Hidden in the Vatican
With the Nazis having taken control of Rome General Max Helm (Walter Gotell) and SS Head of Police for Rome Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer - Aces High) meet with the Pope (John Gielgud) to set boundaries, well aware that many Jews, escaped prisoners and refugees head for the Vatican to seek protection. Kappler is also well aware of Monsignor O'Flaherty (Gregory Peck - The Sea Wolves) is the man who is organizing the help and safe keeping of those who seek assistance but due to O'Flaherty's connections and cunning continually avoid capture as well as an assassination attempt. But after months of trying to stop O'Flaherty, Kappler finds himself needing to call on his help when the allies start to exert their control on Italy and he fears his family will be persecuted. The question is will the man of God help the man who tried to have him killed?
I have watched a fair few movies which tell the true story of a civilian hero during WWII but "The Scarlet and the Black" has something extra about it. Maybe it is the fact that this TV movie stars such cinematic heavy weights as Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer and John Gielgud or maybe because this was made back in 1983 it has that tone and style of a war time action adventure movie. But there is simply something about "The Scarlet and the Black" which makes it both interesting and entertaining.
Part of the joy of "The Scarlet and the Black" is that it effortlessly tells to the story of Monsignor O'Flaherty so that we get an understanding of what he did and what he faced without making it feel simply factual. As such we see how he manages his team; we see his dealings with the Pope who is aware of what he is doing as well as seeing how he became a thorn in the side of Colonel Kappler. You quickly come to appreciate the dangers he put himself in order to save thousands of people.
But as I said "The Scarlet and the Black" doesn't just feel like a dry, factual drama as it manages to create that war movie style of action and adventure as we witness the escapades of O'Flaherty and his team to help others. And of course we have the enemy as we watch Kappler becoming obsessed with stopping O'Flaherty and frustrated by the way the Monsignor avoids capture.
These two sides make "The Scarlet and the Black" entertaining and enlightening but it comes alive because of the cast. Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer and John Gielgud all deliver first rate war movie performances with Gielgud looking particularly right as the Pope. But they also have a great supporting cast of familiar faces such as Raf Vallone, Michael Byrne, Walter Gotell and Barbara Bouchet.
What this all boils down to is that "The Scarlet and the Black" is a very enjoyable movie which has that feel of a war action and adventure movie of the past but at the same time telling the story of Monsignor O'Flaherty in an informative but not dry manner.