A Man Called Peter


1h 59m 1955

Brief Synopsis

A Scottish boy follows his faith to a bright career preaching in Washington, DC.

Film Details

Genre
Biography
Political
Adaptation
Religion
Release Date
Mar 1955
Premiere Information
World premieres in New York, London and Glasgow, Scotland: 31 Mar 1955
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Washington, DC, USA; Annapolis--United States Naval Academy, Maryland, United States; Atlanta, Georgia, United States; Covington, Georgia, United States; Decatur, Georgia, United States; Washington, District of Columbia, United States; Scotland, Great Britain; Scotland
Screenplay Information
Based on the book A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall (New York, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
10,727ft (13 reels)

Synopsis

As a boy in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1915, Peter Marshall makes several attempts to run away to sea from the docks in nearby Glasgow. Peter's stepfather, Mr. Findlay, tells him that he will have to find a job, and he goes to work in the tube mills, but continues his education at night school. Seven years later, while returning from school one night, Peter finds himself on a foggy patch of land. He thinks he hears a voice, then trips and narrowly misses falling into a quarry. Peter feels that it was God's voice and tells his mother that he intends to become a minister and that God is sending him to America. After three years of working double shifts at the mill, Peter saves enough to buy passage to America. With faith and trust in his heart, he arrives and awaits further "orders from the Chief." Peter works in a variety of jobs before he is led by God, he believes, to the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He graduates summa cum laude and is offered two positions, one at a large church in Atlanta, the other in a little town, Covington. Peter asks the Lord for advice and selects Covington, but later moves to the Atlanta church where he encounters an indifferent congregation, encumbered by debt. Peter's stimulating sermons draw large crowds, however, and many young people from nearby colleges attend, among them Catherine Wood, a senior at Agnes Scott College. Catherine attends Sunday service for two years without summoning up the courage to talk with Peter, with whom she has fallen in love. When her college receives an invitation from Peter to send a student to speak at a temperance youth rally, Catherine is selected. The audience is mostly composed of rowdy young people, but Catherine talks about the role of women in religious and social history, quoting from Peter's sermons, and wins the crowd over. After the rally, Peter drives her back to the college and tells her that he fully expects that the Lord will select his wife for him, but asks if he might see her again. A week later, their date ends with Peter realizing that Catherine is to be his wife and he proposes. That fall, they marry and, during their honeymoon in Cape Cod, Peter tells Catherine that he has accepted a call to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the church of the presidents. On their arrival, they are invited to a dinner party, given by Col. Evanston Whiting, president of the church's board of trustees, at which they learn that the church's first minister, in the early 1800s, was also a Scot. Peter's first sermon to a half-filled church is not received well, particularly by Miss Laura Fowler, an elderly member of Washington society, who feels that Peter, as an immigrant, has no right to invite "just anybody" to attend the church. However, Peter's blunt, populist approach attracts many young people to the church and his sermons become very well-attended. Four years pass, and Senator Willis K. Harvey, an early supporter of Peter, comes to him with the moral dilemma of being forced by the political machine back home to vote against his conscience on a land bill; however, after talking with Peter, he casts the deciding defeating vote. On 7 December 1941, Catherine gives birth to a son, Peter John. Later that day, after preaching at the Annapolis Naval Academy, Peter hears the news on his car radio of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war years, Peter, with Catherine's and the congregation's help, operates a canteen for the Armed Forces in the church's basement. However, when Miss Fowler discovers a sailor and a girl embracing in Lincoln's parlor, she initiates a campaign to have the canteen closed, as she abhors Peter's apparent disregard for her church's traditions and history. Peter explains that the couple were on their two-hour honeymoon; he had married them earlier that day and the sailor was shipping out that evening. Peter threatens to leave unless the canteen stays open, and he prevails. Later, Catherine learns that she has contracted non-communicable tuberculosis and will have to remain in bed for three or four months. When Catherine does not improve after many months, Peter feels that his relationship with God is failing. He wonders if he has become egotistical, and Catherine feels equally lost and abandoned by God. However, during a radio broadcast of one of Peter's sermons, both become revitalized and Catherine experiences a partial recovery. The doctors recommend continued rest and a change of scenery, so Peter buys a small house on Cape Cod for the summer months. Peter and Peter John build a boat together and the family adopts a puppy, Jeff. Back in Washington, as Peter is delivering a sermon, he collapses, suffering a coronary thrombosis, and is given less than a fighting chance of survival. Many pray for his recovery and the crisis passes. Although the doctors tell him not to preach for at least a year, Peter returns to work immediately. Over the years, Peter has won over Miss Fowler, and after his first service back, she presents him with a family heirloom: a button from the jacket of a another Scottish immigrant, John Paul Jones. On the tenth anniversary of his becoming an American citizen, Peter is invited to become Chaplain to the United States Senate. Catherine and Senator Harvey, fearing the additional strain on him, try to dissuade him from accepting but have to relent. One night, Peter experiences great pain and as he is taken to hospital tells Catherine, "See you darling, see you in the morning." In the morning, Catherine learns that Peter has died. Senator Harvey reads Peter's last prayer to the Senate. In the summer, Catherine, Peter John and Jeff return to Cape Cod where they find solace on the boat Peter John and his father built.

