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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Shoes of the Fisherman
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119 of 122 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
This epic film has a few bumpy moments, but overall, it's vastly entertaining, with its fascinating cast, interesting premise, excellent cinematography and art direction.
Anthony Quinn is fabulous as the Russian Pope. It's a powerful portrayal, and not the type of role one would normally associate with him. Oskar Werner, in a part based on Teilhard de Chardin, is absolutely superb.
Other notable performances come from Laurence Olivier (as the Soviet Premier), John Gielgud (former Pope), Leo McKern and Vittorio de Sica (Cardinals), and Arnoldo Foa (the Pope's valet).
The part of a journalist (David Janssen), is used as a narrator, to move the plot along, and explain certain Vatican procedures, like how a new Pope is elected. I only wish less time had been spent on his petty romantic problems...the film feels more like an "Airport" movie while these scenes are taking place.
This is a sprawling 60's Hollywood treatment of Morris West's best seller, and I think it succeeds. It's thought-provoking, good for several viewings, and Quinn and Werner are riveting.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
With the recent passing of Pope John Paul II--and the subsequent Conclave of Cardinals to select his successor--this film came to mind. Although it was years since I've seen THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN, I was able to view it recently, and the pageantry, tradition, and ritual of the Conclave overwhelmed and impressed me once again.

Anthony Quinn gives a remarkable performance as Father Kiril Lakota, a Russian political prisoner freed by the Kremlin and dispatched to the Vatican, where he becomes a Cardinal. Quinn's Kiril is soft-spoken and humble, yet all his years of suffering in Siberia have convinced him the Church must champion human rights--even if blood is shed for that very cause. His subtle teachings impress his fellow Cardinals, and, when the current Pope dies, after several insufficient votes during the Conclave, Kiril becomes a darkhorse candidate and is eventually selected--despite his vigorous protestations. Thus concludes the first half of this film, which was fascinating.

The second half of the movie deals with Pope Kiril's coronation and infant papacy; here, unfortunately, the film becomes a bit too farfetched. (Example: On the evening of his selection as Pope, Kiril sneaks out of the Vatican and wanders the streets of Rome. Another example: Kiril's brokerage of a "deal" between Russia and China to avoid a nuclear war.) The Cold War was certainly topical when this film was made in 1968, yet now much of the plot of the second half comes across as contrived and banal--especially Pope Kiril's speech at St. Peter's Square on the day of his coronation.

Despite these flaws, THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN is grand drama and allows the viewer access to the Vatican behind closed doors. The cast has considerable star power, including Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud. Oskar Werner provides an interesting subplot in his portrayal as Father David Telemond, a Vatican scholar under fire for his unorthodox beliefs. The debate and dialogue between this character and his Vatican counterparts pertaining to a cosmological Supreme Being is absolutely riveting. This film is definitely worth a look for those interested in ecclesiastical study.

--D. Mikels
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
This 1968 movie was based on the book, The Shoes of the Fisherman, by Morris West, and stars Anthony Quinn. I saw the movie first, then read the book, which helped me understand the book, although they are quite different (Hollywood, you understand). The movie does a superb job of helping the lay person, and non-Catholics, understand the process of electing a new Pope. Quinn is excellent as Kiril Lakota, a Russian eventually elected to the Papacy after the current Pope dies (circa 1963, the time of John XXIII's death).

Lakota is imprisoned in Siberia for 20 years (17 in the book) and tormented by his jailer, Kamenev. Kamenev, who later becomes the head of the Soviet state, eventually frees Kiril Lakota. Lakota goes to Rome where finds he's been made a Cardinal. He takes his place at the Vatican among his peers. Sometime thereafter, the Pope dies and Lakota, the dark horse, is elected to the Papacy.

The viewer not only learns much about the process of electing a new Pope, but has the opportunity to see inside the physical structure of the Vatican. It is breathtakingly beautiful. There is real footage, including scenes of the crowds in St. Peter's Square awaiting word, the black/white smoke being released from the conclave after a vote, the processional after the election of Pope Kiril, among others. The viewer is privy to the internal conflicts that plague some of the Cardinals, including major characters Cardinal Leone and Cardinal Rinaldi. Each is aware that his shortcomings make him an unlikely papal candidate.

