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A Man Called Peter

A Man Called Peter(1955)

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teaser A Man Called Peter (1955)

Based on Catherine Marshall's best selling 1951 book about her late husband, A Man Called Peter (1955) follows the life of Scotsman Peter Marshall, who immigrated to the United States and became a clergyman and later, the U.S. Senate chaplain.

Catherine Marshall also served as a consultant and technical advisor on the film and wrote about the experience in her book To Live Again. According to Marshall, 20th Century-Fox producer Lamar Trotti had recently lost his son in an accident and, in his grief, was drawn to her book. Trotti wanted to produce A Man Called Peter but died suddenly of a heart attack in 1952. The film was then taken over by Samuel G. Engel, who worked off of Trotti's notes. Fox bought an option on the book in November 1952, intending it to be a vehicle for Richard Burton and Jean Peters. By the summer of 1953, Fox had purchased their option from Marshall for $30,000 and Eleanore Griffin was assigned the screenplay, with Marshall consulting.

Richard Burton was unavailable for the film so the role of Peter Marshall would go to Irish-born Richard Todd, who Fox was trying to build up into a star. Director Henry Koster later recalled, "Richard Todd did that part beautifully. I never understood why he didn't get the Oscar® for that one. I was very impressed with his speech and his delivery. It was a good picture and he was marvelous in it." Despite Koster's enthusiasm, Todd was very reluctant to play the part and asked Fox if he could make a test in England. When studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck saw it, he wrote to Engel, "I was simply mesmerized. I couldn't believe this was something on film." Engel later wrote, "No one [on the production] stopped to think whether he was a Christian or a Jew, or whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant. All fell into step because each in his way wanted to have a hand in the making of this picture. Only in a free country like ours could the son of a poor Jewish immigrant still carry the Star of David in his heart and at the same time be given the opportunity and privilege of bringing the life of one of Christ's foremost disciples to the screens of the world."

Although Jean Peters played Catherine Marshall, and the project was purchased with her in mind for the part, Eva Marie Saint, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Donna Reed, and Dorothy McGuire were all considered as well. Peters was only signed to the role six days before filming began. Also in the cast was famed radio actor Les Tremayne, Marjorie Rambeau, Doris Lloyd and Emmett Lynn. Henry Koster, who had helmed the first CinemaScope film The Robe (1953) directed A Man Called Peter, which went into production in late September 1954 and ended two months later. The film was shot on location in Atlanta, Decatur, and Covington, Georgia, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The film was previewed for eighty clergy, including Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic, who approved of it, as well as Catherine Marshall, who sent a telegram to Engel, saying, "Peter's spirit and personality come through with complete integrity. Even the most emotional scenes have the restraint of real artistry. May the picture become a milestone both in motion picture history and in the spiritual life of the nation." Sneak previews were shown in Richmond, Virginia and Miami, Florida, and the official opening occurred simultaneously at the Roxy in New York (attended by Todd and Mrs. Marshall to benefit the Highland Fund of North America and the Caledonian Hospital in Brooklyn, and included a parade of Scottish and Canadian military veterans, nurses from the hospital and a color guard) and the La Scala in Glasgow, Scotland.

The New York Times Bosley Crowther called it, "a surprising and extraordinary film, if for no other reason than that it is virtually devoid of the usual dramatic plot. [...] And yet [it] has a form and a dramatic cohesion deriving from the magnetism of the leading character that render it much more absorbing than many a heavily plotted film. Furthermore it is surprising and extraordinary because Richard Todd in the principal role brings a fervor and eloquence to his acting that fairly lift him right out of the large screen. [...] It is asking a lot of an actor to stand up and preach whole sermons -- or capsule versions of sermons--and make them sound real and eloquent. Yet that is what scriptwriter Eleanore Griffin and director Henry Koster have Mr. Todd do. And, what's more, he does it with a clarity and a vibrance that make one hang intently on his words. [...] A Man Called Peter is but moderately eventful, yet charged with a strong magnetic pull, unspectacular yet emotionally surprising. As we say, an extraordinary film." Surprisingly, despite Todd's performance, A Man Called Peter only received one Academy Award nomination - for Best Color Cinematography for Harold Lipstein. It did, however, do well at the box office, earning nearly five million dollars, and was the top box office film in Australia.

Peter John Marshall, the son of Peter Marshall wrote, "Even when his words were preached "secondhand" by Richard Todd, the English [sic] actor who superbly played Dad in the movie version of A Man Called Peter, they had an amazing effect on people. I have met scores of ministers across the country who have personally told me that they received their call to the gospel ministry sitting in a theater in 1955 watching that movie."

Producer: Samuel G. Engel
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Eleanore Griffin (screenplay); Catherine Marshall (book)
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Richard Todd (The Rev. Peter Marshall), Jean Peters (Catherine Wood Marshall), Marjorie Rambeau (Miss Laura Fowler), Jill Esmond (Mrs. Findlay), Les Tremayne (Sen. Willis K. Harvey), Robert Burton (Mr. Peyton), Gladys Hurlbut (Mrs. Peyton), Richard Garrick (Col. Evanston Whiting), Gloria Gordon (Barbara), Billy Chapin (Peter John Marshall).
C-

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Crowther, Bosley Screen: Richard Todd Portrays Senate Chaplain; 'A Man Called Peter' Seen at the Roxy 1 Apr 55
Gevinson, Alan American Film Institute Catalog
Koster, Henry, Atkins, Irene Kahn Henry Koster
"A Full, Religious Life", Life 4 Apr 55
Maltin, Leonard Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide
Marshall, Catherine A Man Called Peter: The Story of Peter Marshall
Reid, John Cinemascope Two: 20th Century-Fox

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