Films about Faith

The Sign of the Cross (1932) – from the producer-director that gave us two cinematic versions of The Ten Commandments; Cecil B. DeMille also produced and directed this pre-code biblical epic about the beginnings of Christianity near the end of the Roman Empire, e.g. Nero (Charles Laughton) fiddles while Rome burns. The great Roman warrior-hero Marcus (Fredric March) falls for a Christian girl (Elissa Landi) during a time when those that believed in the teachings of Jesus secretly identified themselves to one another by scratching a mark resembling His cross in the sand. Claudette Colbert portrays Emperor Nero’s wife Poppaea, who covets warrior Marcus. Ian Keith plays the equally jealous Tigellinus, who manipulates the weak Emperor into asserting that the Christians are to blame for Rome's burning in order that they might be rounded up and fed to lions, bears, & alligators (and even crushed by elephants) as entertainment for spectators in the Colosseum. See it June 6th on TCM. Another version of this story is Quo Vadis.

The Green Pastures (1936) – a series of Old Testament Bible stories uniquely retold (and sung) in more contemporary settings by an all-Black cast, including musical accompaniment by the Hall Johnson Choir. Rex Ingram plays De Lawd (God) and Adam (Myrtle Anderson plays Eve) while others portray the angel Gabriel, Noah (Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson), Moses & Pharaoh, and Cain & Abel; Clinton Rosemond also appears as a prophet. Songs sung by the choir include: Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho and de Walls Came Tumblin’ Down, De Old Ark's A-Moverin’, Let My People Go, Run Sinner Run, Death's Gwinter Lay His Cold Hands on Me, and When the Saints Come Marchin’ In.

One Foot in Heaven (1941) – nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, this drama based on Hartzell Spence’s book about his father – a Methodist minister – is wonderfully played by Fredric March, an actor whose name is not as well known by contemporary audiences as several of his less talented peers (despite his winning two Best Actor Oscars); Martha Scott plays his faithful wife Hope. The story spans many years in the life of the pastor, his spouse, and their family, chronically their service to several communities. It was directed by Irving Rapper and features a screenplay by Casey Robinson. One of the most memorable subplots involves Beulah Bondi as a wealthy member of his congregation; her money is needed for a church upgrade, but she’s upset that Spence shares time with her poor gardener (ubiquitous character actor Harry Davenport) because she feel that religion is proprietary.

The Song of Bernadette (1943) – Jennifer Jones won her Best Actress Oscar playing the title role in this historical drama about a young, weak nineteenth century French girl from a poor family that sees a vision which everyone assumes is the virgin Mary. Initially thought to be a "kook" by her own mother (Ann Revere), and shunned by church officials (Charles Bickford and Gladys Cooper), Bernadette grows stronger, making daily trips to see the vision which cause a sensation that the town's business council (Lee J. Cobb and Vincent Price) decides must be addressed.

The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) – Gregory Peck earned his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination playing Father Chisholm, a Catholic priest sent to China to establish a parish; later, Ingrid Bergman would play a similar role as a missionary in a remote Chinese village run by Robert Donat’s Mandarin in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) – a sequel to the Academy Award winning Best Picture Going My Way (1944) – which should also be on this list – this story follows Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) to his new assignment at the titled church (in dire need of better facilities) where Sister Mary Benedict (Bergman) works with school children. Henry Travers plays a businessman, who's just built a brand new building across the street; he wants the church to be leveled for a parking lot, which threatens the closure of the parochial school. Though the Father and the Sister don't always see eye-to-eye on how to deal with this and other congregational issues (just like Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald’s characters didn’t in the first film), the two develop a mutual respect that helps them to deal with Travers et al. This film airs May 2nd on the channel.

Green Dolphin Street (1947) – while this drama that earned a Special Effects Oscar is overlong and pretty average, it does contain a powerful show of faith by Marguerite (Donna Reed), whose "calling" leads her to scale a perilous vertical tunnel to reach a statue of St. Peter and a convent which she would join. Lars Hanson’s character also found his calling at the end of the silent drama Captain Salvation (1927).