Thrown into the mix is a subplot surrounding unfaithful newsman George Faber, his wife, his mistress, and his job. Then there's the desperate world hunger situation with which the new Pope must contend. With his past, Pope Kiril is in a unique position to influence a solution before disaster strikes. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Pope Kiril disguises himself as a priest and sneaks out of his lonely quarters to walk the streets of Rome to see how his people live. He ends up visiting a dying man.... Well, you'll just have to see it for yourself!

One character to watch closely in this movie is theologian, Father David Télémond (First name is Jean in the book), played by Oskar Werner. His performance is definitely of Oscar quality (no pun intended), and there are those who will feel they know who, in real life, Werner is actually portraying. In Télémond's intense internal struggle to justify God to man, he writes. His writings, often in conflict with the views held by his fellow Cardinals and the tenets of Church, relate Télémond's personal and very passionate views about God, Jesus, and the Church, as each relates to the people of the world, and to science. With the threat of being silenced (no more writing!), he is asked to come before a panel of his brethern in an attempt to explain to them what his theories and writings mean to the Church, Catholicism, and the rest of the world.

The movie, of course, takes many liberties, simplifies and leaves out much. However, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words; and the thousand pictures portrayed in this movie go a good distance in helping the viewer better understand some of the complexities of the Catholic Church.

Carolyn Rowe Hill
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
This film is on my personal list of all-time favorites. Anthony Quinn portrays a decent, thoughtful, and forward-looking pope who eventually overcomes his own self-doubts concerning his election and coronation, which takes place within a backdrop of possible conflict between China, the USSR, and the United States. His attitude toward the young priest who assists him is refreshing in the fact that, while the priest has been barred from teaching and writing due to his questionable views, Pope Kiril still considers him a close personal friend and keeps him in his official family. Kiril's momentous decision at the end of the film regarding the role of the Church is somewhat far-fetched but nevertheless satisfying.
The detail of the sets and costumes is brilliant. The scenes featuring the conclave in the Sistine Chapel are some of my favorites, as they really show in some detail what the election of a pope is like (the rules regarding election have been changed somewhat since the film's release) I remember reading somewhere that the director asked permission to film in the real Sistine Chapel, but was refused. The walls of the Sistine Chapel set were composed largely of cardboard. I am uncertain about the accuracy of that account, but it doesn't seem too unbelievable.
The only disappointing parts of the film involve Janssen's TV commentator role. They are silly for the most part (revolving around his marital problems), and seem to serve no purpose but to set a background for the moment when his estranged wife runs into Pope Kiril, who is incognito, in the streets of Rome (you'll see what I mean when you watch the film). I've seen the film many times, and I usually fast-forward through the scenes of marital discord. When looking for a good laugh, I'll play the whole thing through.
Laurence Olivier is excellent in the role of the Soviet premier and John Gielgud also shines as Kiril's predecessor, the fictitious Pius XIII (identified only by the name on his fisherman's ring which is shown for a split second, and is destoyed by the cardinals after his death)
All in all, this movie is an enjoyable trip through the Vatican at the height of the Cold War.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
I agree with the other reviews. Excellent story, great film, especially of interest now to people who in the last 26 years have no experience re the election of a Pope. A mini-documentary on that within the film. One correction -- in the movie, Kiril Lakota is not Russian. He is a Ukrainian bishop, based on the real-live Bishop Yosyp Slipyi, who was arrested and sent to Siberia by the Soviets, was released under Khrushchev, with help from John Kennedy and Norman Cousins (who wrote about it). He messed up the politics of the Vatican by not dying quickly as they expected. He was a thorn in the side of the pro-Russian (let's not ruffle their feathers) Vatican. Lived to a ripe old age. For anyone interested, very obviously, Ukrainian is not Russian, the way Irish is not English.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is the one film I had hoped would have been released on DVD when DVDs first were invented. Based on the great novel (or so my father says, I'll borrow it from him someday) by Morris West, Anthony Quinn plays Kiril Lakota a Russian archbishop in political prison for 20 years when his old adversary the current Soviet Premier (Lawrence Olivier) releases him. He is quickly assigned to the Vatican and made a Cardinal, and befriended by a young German (in the book he's French) priest (Oskar Werner) who is currently under suspicion of herosy and is about to face a "trial" among the other Cardinals led by Italian Leoni (Leo Mckern). Suddenly the Pope (John Geilgud) dies. Werner's trial gets postponed until the college of Cardinals elects a new pope, which ends up being guess who: "Our Man, Lakota" (Quinn) making him the first non Italian pope since Hadrian VI (in real life the late John Paul II was the first non Italian since Hadrian) and learns the being pope is almost as lonely as he felt in prison. Other cast members include David Janssen as an American newscaster working for BBC covering Kiril from his release from prison, to his election and so on. A very moving film showing the ins and outs of the Vatican, so if you have just over 2 and a half hours to kill spend it on this film (especially with the disc now surfacing). By the way, the seldom seen on tv overture, intermission music and exit music are included on this disc.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
I have enjoyed thie film since it's release in 1968. Afterwards, I read not only this book but others by Morris L. West. I understand the need of Hollywood in the '60s to create a "movie" and adding non-dramatic story subplots. I also remember seeing this with audiences at the time of release, and their absolute fascination with the process of electing a pope as well as the "inquiry" in Father Telemond's beliefs. We all thought that this was the film's true power, not whether David Janssen would go back to his wife (why would she take him back, anyway?). In the novel, Telemond is a much older French priest, about Pope Kiril's age. West uses this character (and the print news reporter George Faber) to explore his own strong feelings about the Catholic Church. If the film would have stuck to that theme, instead of trying to be a blockbuster (which it nearly was), it might have wound up as a "must see" in film history. You can skip forward through certain parts of the film and still enjoy its overall impact.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2011
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Beware! Half the movie is missing if you are trying to stream it via Amazon Prime. I do not recommend purchasing the film, until Amazon supplies the rest of the movie. It should go without saying, that starting a film at the half way point is not a good thing. Amazon has yet to fix this issue. Buyer beware!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2007
Format: DVD
Kiril Lakota (Anthony Quinn), a Russian priest, is suddenly released from Siberia after twenty years' imprisonment and brought to Rome...

