Thursday, December 5, 2013

O'Flaherty:The Scarlet and the Black,

The Movie.

The movie, The Scarlet and the Black J.P. Gallagher’s book was the main inspiration for the 1983 TV movie, The Scarlet and the Black, which dramatizes O’Flaherty’s rescue efforts during the German occupation of Rome. Gregory Peck stars as Hugh O’Flaherty, Christopher Plummer plays Col. Herbert Kappler, and Sir John Gielgud takes a turn as Pope Pius XII. The film’s opening scene portrays the painting of the white line across the opening of St. Peter’s Square, effectively underscoring the theme of the whole movie: is it possible that something or someone will be able to hold God back? The second scene introduces us to O’Flaherty, who is giving the Swiss Guards a boxing lesson. Immediately we understand that for this man, there is no line painted between heaven and earth. The film stays true to the book in generalities. Sam Derry has been quietly left out, the better to highlight O’Flaherty’s role. Mrs. Chevalier has been turned into Francesca Lombardo, an attractive Maltese widow with two daughters. John May is renamed “Mr. West,” but the character is stilled played as one part Jeeves, two parts Artful Dodger. And every villain in the story has been rolled into Col. Kappler, a man more subtly drawn than your typical film Nazi; we see him order death and torture, yet we also see his honest devotion to his rather brainless wife Nina and their two bratty children.
The movie has a good time with some of the legends about O’Flaherty, especially the one about his disguises: we see him dressed as a street sweeper, a nun, even (ahem) a Nazi officer. It also makes the enmity between Kappler and O’Flaherty more personal. In one tense scene, the priest insolently saunters along the very edge of the white line, while Kappler, at a nearby window, watches through the sights of a sniper’s rifle, his finger quivering on the trigger. At the end, the movie takes another departure from strict accuracy, but still remains within the spirit of O’Flaherty’s story.  
Gregory Peck as Hugh O'Flaherty The film was shot on location and the sights of Rome provide a beautiful backdrop for the action. The soundtrack has unfortunately not worn very well, but the screenplay is still snappy. Gregory Peck plays the unconventional priest with Irish charm; he is, perhaps, a little too steely around the eyes, but otherwise his performance is wonderful. And if you only know Christopher Plummer from his role as the noble and anti-Nazi Captain VonTrapp in The Sound of Music, then you are in for a surprise. The Scarlet and the Black has no rating, but I would give it a PG-13; there is no language or sexuality, but there are some scenes of violence (Jewish people are rounded up and pushed into trucks, a man is executed by a firing squad—but nothing is too explicit). If you like to be both inspired and entertained, this is a movie to add to your collection.

Hugh O’Flaherty Links

Wikipedia article on Hugh O’Flaherty. The Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society.
Two other sites with information on O'Flaherty:

World War II Links

General timeline of World War Two events. Brief rundown of World War Two in Italy.
Several interesting first-hand accounts of the Italian front in World War Two, from the BBC’s People’s War collection; browse their archives for even more:
Short article on Herbert Kappler.
What the Gestapo was and how it worked.

Holocaust Links

Near-exhaustive online resource for the Holocaust. The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrence Authority.
An account of the Ardeatine Caves Massacre.
From Columbia University, an article on Catholic heroes of the Holocaust; O’Flaherty is included.
Two views on Pope Pius XII and the Catholic response to the Holocaust:

Vatican Links

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which used to be O’Flaherty’s Holy Office. The Vatican’s official site.
Wikipedia article on Vatican City.
For anyone who’s wondering what the title “Monsignor” means.

Movie Links

The Scarlet and the Black on the Internet Movie Database. Review and photos.


  1. Altham, Elizabeth. (1998, February, 10). “Catholic heroes of the holocaust.” In Sursum Corda, The Augustine Club, Columbia University. Retrieved June 3, 2006 from
  2. Fleming, Brian. (2008). The Vatican Pimpernel: the wartime exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. Cork; The Collins Press.
  3. Gaffney, Mary. (n.d.) “Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.” In Terrance Talk Profiles. Retrieved June 3, 2006.
  4. Gaffney, Mary. (1999, July/August). “The Vatican Pimpernel.” In CatholicIreland.Net. Retrieved June 3, 2006 from
  5. Gallagher, J. P. (1967). Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. New York; Coward-McCann.
  6. Glaser, Tom W. (n.d.). “The Massacre at the Ardeatine Caves, 24 March 1944.” In Ada Holtzman Home Page. Retrieved June 3, 2006, from
  7. Grigg, William Norman. (2004, March 22). “The priestly Pimpernel: operating literally under the nose of the Nazi SS, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty's Vatican-based underground rescued thousands of Jews and Allied POWs.” In The New American, p35-40.
  8. "Herbert Kappler." (2006, May 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 29, 2006, from
  9. "Hugh O'Flaherty." (2006, June 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 29, 2006, from


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