Fr. Hugh O’Flaherty is a Vatican official in 1943-45 who has been hiding downed pilots, escaped prisoners of war, and Italian Resistance families. His diplomatic status in a Catholic country prevents Colonel Kappler from openly arresting him, but O’Flaherty’s activities become so large that the Nazis decide to assassinate him the next time he leaves the Vatican. O’Flaherty continues his work in a variety of disguises. Based on a true story.
The Scarlet and the Black is a 1983 made-for-TV movie starring Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer. This production should not be confused with the 1993 British television miniseries Scarlet and Black, which starred Ewan McGregor and Rachel Weisz.
Based on J. P. Gallagher’s book The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican (published in 1967), this movie tells the story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a real life Irish-born Roman Catholic priest who saved thousands of Jews and escaped Allied POWs in Rome. It was directed by Jerry London.
The movie title The Scarlet and the Black is a reference not only to the black cassock and scarlet sash worn by Monsignores and bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, but also to the dominant colors of Nazi Party regalia.
About the Story
In 1943, the Nazi military occupies Rome. Pope Pius XII (John Gielgud) is approached by General Max Helm and SS Head of Police for Rome Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer). The Colonel expresses concern that escaped Allied prisoners may attempt to seek refuge in the Vatican, and requests permission to paint a white line across St. Peter’s Square in order to mark the extent of Vatican sovereignty. The Pope grants his permission, but when the SS officers leave, he sees out of the window that the white line had already begun to be painted.
Kappler’s main antagonist is Monsignor O’Flaherty (Gregory Peck), an Irish-born Vatican priest who runs an underground organization which provides safe haven and escape to escaped POWs, Jews, and refugees in Rome. O’Flaherty is assisted in this enterprise by others, including locals, clergy and the diplomatic corps. The Nazis attempt to destroy the group, but Kappler is frustrated by O’Flaherty’s successes, due to his cleverness, disguises, and stressing the limits of the Vatican’s neutrality.
Met with continuous failure, Kappler begins to develop a personal vendetta against O’Flaherty. Despite O’Flaherty’s efforts, Kappler manages to recapture many escaped POWs, deport many Jews to death camps, and exploit and oppress the general population; a number of O’Flaherty’s friends are also arrested or killed. O’Flaherty is himself the target of an assassination attempt instigated by Kappler, which however fails due to the monsignor’s boxing skills. The rescue organization continues operating, and succeeds in saving many lives.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
Directed by: Jerry London
Starring: Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer, John Gielgud, Raf Vallone, Barbara Bouchet, Olga Karlatos, Julian Holloway
Screenplay by: David Butler
Production Design by: John Stoll, Pier Luigi Basile
Cinematography by: Giuseppe Rotunno
Film Editing by: Benjamin A. Weissman
Costume Design by: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca
Set Decoration by: Carlo Gervasi
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Distributed by: Columbia Broadcasting System
Release Date: February 2, 1983