At his arrival to the Vatican, Archbishop Lakota is received like a prince and is immediately created Cardinal Priest by the ailing Pope (John Gielgud).

Lakota develops a friendship with Father David Telemond (Oskar Werner), an unorthodox Jesuit forbidden to teach... Telemond is the author of ten books none published, with works under examination by a special Pontifical Commission... He is suspected of holding opinions dangerous to the faith...

Discussing one of his book, Kiril states to the young philosopher that 'faith' kept him alive... Kiril makes it clear that he finds Telemond's book, a challenge to the Catholic faith... Not one word of the 'soul' was there mentioned...

Before the Pontifical Commission, Father Telemond manifests: 'I believe in the future union of the world with the cosmic Christ.' He is interrupted by an announcement that the Pope has passed away... The film shows how the Pope's ring is defaced, his seals broken, his apartments locked and sealed...

Cardinals from all over the world arrive to the Vatican City for the election of the new Pope... The Cardinals are pleased by Lakota's ideas: 'Life is a gift of God,' he declares. 'We should manufacture the authentic Christian revolution... Work for all... Bread for all... Dignity for all men...'

To the surprise of the outside world, he is elevated to the throne of St. Peter by the College of Cardinals led by Cardinal Rinaldi (Vittorio De Sica).

Kamenev, the pragmatic Russian premier (Laurence Olivier) congratulates the elected Pontiff and sends him a gift... The gift had its meaning for the Russian Pope... Kamenev, who was once Kiril's hated interrogator, is anxious to avoid war with China... He turns to Kiril, now spiritual leader of 800 million people, for help...

