By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Priest breaks his celibacy.
Father Gregory (Robert Forster) is a priest working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico with a mainly Hispanic church membership. He had been dealing with a 15-year-old boy who was in-trouble with the law only to be called into the hospital late one night to learn that he’d been killed while trying to steal a car. It’s there that he meets Pamela (Lauren Hutton) a social worker from the local community center. The two share widely different viewpoints particularly on the topic of abortion, but despite their differences the two eventually fall in love and their relationship turns intimate. Gregory feels guilty about this due to his vow of celibacy and tries to hide the affair from Paul (Ivor Francis) an older priest whom he lives with and is known to have a prying eye. Gregory decides to ask for a leave in order to get his thoughts together, but learns that trying to find a job on the outside with little work experience can be a difficult task. While he avoids Pamela in order to figure out what direction he wants to take his life the other priests put pressure on her to break it off permanently while trying to guilt-ridden her that she’s destroying a ‘good man’s career’.
This was an unusual career move for Forster who had just completed his signature role in Medium Cool where he was seen running around naked with a nude woman inside his apartment during a provocative moment, so I guess he wanted to tackle a completely different type of character for his next project in an effort to avoid being typecast, but it doesn’t really work. He’s a fine actor, but his streetwise personality trickles through and he never really comes-off as being all that devout and thus making the career arch very expected and no surprise at all. The voice-over narration that he has during the first act, in an attempt to convey to the viewer his inner thoughts, was not needed and off-putting.
Hutton is quite beautiful. She hit her career peak with her work in American Gigolo when she was already middle-aged, so seeing her still quite youthful looking is a treat, at least to the heterosexual male viewer, and you could easily see why she was a former model. Ivor Francis, not necessarily a household name, but competent character actor during the 60’s and 70’s, is quite good as the domineering senior Priest who has his own character flaws that he tries to cover-up even though he’s more than happy to readily expose the ones he sees in others. Will Geer also shines, but isn’t seen until the tail end playing a clergyman who has an amusing line when he tells Gregory that the celibacy demand for Priests ‘will soon be going away’ even though 50 years after this was filmed nothing has changed.
The theme dealing with how religion in theory is meant to be comforting, but in practice can become something that torments people by making them feel guilty and fearing the wrath for what could be considered to others as being minor infractions, like having sexual thoughts, is on-target though not necessarily ground-breaking. Some of the other issues will seem quite dated like the married woman who fears using the pill, or any other type of contraception, as it goes against the teachings of the catholic church, though through the decades this is no longer considered as much of a ‘sin’. There’s also the scene where Gregory lectures a youth who’s in jail for smoking cannabis about how he’s ‘thrown his life away’ while pot is now legal in many states.
The real problem, or when the film ultimately ‘jumps-the-shark’, is when Gregory goes to bed with Pamela, which came off as way too seamless and rushed. Up until then the couple really hadn’t had much in common and were usually arguing over political issues and weren’t for that matter even officially dating. It seemed to me that if someone like Gregory is made to feel extremely guilty for even thinking about sex that is ability to actually perform it would be questionable. Having him run away from her when he started feeling the urge and then avoiding her due to the temptations that she gave him would’ve made more sense then just having him casually hop in the sack without a second thought like he’s just a regular guy on the make and wearing the priest collar is some sort of performance art.
What the filmmakers apparently thought would be a compelling question of would he, or wouldn’t he stay in the church is ultimately given the placid treatment. The romance angle isn’t convincing and despite some good conversational dialogue, and nice on-location shooting of New Mexico in the autumn, the story fails to resonate making the movie woefully trite by the time it finally ends.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: September 23, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes
Director: Daniel Haller
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video