Karl Malden, the film actor who died yesterday at 97, is being remembered in religionland for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of a tough dockside priest, Father Pete Barry, in the 1954 film "On the Waterfront.'' Malden's role is one of the most famous depictions of a Catholic priest on film. The role was inspired by the real life of a Jesuit priest, the Rev. John Corridan, who died 25 years ago today. America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, today re-posts an explanatory piece that first appeared in Company, another Jesuit publication. An excerpt:
"After meeting the street-smart, earthy Corridan at Xavier, [director Elia] Kazan grilled [writer Budd] Schulberg: 'Are you sure he's a priest? Maybe he's working there for the waterfront rebels in disguise.' Schulberg viewed Corridan as 'the antidote to the stereotyped Barry Fitzgerald-Bing Crosby' portrayal of the priesthood 'so dear to Hollywood hearts.' Corridan agreed and exhorted Kazan and Schulberg to 'make a "Going My Way" with substance.'
The project was turned down by every major studio in Hollywood before finally being rescued by independent producer Sam Spiegel. Corridan served as adviser on the film and helped secure clearances from the Port Authority for the use of piers in Hoboken, where the film was shot in late autumn 1953. He also provided the filmmakers with his speeches and writings on waterfront conditions, including the famous 'Christ is on the waterfront' speech he had first presented at a Jersey City chapter of the Knights of Columbus in 1948. In 'On the Waterfront,' Father Pete Barry (Karl Malden) provides a stirring rendition of the speech over the body of a slain longshoreman. Kazan and Schulberg refused repeated demands by the producers to shorten the scene, which is the moral core of the film since it persuades longshoreman Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) to follow his conscience and testify against waterfront criminals."
And, from the Internet Movie Database, a famous exchange from that scene between Brando's Terry Malloy and Malden's Father Barry:
Terry: If I spill, my life ain't worth a nickel.
Father Barry: And how much is your soul worth if you don't?
Over at dotCommonweal, Mollie Wilson O'Reilly recalls her first viewing of the film, just a few years back:
"I didnít know going in that it was, at least in part, a story about a heroic priest...In fact, 'On the Waterfront' belongs on parish film-fest rosters alongside chestnuts like 'Boys Town' and 'The Bells of St. Maryís' (and way ahead of silly epics like 'The Robe'). I would certainly advocate screening it in this 'year of the priest.' And as Philip T. Hartung wrote in Commonweal in 1954, 'Karl Maldenís portrayal of the courageous priest is as outstanding as the authorís characterization of the part.'"
(Photo, from the Globe archives, shows Karl Malden (third from left, in Roman collar) in a scene from the 1954 film "On the Waterfront.")
Harvey Cox, the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard University, marks his retirement by asserting a little-used right of his professorship -- to graze a cow in Harvard Yard. Photo, by Barry Chin of the Globe staff, taken on Sept. 10, 2009 in Cambridge, Mass.
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