kappler goes to check on O'Flaherty's usual post from 3 to 5 p.m.  He finds O'Flaherty there like always. Kappler comments softly but firmly:  "You're a dead man, priest!"

Kappler has put snipers in all the windows around that part of the square that is not Vatican Territory. O'Flaherty notices them.  He teases them by walking oh so closely to the white line.  When he has made his point, he leaves the area. 

O'Flaherty decides to go out of Vatican territory using various disguises.  He disguises himself as a street peddler and talks with a German officer in the square.  On another occasion he dresses up as a street sweeper and is able to give a message to Julia for her mother Francesca.  He also dresses up as a postman and then as a nun.   Beck says that the Monsignor has been seen all over the city dressed up in disguises.  Kappler is very doubtful of this.

Kappler's next step is to sent two assassins dressed as monks to kill O'Flaherty, but the priest, a good boxer, is able to beat down both men.  He also discovers that Mr. West has been trailing him, watching his back.  He holds a pistol on the two would-be assassins. 

Kappler has to think of another way to get rid of O'Flaherty.  At home his little boy bothers him and he screams at the boy and throws him against the couch.  His wife comes out to save her son and scolds her husband, who, she says, has never before raised a hand to their children. 

Father Vittorio has been arrested by the SS.  He is accused of being a British spy.  They are going to take him to a concentration camp in Germany.  O'Flaherty dresses up in a Nazi uniform and marches himself right into the Italian prison.  He tells Vittorio that he has come to give him absolution, but Vittorio says he has already made his confession to God.  Father Vittorio warns the Monsignor not to go back to Francesca's house because the Gestapo will be waiting to arrest him. 

Dressed in his Nazi uniform, the Monsignor goes to Francesca's place and warns everyone to get out of the house.  Kappler is told of the recent events and demands that his staff get O'Flaherty. 

O'Flaherty takes Francesca to a safe house outside of Rome.  She asks him to be careful. 

Now the documentary war films watched by Kappler and the boys are not so cheery.  The Allies are advancing everywhere. 

Still in his uniform, the Monsignor returns to Rome.  He is told to stop by a group of German guards, but the priest takes off running.  The guards give chase while shooting at him.  But O'Flaherty is able to get away from his pursuers.  Kappler drives up just after the priest's escape into Vatican territory.   Kappler returns home to tell his wife that things are not safe, as he had been saying.  In three days, they will have to leave Rome.  He has to tell her she will be lucky to get away.  There is no German transport left -- he will have to arrange something for his family. 

At night Hirsch awakens a sleeping O'Flaherty.  He says he will not kill the priest, if O'Flaherty cooperates.  He is just delivering a message for Kappler.  He wants the priest to meet him in private in the old Coliseum.  O'Flaherty takes a chance and shows up to speak with Kappler.  Kappler shocks the priest by his request.  He wants the priest to get his family out of Rome.  O'Flaherty becomes righteously indignant and scolds Kappler for his crimes against humanity and tells him he is a hypocrite for asking a priest to save his family.  Kappler says O'Flaherty has to help, because he can't not help a beggar or a lame dog.  His family is in trouble and are asking for his fatherly love and forgiveness, and, of course, help.  O'Flaherty absolutely refuses to help his family.  He says:  "I'll see you in hell, first."  He leaves.  Kappler shouts that everything the priest preaches is just a sham, a bunch of lies. 

Rome is liberated by Allied troops.  The church bells ring.  Simon and Julia ask for the Monsignor to marry them.  He agrees.  The group with the priest, toast to him for all that he has done for them and for Rome. 

Two Allied officers interrogate Kappler.  One of the officers mentions to Kappler that they know all about his wife and children.  Kappler asks what has happened to his family, but the officer tells the German to stop playing games with them.  His wife and children suddenly disappeared from Rome.  They were smuggled into Switzerland safe and sound, as the colonel well knows.  The Allies want to know how was it done?  But Kapller didn't know what had happened to his family.  He refuses to mention any names and just says:  "I do not know."  (But in his heart, he knows lit must have been O'Flaherty.) 

The Pope tells the Monsignor that he honors him. 

"After the liberation, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty was honored by Italy, Canada and Australia, given the US Medal of Freedom and made a Commander of the British Empire.  Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes.  In the long years that followed in his Italian prison, Kappler had only one visitor.  Every month, year in and year out, O'Flaherty came to see him.  In 1959, the former head of the dreaded Gestapo in Rome was baptized into the Catholic faith at the hand of the Irish priest."


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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