The Cardinal is a 1963 American drama film which was produced independently and directed by Otto Preminger, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. The screenplay was written by Robert Dozier, based on the novel of the same name (1950) by Henry Morton Robinson.
Its cast featured Tom Tryon, Romy Schneider and John Huston, and it was nominated for six Academy Awards.
The film was shot on location in Boston, in Stamford, Connecticut, and in Rome and Vienna. The music score was written by Jerome Moross. The Cardinal featured the final appearance by veteran film star Dorothy Gish as well as the last big-screen performance of Maggie McNamara.
Robinson's novel was based on the life of Cardinal Francis Spellman, who was then Archbishop of New York. The Vatican's liaison officer for the film was Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI. The story touches on various social issues such as interfaith marriage, sex outside of marriage, abortion, racial bigotry, the rise of fascism and war.
A newly ordained Irish Catholic priest, Stephen Fermoyle (Tom Tryon) returns home to Boston in 1917. He discovers that his parents are upset about daughter Mona (Carol Lynley) having become engaged to marry a Jewish boy, Benny Rampell (John Saxon). Mona seeks Stephen's counsel as a priest.
Concerned about the young priest's ambition, the archbishop (John Huston) assigns Stephen to an out-of-the-way parish, where it is hoped he will learn humility. There he meets the humble pastor, Father Ned Halley (Burgess Meredith), observing the unpretentious way he lives his life and treats his parishioners. Father Halley is very sick with multiple sclerosis. Fermoyle learns humility from him and his housekeeper, Lalage (Jill Haworth).
Stephen and his Irish Catholic family will only permit Mona to marry her Jewish fiance, Benny, if he becomes a Catholic or agrees to raise any children as Catholic. Benny does not agree and leaves to serve in World War I. Mona runs away and becomes promiscuous. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Stephen, his brother and Benny find Mona in agony because her pelvis is too small for a large baby. She is taken to the hospital where the doctor tells Stephen that the head of the baby must be crushed to save Mona. Stephen will not allow the doctor to do this. According to Catholic doctrine, the baby may not be killed. Mona dies giving birth to the child Regina.
Stephen is transferred to Europe and made a monsignor, but is unsure how committed he is to a life in the clergy and travels to Vienna, Austria, taking a two-year sabbatical. There he meets and enters into a relationship with a young woman, Annemarie (Romy Schneider). Stephen does not violate his vows.
Stephen's vocation calls him back to Rome and the church. The Vatican returns him to the United States on a mission, to assist a black priest, Father Gillis (Ossie Davis) in the American South who is opposed by the Ku Klux Klan. After successfully handling that assignment, Stephen is sent back to Austria to persuade a cardinal there not to cooperate with the Nazis, with a threat of a world war looming over all. He and the cardinal ultimately must flee for their lives. After the success of the missions the Vatican sent him on, he was consecrated as a Bishop.
On the eve of World War II, a ceremony is held in which Stephen formally becomes a cardinal, pledging to dedicate the rest of his life to his work.
The Cardinal was the 18th highest-grossing film of the year. It grossed $11,170,588 in the United States, earning $5.46 million in domestic rentals.
The film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, marking the last time (as of 2014) a film won that category without later being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Preminger was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; John Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. Huston's role as Cardinal Glennon was his official debut as an actor although he had previously played bit roles in several films including his own The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Other Academy Awards nominations were for Best Cinematography (Leon Shamroy), Best Art Direction (Lyle R. Wheeler and set decorator Gene Callahan), Best Costume Design (Donald Brooks), and Best Film Editing (Louis R. Loeffler).
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated