Sog.: based on the novel of the same name (1950) by Henry Morton Robinson. Scen.: Robert Dozier. F.: Leon Shamroy. M.: Louis Loeffler. Scgf.: Lyle Wheeler, Otto Niedermoser. Mus.: Jerome Moross. Int.: Tom Tryon (Stephen Fermoyle), Carol Lynley (Mona), Dorothy Gish (Celia), Maggie McNamara (Florrie), Bill Hayes (Frank), Romy Schneider (Anne-Marie Hartmann), Peter Weck (Kurt Von Hartman), John Huston (cardinale Glennon), Raf Vallone (cardinale Quarenghi), Burgess Meredith (padre Halley). Prod.: Otto Preminger per Gamma Productions. 35mm. Col.
It is by far Preminger’s most ambitious undertaking: the story of the rise of Stephen Fermoyle from seminary student to cardinal, it ranges from Boston to Vienna and Rome, and from 1917 to 1938. A tremendous number of episodes are very effectively linked by a highly efficient screenplay, and interpreted by an extraordinary all-star cast extraordinarily used. Based on a best-selling novel, The Cardinal is in fact an anthology of the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century. We are spared little: intermarriage between Catholics and Jews; saving the child or saving the mother in childbirth; the Church’s attitude towards the Nazis, the Church’s attitude towards the Negro problem. (Curiously enough, only the Protestant-Catholic friction is omitted.) Nor are what one might call the internal problems of the Church neglected: the split between the American Church and the Roman Consistory; the “country priest” in the Bressonian sense versus the worldly businessman cleric. […] Visconti took Romy Schneider and transformed her into quite another per son. Preminger gets just as good a performance out of her by simply bringing out her own natural talent and ability. First as the young Viennese flirt who finds the seduction of a priest the supreme challenge, and later as the victim of her own equally schoolgirlish infatuation with the Nazis, she brings life and pathos to what might have been merely a clever plot twist. […] During a two-year trial period when Father Fermoyle is allowed to go out into the world, though still bound by his vows, he is persuaded by Romy Schneider to take her to a Viennese ball. Succumbing to its passionate gaiety, he returns to his room, top-hatted, white-tied, gaily whistling. Suddenly he is confronted with a Mephistophelian figure in the looking-glass: his own. So powerful is the image that – although no explanation is given – one is completely convinced by his decision to re-enter the Church. To have concentrated into that one image all the complex feelings that motivate this turning-point in a man’s life is, I suggest, a supreme example of the filmmaker’s craft.
Richard Roud, “Sight and Sound”, n. 1, 1964