The Keys of the Kingdom
Directed by John M. Stahl
Starring: Gregory Peck, Thomas Mitchell, Cedric Hardwicke, Rose Stradner
“The Keys of the Kingdom” has a potentially silly setup, whereby a young Gregory Peck dons old-age makeup, and plays an elderly Scottish Priest told to retire by the monsignor in charge of his church. When the monsignor finds the priest’s journal he becomes enthralled, and the film flashes back to tell his life story, the bulk of which takes place in war-torn China.
The framing device seems rather arbitrary on the face of it, until it becomes obvious that this is a drastic attempt to slap unearned sentiment onto an unendingly earnest portrayal of humble service. I get the distinct impression that “The Keys of the Kingdom” is a film best viewed in one’s later years, when its self-important reverence of legacy may punctuate best towards somebody genuinely looking back on their achievements and wondering whether they could have done more. Nevertheless, the film acts as a formal vessel for its message that we make the best of what’s given to us – hardly a novel or particularly interesting concept, but one that makes for a disarmingly moving last twenty minutes or so, when an appropriately stately Peck laments to his female colleague about being overlooked for a Bishop’s position. It’s a shame that the obligatory structure of biographical narratives means that we don’t get as much of a character study as in these later scenes, but ‘Kingdom’ still carries a surprising amount of emotional heft.