The life and career of religious icon Dr. Peter Marshall, played by Richard Todd (The Hasty Heart): from his humble beginnings in Coatbridge, Scotland, to his graduation from the Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, U.S., and beyond. The charismatic Marshall eventually became Chaplain of the United States Senate.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” — Peter Marshall (1902-1949)
When was the last time a big Hollywood studio green-lighted a movie about a religious leader who wasn’t a shyster? I can’t say I remember, which begs the question, is it possible to make a pro-Christian movie that has mass appeal? The answer is, yes! Fox’s A Man Called Peter is the rare Christian-based biopic that I’m sure even secular viewers will have a hard time disliking — it’s a well-crafted and engaging movie.
Based on the best-selling book written by Catherine Marshall about her husband, Presbyterian minister Dr. Peter Marshall, A Man Called Peter is mostly told from the perspective of the person who knew him best. It’s a double-edged sword, though. While Mrs. Marshall clearly knows more about her husband than anyone else, she was probably too emotionally involved with the subject to be objective.
I can’t blame Mrs. Marshall, portrayed exquisitely by the talented Jean Peters (Three Coins in the Fountain), for wanting to eulogize her much-admired husband. By all accounts, Dr. Marshall was as honorable and respectable as the movie portrays him. I just think that the movie missed a great opportunity to explore the downside of being a famous minister. For example, I wanted to see a little more of the stress Marshall’s job put on his family life. There is a bit of that, but not nearly enough.
What A Man Called Peter did seem willing to explore was the effects adulation had on a man who strove for humility. How can anyone remain grounded amidst so much idolization? I liked how Eleanore Griffin’s (Boys Town and The Harvey Girls) script constantly addresses this issue. According to the film, Marshall was fully aware of the pitfalls of fame, and that self-awareness gives the narrative a little bite.
One of the main reasons I enjoyed A Man Called Peter so much was because of Richard Todd’s superb performance as Marshall. Sporting what sounds like a perfect Scottish accent, the British actor delivers sermon after sermon (Marshall’s sermons are repeated verbatim) with sincerity and passion. Todd is somehow able to make a genuinely good person appear interesting on the screen, not an easy task by any means.
A Man Called Peter is eye-candy. Shot in glorious CinemaScope by Harold Lipstein (Heller in Pink Tights), the film looks elegant and sophisticated. My only complaint is that most characters pretty much look the same throughout the movie (Peters’s 1950s hairstyle never changes). As a matter of fact, the passing of time in the movie is poorly done — there isn’t any attempt to accurately depict the time periods.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I can’t speak highly enough of A Man Called Peter — it’s one of the best Christian-themed movies I’ve seen. Though I consider myself a “pragmatic agnostic,” I was quickly enwrapped by the story of Peter Marshall and his passion for ministry. Richard Todd’s persuasive performance is hard to resist, and the movie has high production values. I heartily recommend this fine movie! Color, 117 minutes, Not Rated.