Film Details

Genre
Biography
Political
Adaptation
Religion
Release Date
Mar 1955
Premiere Information
World premieres in New York, London and Glasgow, Scotland: 31 Mar 1955
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Washington, DC, USA; Annapolis--United States Naval Academy, Maryland, United States; Atlanta, Georgia, United States; Covington, Georgia, United States; Decatur, Georgia, United States; Washington, District of Columbia, United States; Scotland, Great Britain; Scotland
Screenplay Information
Based on the book A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall (New York, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
10,727ft (13 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1955

Articles

A Man Called Peter


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
A Man Called Peter

A Man Called Peter

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

Quotes

Catherine, I'm afraid you'll have to ask the blessing. The Lord knows I'm not grateful for turkey hash and I can't fool him.
- Dr. Peter Marshall

Trivia

Notes

As noted in the film, Peter Marshall was born in Scotland in 1902. After emigrating to the United States in 1927, Marshall attended college and became an ordained minister. His dynamic speaking style and popularity with a wide variety of parishioners led to his appointment as Senate chaplain on January 4, 1947, a position that he held until his death on January 26, 1949. Marshall's son Peter was ordained as a minister in 1965.
       In the book, To Live Again (New York, 1957), written by Marshall's wife Catherine, she devotes many pages to an account of her involvement with the production of A Man Called Peter. She relates that Twentieth Century-Fox writer-producer Lamar Trotti, who had recently suffered the loss of a son in an automobile accident, was drawn to the book and made extensive notes on it. However, Trotti was stricken by a fatal heart attack in August 1952, and his notes passed into the hands of fellow producer Samuel G. Engel. The studio purchased an option to the book in November 1952, and Sylvia Richards was assigned to write the screenplay. Richard Burton and Jean Peters were suggested for the roles of "Peter" and "Catherine Marshall."
       The following summer, the studio exercised its option and purchased the rights to the book for $30,000. In November 1953, Eleanore Griffin was given the screenplay assignment, and Catherine Marshall was engaged as technical adviser for the screenplay. In her book, Mrs. Marshall notes that it proved necessary to make a few modifications to the actual events; "For example, in real life Peter and I had spent our honeymoon in New York, not on Cape Cod; in the script there was the necessity of introducing Cape Cod early in the story. In real life Peter John was born on January 25, 1940, not in December of 1941. Yet this time shift simplified the Annapolis sequence in the movie.... Changes of this sort did not bother me, because they did no violence to the spirit of the truth."
       In Twentieth Century-Fox publicity material, Engel commented on his decision to include in the film lengthy scenes of Marshall delivering sermons: "The sermons are wonderfully imaginative and interesting and what gives the Marshall character its dimensions. But nobody had ever put as much as 20 minutes of sermons into a film....Mr. [Darryl F.] Zanuck backed me on this 100 percent." Reviews lauded the filmmakers for these scenes. Variety commented, "Again and again, the camera picks up Richard Todd as Peter Marshall mounting the pulpit to deliver the sermons for which he was famous and which drew overflow crowds Sunday after Sunday to the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church in Washington. These sermons are things of beauty and [director Henry] Koster and Engel deserve kudos for allowing them to run on for several minutes at a time.... Todd does such a masterful job of preaching the sermons, the camera staying on him most of the time, they're almost the best thing in the picture."
       As Richard Burton proved to be unavailable for the film, the role of Peter Marshall was offered to Richard Todd, who, as he had personal doubts regarding his ability to do the role justice, asked if he might shoot a test of himself delivering one of Marshall's sermons. The test was shot in England, and upon seeing it, studio head Zanuck wrote to Engel saying, "I was simply mesmerized. I couldn't believe this was something on film." Although Jean Peters was originally announced to play Catherine, other actresses including Eva Marie Saint, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Dorothy McGuire and Donna Reed were considered; Peters was assigned to the part just six days before shooting started.
       According to a May 21, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news items, background exteriors were shot on location in Scotland. Actual filming began with second unit work in Atlanta, Decatur and Covington, GA, then moved to Washington, D.C. and later to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, according to Hollywood Reporter news items and studio publicity. According to her book, Mrs. Marshall was not present when the film was shot. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Flo Vinson, Stephanie Sidney, Ruby Colman, Jay John Potter and Elizabeth Holmes in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. The following actors appeared in scenes cut before the film's release: Agnes Bartholomew, Rick Kelman, Luis Torres, Jr., Bob Hunter, David Wood, Alex Campbell, Jonathan Hole and Maudie Prickett.
       On January 24, 1955, eighty clergymen-Catholic, Jewish and Protestant-saw a rough-cut of the film at a special screening at the studio. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive. When Catherine Marshall saw the final cut, shortened by about fifteen minutes, at the studio's New York screening room on 7 Mar, she felt that "some memorable scenes had been sacrificed to length," but knew that "whatever small faults the picture had, it was all right." According to a March 17, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, special previews of the picture had been arranged in sixty cities for other clergymen and "opinion makers."
       Simultaneous world premieres of the film were held on March 31, 1955 in Glasgow, New York and London. Catherine Marshall and Todd attended the New York premiere, the proceeds of which went to the Highland Fund of North America and the Caledonian Hospital of Brooklyn. The Glasgow premiere was attended by Marshall's sister, and approximately 13,000 people attended the three premieres, according to Hollywood Reporter. After opening to slow business, word-of-mouth built the film into a box-office success. According to a June 10, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio was predicting that A Man Called Peter was going to become "one of the company's most profitable pictures." Life magazine gave the film a six-page spread but criticized the film's promotion which included lines such as: "He was a lovin' kind of guy....He was God's kind of guy."
       While Marshall was a Presbyterian minister, the film's producer and director were Jewish, and the screenplay writer Catholic. In a May 19, 1955 Hollywood Citizen-News article, Engel stated, "No one [involved in 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....Certainly, I never dreamed that the long years devoted to gaining a Hebrew education would stand me in good stead in my professional career....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." Alfred Newman's score for the picture includes a reprise of his main theme for the 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox production Young Mr. Lincoln (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). A Man Called Peter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Supporting Actress (Rambeau) and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1955 National Board of Review.

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1955 New York Times Film Critics.

Released in United States Spring April 1955

CinemaScope

Released in United States Spring April 1955