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The Cardinal

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The Cardinal
Promotional poster by Saul Bass
Directed byOtto Preminger
Screenplay byRobert Dozier
Based onThe Cardinal by
Henry Morton Robinson
Produced byOtto Preminger
StarringTom Tryon
Romy Schneider
Carol Lynley
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byLouis R. Loeffler
Music byJerome Moross
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 12, 1963 (1963-12-12) (Boston)
  • December 23, 1963 (1963-12-23) (United States)
Running time
175 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11,170,588[1]

The Cardinal is a 1963 American drama film produced independently, directed by Otto Preminger and distributed by Columbia Pictures. The screenplay was written by Robert Dozier, based on the novel of the same name (1950) by Henry Morton Robinson. The music score was written by Jerome Moross.

The film's cast features Tom Tryon, Romy Schneider and John Huston, and it was nominated for six Academy Awards. It marks the final appearance by veteran film star Dorothy Gish, as well as the last big-screen performance of Maggie McNamara.

The film was shot on location in: Rome, Vienna, Boston and Stamford, Connecticut.

Robinson's novel was based on the life of Francis Cardinal Spellman, who was then Archbishop of New York. The Vatican's liaison officer for the film was Rev. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger,[2] later to become Pope Benedict XVI. The story touches on various social issues, such as: interfaith marriage, sex outside marriage, abortion, racial bigotry, the rise of fascism and war.


This former Boston streetcar was restored to its 1915 Boston Elevated Railway livery for scenes in the film.

The film is shown as a series of memory flashbacks during a formal ceremony where the protagonist is instituted as a cardinal.

A newly ordained Irish Catholic priest, Stephen Fermoyle (Tom Tryon), returns home to Boston in 1917. He discovers that his parents are upset about daughter Mona (Carol Lynley) having become engaged to marry a Jewish man, Benny Rampell (John Saxon). Stephen and his Irish Catholic family will only permit Mona to marry Benny if he becomes a Catholic or agrees to raise any children as Catholic, as demanded by the papal bull Ne Temere (superseded in 1970). Benny does not agree and leaves to serve in World War I. Mona seeks Stephen's counsel as a priest. After he tells her to give Benny up, she runs away and becomes promiscuous.

Concerned about the young priest's ambition, the archbishop (John Huston) assigns Stephen to an out-of-the-way parish where it is hoped that he will learn humility. There he meets the humble pastor, Father Ned Halley (Burgess Meredith), and Fermoyle observes the unpretentious way in which he lives his life and treats his parishioners. Father Halley is very sick with multiple sclerosis. Fermoyle learns humility from him and his housekeeper, Lalage (Jill Haworth).

Meanwhile, Mona becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Stephen, his brother and Benny find Mona in agony because her pelvis is too small for a large baby. She is taken to the hospital, where the doctor tells Stephen that it is too late to perform a caesarean section and in order to save Mona, the head of the baby must be crushed. Stephen will not allow the doctor to do so, because according to Catholic doctrine, the baby may not be killed. Mona dies giving birth to the child, Regina.

Racked with guilt over the death of his sister, Stephen suffers a crisis of faith, so he is transferred to Europe and made a monsignor, but he is unsure of how committed he is to a life in the clergy, and he travels to Vienna, taking a two-year sabbatical by working as a lecturer. There he meets and enters into a relationship with a young woman, Annemarie (Romy Schneider). Stephen does not violate his vows.

Stephen's vocation calls him back to Rome and the church. The Vatican returns him to the United States on a mission in the American South to assist a black priest named Father Gillis (Ossie Davis) who is opposed by the Ku Klux Klan. After successfully handling the assignment, Stephen is consecrated as a bishop, with Father Gillis present for the consecration.

Stephen is sent back to Austria to persuade a cardinal not to cooperate with the Nazi government, with a threat of a world war looming over all. He and the cardinal ultimately must flee for their lives. He manages to see Annemarie one last time after she has been imprisoned by the Nazi authorities. After the success of the missions on which the Vatican had sent him, he is elevated to the College of Cardinals.

On the eve of World War II, a ceremony is held in which Stephen formally becomes a cardinal. He warns about the dangers of totalitarianism and pledges to dedicate the rest of his life to his work.



The script was credited to Robert Dozier, but featured uncredited contributions by Ring Lardner Jr. who worked with Preminger in developing characterizations and story structure.[4] Saul Bass was not only responsible for designing the film's poster and advertising campaign, but also the film titles, during which Bass transforms a walk through the Vatican into an abstract play of horizontal and vertical lines.[5]


The film had its world premiere at the Saxon Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.[6] It was the first film to be shown in 70 mm despite being shot on 35 mm movie film for some roadshow releases, using a "print-up" (blow up) process.[7][8][9]


Box-office performance[edit]

The Cardinal was the 18th highest-grossing film of the year. It grossed $11,170,588 in the United States,[1] earning $5.46 million in domestic rentals.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 47% of 15 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.9/10.[11]


The film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, marking the third time, following East of Eden (1955) and Spartacus (1960), and the last time (as of 2021), that a film won that category without later being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.[citation needed]

Preminger was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director and John Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. Huston's role as Cardinal Glennon was his official debut as an actor, although he had previously played bit roles in several films, including his own The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Other Academy Award nominations were those for:


The film was nominated by the American Film Institute for its AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores list.[13]


The Cardinal was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2012.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Cardinal. The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  2. ^ The Cardinal review by Frank Miller, Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ Marina Pavido (December 1, 2020). "Wolf Albach-Retty – A Famous Father". Cinema Austriaco. Retrieved July 15, 2023; the actor Albach-Retty was Romy Schneider's father, and this was their only film together.
  4. ^ Fujiwara, Chris (July 14, 2015). The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-1-4668-9423-5.
  5. ^ Horak, Jan-Christopher (2014). Saul Bass : Anatomy of Film Design. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-4720-8. OCLC 892799673.
  6. ^ "N.Y. 'Cardinal' Preem Set". Variety. September 18, 1963. p. 22. Retrieved February 15, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ Natale, Richard (May 21, 1992). "Uni/Imagine throw dice 'Far and Away'". Daily Variety. p. 17.
  8. ^ The Cardinal at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  9. ^ "The Beginning of the End". in70mm. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  10. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is theatrical rentals accruing to distributors, not total gross.
  11. ^ "The Cardinal". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 13, 2024. Edit this at Wikidata
  12. ^ The Cardinal at AllMovie
  13. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  14. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

External links[edit]