Kiril, bound to charity with a duty to act, begins to understand the cruel world he knows so little about... He could not even remember that he is Peter!... He is remembered that he just starts to climb his calvary...

Anthony Quinn plays with human characterization the tormented Russian priest plagued by self-doubt... He is dispatched to Rome so that Russia will have a friend in the papal court in case China should rise against her...

Laurence Olivier plays the tormentor Russian Premier who does not count on the fact, of course, that the one-time Siberian prisoner will ultimately become the new Pope...

Oskar Werner is excellent as Father Telemond, the silenced theologian who believes that 'man is born in bondage to his own history.' Father Telemond shows a brilliant mind reaching out to the last frontiers of thought... He lives a deep spirituality with extraordinary depth and beauty, but fails to live in peace in a church he dearly loves...

Leo McKern portrays Cardinal Leone who had preferred to be a country priest rather than a 'walking encyclopedia of dogma.' Cardinal Leone is jealous of Father Telemond, jealous that he has the intimacy, trust and affection of the elected Pontiff...

There are several subplots in the film, one of which includes a romantic triangle with a television reporter (David Janssen), his doctor wife (Barbara Jefford) and the Italian girlfriend (Rosemary Dexter) who won't let him go... Kiril, as Pope, is carried into this when, sneaking out of the walls of the Vatican to mingle anonymously with the crowds, he accidentally encounters Dr. Ruth Faber and helps her solve her marital problems while they are both attending a dying Jew... The scene remembers us the European princess, Audrey Hepburn, in her "incognito" informal tour of Rome, out of Palace duties, in William Wyler's "Roman Holiday."

Based on Morris West's best-selling novel, "The Shoes of the Fisherman" is a super special chance to tour inside the Roman Catholic Church, discover dynamic performances, but plenty of turbulent questions that were needed to be answered...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
'The Shoes of the Fisherman' is a grand, sweeping spectacle of a movie. It has great scenes that often linger for dramatic importance and provides a story that mirrors events that came to fruition after its inception. Anthony Quinn plays Kiril Lakota, a Catholic bishop forced into a Soviet labor camp for twenty years. (Startlingly reminiscent of John Paul II). At the beginning the Vatican gets the Kremlin to release him and brings him to Rome, where he will serve as a cardinal. He's humble and reluctant at first, but when the pope dies, the election for a successor is so protracted that the College of Cardinals starts to vote on Lakota's candidacy; one he is loathe to pursue. (Also, a close parallel to John Paul II's election.)

Brought to the ascension of pope, he must face the communist threat of nuclear annihilation from Chairman Peng of China (Bert Kwouk). The Chinese leader threatens nuclear annihilation unless his people are fed. (Another close tie to North Korea today!) He must also face the puzzled, but common, testimony of a suspected heretic, Fr. Telemond (Oskar Werner). Being humble, he shows the priest affected compassion. The new pope, not entirely comfortable in his new role, tries to go incognito through Rome. Poignantly, he helps a dying Jewish man and performs their prayers, which he learned from Jewish dissidents at the communist labor camp. (Again, this touching scene mirrors John Paul II's overtures to the Jewish community.) His actions aren't always in step with the college of cardinals--another frightening parallel--but his emphasis on charity and his appeals to the multitudes at St. Peter's square jump the barrier of being a foreign pope.

Sometimes the scenes linger too long, which is a mixed blessing. They could have pared the drama down about twenty minutes or so, but the grandeur is remarkable. (The cinematography is excellent, and the crowd scenes are believable.) Sir Laurence Olivier plays a Russian confidante of Lakota's in a fine, understated performance. In the mix is a sideplot about an American reporter (David Janssen) who struggles with his own Catholic faith, his own infidelities and a wife who seems to put her career before the marriage. Hardly seeming like a period piece, 'The Shoes of a Fisherman' reflects the present and the movie's own near future in ways that the first audiences wouldn't have dreamed of. Going through the movie's slow pace is worth the treasure of believable dialogue and an urgent plot demonstrating the perseverence and patience of religious leaders demonstrating a believable execution. (4 1/2 *'s)
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