Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Retired bishop pens a novel; new biography of Catholic filmmaker Hitchcock

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the September 17, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

A fellow priest recently passed on a new biography of Alfred Hitchcock. It is the newest one out of 100 previous biographies of this famed movie director.

Peter Ackroyd, who is a prolific writer, names his book with the simple eponymous title Alfred Hitchcock. It is available on the internet for $10.82. The publisher is Chatto & Windus of London.

After reading it, my initial response is that it is an interesting and serviceable story of Hitchcock’s life that heavily centers on the movies he made. It does help to have seen the films or to want to put them on your bucket list and see them soon.

The book begins with his British films of the 1920s and ’30s and then goes to his American films of the ’40s through the ’70s. The author touches on Hitchcock’s childhood, his Catholic background, and his family life, centering upon his eventual marriage in 1926 to Alma Reville, who was a film editor and, in many ways, his film collaborator for the rest of his life.

The background on the making of all of his films is fascinating and the “inside dope” of what happened is fun to read. Key films such as North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Rear Window are explained with affection. In recent years Vertigo has taken its place as perhaps the best film ever made, knocking Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane off many lists. Interestingly, to my knowledge, neither Welles nor Hitchcock ever received an Oscar for their directing work.

The darker side of Hitchcock later in life is told in his harsh treatment of Tippi Hedren in her two films: The Birds and Marnie. The inside information from the surprising horror film Psycho is memorable. Anyone who saw the film in a theater the first time it came out and had no idea what it was about probably has a story to tell of that viewing.

Yes, I enjoyed the biography and it got me to see Dial M for Murder for the first time and go back to see North by Northwest again.

Movie Reviews

A hilarious new film from Sweden has audiences laughing out loud for much of the movie. It has overtones of Forest Gump and spans much of the history of the 20th century. The film is The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The film, of often dark humor, is based on a Swedish best-seller by the author Jonas Jonasson.

Allan (Robert Gustafsson) is scheduled to celebrate his 100th birthday in a Swedish nursing home. He decides to jump out the window. He takes what little money he has to a transportation station and buys a bus ticket to a nearby village. A man with a metal suitcase is trying to use a small bathroom and can’t get his case inside so he asks Alan to hold on to it. The bus comes for Alan and he gets on the bus with the stranger’s suitcase. Thus begins a chase for a case containing an incredible amount of money.

On another level Allan narrates at different times some of the historic events he has somehow wandered into. He likes to blow things up. So, for example, he ends up in the Spanish Civil War on the Loyalist side, but with a reversal he ends up saving Franco’s life from an explosion. He also helps the Manhattan project on the building of the atom bomb and then is called to Russia to meet Stalin, who wants information from him on the bomb.

Meanwhile, criminals want the suitcase back and will do anything to get it. Allan and his friend from the little village end up at a ranch where there is an elephant saved from a zoo by a female homeowner.

This film is an incredible ride that is filled with Nordic humor. If you can take a little violence against animals and humans all in the line of humor you will enjoy this rather wild film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted, for language and some violence. Catholic News Service Has not yet rated the film.

*****

Take a post-World War II story in Berlin and throw in an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Vertigo and you have the new German thriller Phoenix. It is one of the best films of year so far.

I had a little trouble reading the subtitles at the beginning, but they improved within a few minutes. You could still understand what was happening. Occasionally English is used in the film, whether by an American soldier or by a haunting song.

In the opening scene Nelly Lentz (Nina Hoss), whose face has been seriously disfigured by a gunshot wound at the Auschwitz death camp, is taken by her good friend Lene (Nina Kunzendor) to a plastic surgeon.

After Nelly’s reconstructed face has healed, she begins to seek out her former husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). He is a piano player at the Berlin nightclub, Phoenix, which is filled with American soldiers.

As the film, directed by Christian Petzold, continues, we are caught up in the shadows of a “film noir.” Does Nelly want to begin her relationship again? We find out that Johnny divorced her during the War and turned her over to the Gestapo for being Jewish.

Johnny now goes by the name Johannes and he does not recognize Nelly, who says her name is Eva. To top it off he thinks she looks close enough to his former wife, although he is convinced she died in the camps. So he suggests that Eva impersonate his former wife so they can get her inheritance as being part of a wealthy Jewish family. The inheritance is held by the Allied authorities.

How Johnny attempts to change Eva, a la Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, is much of the film. The idea is to stage a meeting with their old friends, collect the cash, and then split it. It is hard to figure out why Eva is going along with the ruse.

The ending of the film takes your breath away. What has just happened?

An old song beautifully sung breaks through all the mystery. Don’t miss this film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG (parents strongly cautioned). There are strong language and difficult memories in the film. Catholic News Service has not rated the film.

Recently Received

Bishop Emeritus Francis Quinn, who served the Diocese of Sacramento from 1980 to 1994, has written a sprawling novel of the Church and priesthood titled Behind Closed Doors: Conflicts in Today’s Church. The first part of the title sounds like fiction; the second part of the title sounds like non-fiction. The book is fiction. The book is self­-published and available on the internet for $23.99.

This is a book that would appeal to older priests and nuns who went through strict seminary or convent education and experienced Vatican II. It includes many adventures of three or four priests who went to the seminary at Menlo Park, Calif., in the World War II period.

Actually, the novel is impressive for a 93-year-old writer. But it contains way too much exposition – for example, of a priest’s or bishop’s ordination. There are too many stories in a book over 470 pages. A good editor would have condensed the book down.

The story that follows Ladd Franklin, who becomes a priest for Catholic Relief Services and becomes a lead character in a thriller involving a tape from the Russians that foretells the attempted murder of St. John Paul II will hold your attention. It would have been a good short story or short novel on its own. The story involving David Carmichael, who becomes a bishop and archbishop, is less exciting. It has overtones of Rome’s investigation of Archbishop Hunthausen in real life. (Editor’s note: See Father Caswell’s review of John McCoy’s biography of Archbishop Hunthausen, A Still and Quiet Conscience, in “Media Watch” in the Aug. 20 Inland Register.)

The story of Tyler Stone, a priest-teacher in a Catholic High School who is accused of sexual misconduct, has speeches that are very long and philosophical by those testifying in the trial. These testimonies seem unreal in a real trial. And then to twist the plot in a sentence or two in such a tragic story seemed a real mistake.

So the author at times presents fascinating stories and later presents paper-thin stories, trying to get his viewpoints across in fiction. It doesn’t always work very well.

I still give Bishop Quinn lots of credit for writing a fictional account of what has been on his mind over his long years as priest and bishop.

*****

A new edition of a collective memoir of the Diem family of Vietnam has been published by Erin Go Bragh Publishing for an internet list price of $29.95. The book is titled A Lifetime In The Eye Of The Storm: Ngo Dinh Thi Hiep-A Younger Sister of the Late President Ngo Dinh Diem. The author is Andre Nguyen Van Chau. Strong support for the book was given by Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who is up for canonization.

In his opening section, the author states: “Like many Vietnamese with passing days, I have found more and more reasons to admire the key members of Ngo Dinh family, their indomitable personality, their certainty of purpose and their unvacillating faith in what they did in spite of their foibles and errors.”

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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