Stars in My Crown (1950) – Joel McCrea plays gospel preacher Josiah Dozier Grey in this excellent Western drama directed by Jacques Tourneur. After fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Grey settles in a small rural town where he emphasizes (sometimes at the point of a gun) fair treatment and ethical ways to his parishioners and nephew (Dean Stockwell). Ellen Drew plays the preacher’s wife; Alan Hale portrays an immigrant settler that doesn’t attend church services but supports what his friend Josiah is doing in the community. Juano Hernandez plays a free black man that Ed Begley’s character wants to run off so badly that he organizes a KKK rally. This forces the former Confederate soldier turned preacher into a position of standing up to the riotous group, with his nephew and Hale's character by his side, to prevent a lynching. This movie is being shown this Wednesday (4/11) at 1 PM ET.

Today’s TCM lineup includes King Of Kings (1961), the story of Jesus Christ with Jeffrey Hunter in the title role, as told by director Nicholas Ray and screenwriter Philip Yordan. Robert Ryan plays John the Baptist, Hurd Hatfield is Pontius Pilate, Harry Guardino plays Barabbas, Rip Torn is Judas, and Royal Dano plays Peter. Orson Welles is the uncredited narrator.

16 Responses Films about Faith
Posted By Lee Ann92 : April 8, 2007 3:43 pm

I have "King of Kings" set to record, but my favorite film of faith will always be the Steve Martin film, "Leap of Faith". The story of a traveling con artist bilking believers, only to discover a miracle within his midst, always was my favorite movie to show to my Bible study group. It brought up wonderful topics of discussion and really forced members to ask themselves just what they truly believed… 

Posted By Lee Ann92 : April 8, 2007 3:43 pm

I have "King of Kings" set to record, but my favorite film of faith will always be the Steve Martin film, "Leap of Faith". The story of a traveling con artist bilking believers, only to discover a miracle within his midst, always was my favorite movie to show to my Bible study group. It brought up wonderful topics of discussion and really forced members to ask themselves just what they truly believed… 

Posted By Chris : April 9, 2007 2:03 pm

Well I must admit that Easter first brought to mind HARVEY, but never mind that for now. I would say that the most impressive movie that revolves around the theme of belief would be, hands down, Carl Theodor Dreyers' THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. Renee Falconetti delivers such a moving performance, you can turn of the sound and merely watch her eyes for the entire performance. The Cinematography of Rudolph Mate is fabulous ( and incidentally, he did Vampyre with dreyer as well ). Visually, this is a fascinating movie and Falconetti seems so earnest that one can't help but be drawn into empathy for her.Next, I'd dare say THE RULING CLASS starring Peter O'Toole from 1972 is very poignant in what it says regarding the need to believe. It seems to cencapsulate the underlying fact that societal placement rests upon a certain system of belief. O'Tolle also makes a very nancy-looking Jesus, a nice counter-point to his eventual charachter's disturbing vision.And I agree, Ingrid Bergman is ravishing in BELLS OF ST. MARY. The tonal qualities of the film, and Bing's voice are a delight.

Posted By Chris : April 9, 2007 2:03 pm

Well I must admit that Easter first brought to mind HARVEY, but never mind that for now. I would say that the most impressive movie that revolves around the theme of belief would be, hands down, Carl Theodor Dreyers' THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. Renee Falconetti delivers such a moving performance, you can turn of the sound and merely watch her eyes for the entire performance. The Cinematography of Rudolph Mate is fabulous ( and incidentally, he did Vampyre with dreyer as well ). Visually, this is a fascinating movie and Falconetti seems so earnest that one can't help but be drawn into empathy for her.Next, I'd dare say THE RULING CLASS starring Peter O'Toole from 1972 is very poignant in what it says regarding the need to believe. It seems to cencapsulate the underlying fact that societal placement rests upon a certain system of belief. O'Tolle also makes a very nancy-looking Jesus, a nice counter-point to his eventual charachter's disturbing vision.And I agree, Ingrid Bergman is ravishing in BELLS OF ST. MARY. The tonal qualities of the film, and Bing's voice are a delight.

Posted By Chris : April 9, 2007 7:24 pm

Talk about 'shake the faith' kind of movies. TCM has been running BLACK NARCISSUS recently and it rivals all of the above films for cinematography, characterization, and reflection. A terrific film, so good in fact that it shakes you out, actually unwinds you, from the bleak claustrophobic world of the cloisters out into a lush, naturalistic ideal few get to experience. As Shakespeare might have said upon viewing this film, " Get thee from a nunnery".

