The Keys of the Kingdom (film)

The Keys of the Kingdom is a 1944 American film based on the 1941 novel The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin. The film was adapted by Nunnally Johnson, directed by John M. Stahl, and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It stars Gregory Peck, Thomas Mitchell, and Vincent Price, and tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a Catholic priest who goes to China to evangelise.

The Keys of the Kingdom
Theatrical film poster
Directed byJohn M. Stahl
Produced byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
Written byNunnally Johnson
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Based onThe Keys of the Kingdom
1941 novel
by A. J. Cronin
StarringGregory Peck
Thomas Mitchell
Vincent Price
Rose Stradner
Edmund Gwenn
Benson Fong
Roddy McDowall
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Narrated bySir Cedric Hardwicke
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byJames B. Clark
Distributed byTwentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date
December 15, 1944 (1944-12-15)
Running time
136 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$2.4 million[2]


Father Francis Chisholm is visited in his old age by Monsignor Sleeth at his parish in Tweedside. The Monsignor informs Francis that the Bishop thinks it would be better if he retires, as his somewhat unorthodox recent teachings have become a distraction. The Monsignor retires to his room in the rectory, and finds Father Francis' diary that recounts his story from 1878. As the Monsignor begins to read the diary, a flashback begins.

One night during his childhood, Francis' father was beaten by an anti-Catholic mob during a rainstorm. As his mother attempts to lead her husband to safety, they both die in a bridge collapse, leaving young Francis to be raised by his aunt until he leaves for the seminary with his childhood friend, Anselm "Angus" Mealey. Francis studies for about a year, but finds himself still in love with Nora, a girl from home. He learns that, after he left for the seminary, Nora had a child out of wedlock with another man, and out of shame she commits suicide before Francis can return to see her. This prompts him to go back to the seminary and complete his studies.

His first two assignments as a priest are unfulfilling, so the Bishop suggests that Francis volunteer for the missions in China. Francis accepts, even though it will take him far from home and Nora's young child, Judy. Francis arrives in Paitan, China to find the mission destroyed by floods. He rents a small room in the city to evangelise, but because he has no money or influence he is attacked by some "rice Christians" who only attended to receive free rice.

A young Christian Chinese, Joseph, offers to help rebuild the church. Francis then receives a shipment of medical supplies from his childhood friend, Dr Willie Tulloch. Francis is summoned to the home of local official, Mr Chia, to heal Chia's only son of an infection. Despite the risk if he fails, Francis saves the boy. A few weeks later, Chia comes to Francis in order to convert to Christianity, but Francis rejects him because he would be converting from gratitude rather than true belief. A relieved Chia then donates land and provides labourers to rebuild the mission.

Two years later Willie visits from Scotland and is able to create a makeshift hospital, but the church is destroyed in a fire set by imperial troops battling republican forces. Willie is fatally shot. The imperial general demands all the mission's food and funds under threat of destroying it. Joseph and Francis come up with a plan, and Francis blows up the imperial troops.

Later, Angus arrives—now a Monsignor—as he is making a review of missionary sites. He tells Francis that the Church cannot pay for rebuilding the mission, and that Francis has the lowest of all in conversion rates. He tells Francis to focus on converting rich Chinese and to improve his clothes and accommodation to impress the locals, but Francis refuses.

The flashback ends, and Monsignor Sleeth admits to Francis that he has read the diary and that he won't be telling the Bishop anything is amiss at Francis' parish, leaving him free to continue serving his parish, and raising Judy's orphaned son, Andrew.



Alfred Hitchcock liked the novel and hoped to direct it,[4] but opted to direct Lifeboat. Actors considered for the role of Father Chisholm included Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Gene Kelly, and Henry Fonda. Ingrid Bergman was considered for the part of Mother Maria-Veronica, though Rose Stradner, the wife of producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was cast instead.


Variety called The Keys of the Kingdom a "cavalcade of a priest's life, played excellently by Gregory Peck."[5]

In a 2010 review, film critic Jay Carr wrote

Again and again, one is impressed by the depth of talent on studio rosters of the time, in this case 20th Century-Fox. Not just Gwenn, Mitchell, Hardwicke, and Price, but James Gleason, Roddy McDowall (Chisholm as a boy), Peggy Ann Garner, Anne Revere and Benson Fong dot the cast list in this solidly crafted film –- measured, stately, patient, never loud or pounding (except when the mission is caught in a war between imperial and nascent republican troops, and Father Chisholm briefly takes up arms!). It would have to be because it's essentially a film about interiority translated into service, a film of cumulative increments.... The bottom line is that The Keys of the Kingdom and Peck convince us they're about a man in a cassock spending his life trying to do the right thing.[6]

Awards and honorsEdit

The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories:[7]

Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Alfred Newman incorporated Irish and Chinese elements into the score. The theme at the heart of the track, "The Hill of the Brilliant Green Jade", is associated with a Chinese nobleman who befriends Father Chisholm after the latter has saved his son's life. Newman later reused the melody in his Oscar-winning score for the 1955 film Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. Richard Rodgers lifted the tune for the song "I Have Dreamed" in the 1951 musical The King and I.[9]

Adaptations to other mediaEdit

The Keys of the Kingdom was adapted as a radio play on the November 19, 1945, episode of Lux Radio Theater, featuring Ronald Colman and Ann Harding. It was also adapted on the August 21, 1946, episode of Academy Award Theater, with Gregory Peck reprising his leading role.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ FRED STANLEY HOLLYWOOD (Feb 13, 1944). "HOLLYWOOD SPREADS ITSELF". New York Times. p. X3.
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 220
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Hopper, Hedda (April 2, 1943). "Looking at Hollywood". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ "The Keys of the Kingdom" Variety, December 31, 1944
  6. ^ Carr, Jay. "The Keys of the Kingdom", TCM. February 10, 2010
  7. ^ "The Keys of the Kingdom". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  9. ^ "Film Score Click Track".

External linksEdit