The Scarlet and the Black
|The Scarlet and the Black|
|Based on||The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican by J.P. Gallagher|
|Written by||David Butler|
|Directed by||Jerry London|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producer(s)||Howard P. Alston|
Alfio Sugaroni (associate producer)
|Production location(s)||Rome, Italy|
|Editor(s)||Benjamin A. Weissman|
|Running time||143 minutes|
|Production company(s)||ITC Entertainment|
|Original release||February 2, 1983|
Based on J. P. Gallagher's book The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican (published in 1967), the film tells the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a real-life Irish Roman Catholic priest who saved thousands of Jews and escaped Allied POWs in Rome. It was directed by Jerry London. CBS distributed more than 500,000 scripts of The Scarlet and the Black to students in elementary and high schools throughout the country, to be read aloud in class to stimulate student interest in English and history.
The title The Scarlet and the Black is a reference not only to the black cassock and scarlet sash worn by Monsignores and bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, but also to the dominant colors of Nazi Party regalia.
In 1943, the Nazi military occupies Rome. Pope Pius XII (John Gielgud) is approached by General Max Helm and SS Head of Police for Rome Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer). The Colonel expresses concern that escaped Allied prisoners may attempt to seek refuge in the Vatican, and requests permission to paint a white line across St. Peter's Square in order to mark the extent of Vatican sovereignty. The Pope doesn't grant his permission, but when the SS officers leave, he sees out of the window that the white line had already begun to be painted.
Kappler's main antagonist is Monsignor O'Flaherty (Gregory Peck), an Irish-born Vatican priest who runs an underground organization which provides safe haven and escape to escaped POWs, Jews, and refugees in Rome. O'Flaherty is assisted in this enterprise by others, including locals, clergy and the diplomatic corps. The Nazis attempt to destroy the group, but Kappler is frustrated by O'Flaherty's successes, due to his cleverness, disguises, and his straining the limits of the Vatican's neutrality.
Met with continuous failure, Kappler begins to develop a personal vendetta against O'Flaherty. Despite O'Flaherty's efforts, Kappler manages to recapture many escaped POWs, deport many Jews to death camps, and exploit and oppress the general population; a number of O'Flaherty's friends are also arrested or killed. O'Flaherty is himself the target of an assassination attempt instigated by Kappler, which however fails due to the monsignor's boxing skills. The rescue organization continues operating, and succeeds in saving many lives.
As the war progresses, the Allies succeed in landing in Italy and begin to overcome German resistance, eventually breaking through and heading towards Rome itself. Colonel Kappler worries for his family's safety from vengeful partisans, and, in a one-to-one meeting with O'Flaherty, asks him to save his family, appealing to the same values that motivated O'Flaherty to save so many others. The Monsignor, however, refuses, refusing to believe that, after all the Colonel has done and all the atrocities he is responsible for, he would expect mercy and forgiveness automatically, simply because he asks for it, and departs in disgust.
As the Allies enter Rome in June, 1944, Monsignor O'Flaherty joins in the celebration of the liberation, and somberly toasts those who did not live to see it. Kappler is captured in 1945 and interrogated by the Allies. In the course of his interrogation, he is informed that his wife and children were smuggled out of Italy and escaped unharmed into Switzerland. Upon being asked who helped them, Kappler realizes who it must have been, but responds simply that he does not know.
The film epilogue states that O'Flaherty was decorated by several Allied governments after the war. Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was visited in prison every month by O'Flaherty, his only regular visitor. Eventually, the former SS officer converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and was baptized by the Monsignor in 1959.
- Gregory Peck as Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty
- John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII
- Raf Vallone as Father Vittorio
- Angelo Infanti as Father Morosini
- Marne Maitland as Papal Secretary
- Stelio Candelli as O'Flaherty's Secretary
- Gabriella D'Olive as Mother Superior
- Christopher Plummer as SS-Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler
- Kenneth Colley as SS-Hauptsturmführer Hirsch (representing Erich Priebke) (as Ken Colley)
- Walter Gotell as SS-Obergruppenführer Max Helm (representing Karl Wolff)
- Michael Byrne as Reinhard Beck
- T. P. McKenna as Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler
- David Brandon as SS officer
- John Terry as Lt. Jack Manning
- Phillip Hatton as Lt. Harry Barnett
- Mark Lewis as Cpl. Les Tate
- William Berger as U.S. Intelligence Officer (as Bill Berger)
- Edmund Purdom as British Intelligence Officer / Epilogue Narrator (as Edmond Purdom)
- Barbara Bouchet as Minna Kappler
- Julian Holloway as Alfred West (John May)
- Olga Karlatos as Francesca Lombardo (representing Chetta Chevalier)
- Vernon Dobtcheff as Count Langenthal (representing Count Demetris Sarsfield Salazar)
- Peter Burton as Sir D'Arcy Osborne
- Fabiana Udenio as Guila Lombardo
- Remo Remotti as Rabbi Leoni
- Giovanni Crippa as Simon Weiss
- Billy Boyle as Paddy Doyle
- Itaco Nardulli as Franz Kappler
- Cariddi Nardulli as Liesel Kappler (as Carridi Nardulli)
- Alessandra Cozzo as Emilia Lombardo
- Cesarina Tacconi as Pregnant Woman
- Sergio Nicolai as Firing Squad Officer
- Bruno Corazzari as Coalman
- Francesco Carnelutti as Cameriere Segreto
The portrayal of Pope Pius XII is notable. He "answers questions that the film hasn't even raised. The world, in fact, didn't raise the questions until the 1960's." Answering protests that came decades later, including by Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy and the writings of Hannah Arendt, the film wrestles with the role of the Holy See in the War at multiple points. During the conclusion of the film, Pope Pius XII tells O'Flaherty 'In my heart I honor you'.
The character of General Max Helm was based entirely on the real life of SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, who served in 1944 as the Supreme SS and Police Leader of Italy. The film was unable to use Wolff's real name, since the SS General was still living when the film was in production; he died in 1984.
Herbert Kappler converted from Protestant to Catholic in 1949, however that fact only became known in 1959.
Herbert Kappler was instrumental in carrying out the Ardeatine massacre, one of the worst World War II atrocities on Italian soil. His life imprisonment sentence was largely in relation to that crime. He was eventually transferred to a prison hospital on account of poor health. It was there that he was smuggled out in a suitcase by his wife in 1977 (Kappler weighed less than 105 pounds at the time). He escaped to West Germany, where he died at age 70 in 1978.
Actor Christopher Plummer was 53 years old during the production of the film. Herbert Kappler was only 36 when he served as SS Security Chief in Rome.
Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty was a real Irish-born priest and Vatican official, credited with saving 6,500 Jews and Allied war prisoners.
In 1983 The Scarlet and the Black was nominated for an Emmy in the category Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special.