Posted By Chris : April 9, 2007 7:24 pm

Talk about 'shake the faith' kind of movies. TCM has been running BLACK NARCISSUS recently and it rivals all of the above films for cinematography, characterization, and reflection. A terrific film, so good in fact that it shakes you out, actually unwinds you, from the bleak claustrophobic world of the cloisters out into a lush, naturalistic ideal few get to experience. As Shakespeare might have said upon viewing this film, " Get thee from a nunnery".

Posted By MDR : April 9, 2007 9:07 pm

Thanks for the recommendation Lee Ann, I can't remember whether I've seen that one or not.  And Chris, thanks for mentioning The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), an excellent silent film that (thank goodness) is shown on TCM from time to time.

Posted By MDR : April 9, 2007 9:07 pm

Thanks for the recommendation Lee Ann, I can't remember whether I've seen that one or not.  And Chris, thanks for mentioning The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), an excellent silent film that (thank goodness) is shown on TCM from time to time.

Posted By Betty Piper : April 13, 2007 1:47 pm

Hello – Thank you so much for this list of movies about faith. I’m sure many people appreciate it. I just found it now, so missed some, but hope to see most of the rest. Faith is not the easiest film category in which to locate good-quality movies. Sometimes it or similar subjects are not even listed as categories where there are lists, or are very minimally dealt with, as you probably know. I will search your site for “faith,” “Christianity,” etc., but if you are aware of any other lists here, off-hand, I know some other people besides myself who would really like to know about them. I’m inspired now to see if I can locate a book on the subject! Like “Amazing Grace,” which will be listed in years to come, it is so wonderful at the end of a movie to sit and feel, “This was worth my time. I was really touched, inspired, uplifted,” etc. Regular entertainment, especially the 3-1/2- and 4-star movies are great for what they are – and I really enjoy them too – and they also often have a message, intended or not, if one takes the time to think them through. Thanks again. God bless all of your efforts, and thank you for this Terrific Channel, and all of the work that all of you put into it. I’ll be signing up for your monthly mailed schedule so that I don’t miss anything; also will look into the movie book you recently put out. Have a great day! Betty Piper linda8101920@yahoo.com

Posted By Betty Piper : April 13, 2007 1:47 pm

Hello – Thank you so much for this list of movies about faith. I’m sure many people appreciate it. I just found it now, so missed some, but hope to see most of the rest. Faith is not the easiest film category in which to locate good-quality movies. Sometimes it or similar subjects are not even listed as categories where there are lists, or are very minimally dealt with, as you probably know. I will search your site for “faith,” “Christianity,” etc., but if you are aware of any other lists here, off-hand, I know some other people besides myself who would really like to know about them. I’m inspired now to see if I can locate a book on the subject! Like “Amazing Grace,” which will be listed in years to come, it is so wonderful at the end of a movie to sit and feel, “This was worth my time. I was really touched, inspired, uplifted,” etc. Regular entertainment, especially the 3-1/2- and 4-star movies are great for what they are – and I really enjoy them too – and they also often have a message, intended or not, if one takes the time to think them through. Thanks again. God bless all of your efforts, and thank you for this Terrific Channel, and all of the work that all of you put into it. I’ll be signing up for your monthly mailed schedule so that I don’t miss anything; also will look into the movie book you recently put out. Have a great day! Betty Piper linda8101920@yahoo.com

Posted By MaidofHeaven : September 11, 2007 5:02 pm

The Passion of Joan of Arc can be watched online for free at MaidofHeaven.com http://www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_videos_movies.asp

Posted By MaidofHeaven : September 11, 2007 5:02 pm

The Passion of Joan of Arc can be watched online for free at MaidofHeaven.com http://www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_videos_movies.asp

Posted By kate : May 27, 2010 12:11 am

I just loved Green Dolphin Street—-Can it be found anywhere??

Posted By kate : May 27, 2010 12:11 am

I just loved Green Dolphin Street—-Can it be found anywhere??

Posted By orio : January 18, 2011 8:10 am

I would love for this movie to play again . it came on so early in the mornning. eery one kind of missed it. but for us who saw the movie .we would love to see it again . GREAT MOVIE !

Posted By orio : January 18, 2011 8:10 am

I would love for this movie to play again . it came on so early in the mornning. eery one kind of missed it. but for us who saw the movie .we would love to see it again . GREAT MOVIE !

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