When I was a young child I remember seeing Otto Preminger play Mr Freeze in the ‘Batman’ TV series, a role he shared with George Sanders (who I would later enjoy seeing in earlier films as Simon Templar, the Saint) and Eli Wallach. I didn’t realise then that I would later come to appreciate his work as a director greatly. Films like Fallen Angel, The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, Laura and Angel Face are amongst my favourites of his. He challenged many taboos in the cinema and directed in a way that used lighting and musical soundtrack to wonderful effect.
One film of his that I enjoy but which has always seemed a little bit of an anomaly is “The Cardinal”. It is the story of a young American priest who rises to prominence in the Roman Catholic Church in the period before, during and after the second World War. He does this by (or despite) becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement and opposing Nazism on the European continent.
The interesting thing about the film is that in one light it can be seen as Preminger’s apologetic for the Catholic church’s role in an era when it has been argued that they should have taken a much more trenchant stance.
The Roman Catholic church were so keen to make sure that this was the direction Preminger was heading in that they appointed a theological advisor, one Joseph Ratzinger (a former member of the Nazi Youth movement and future Pope Benedict XVI).
Preminger was known as a no-nonsense director, actor and person so one can only think that this apologetic was one of his own goals for the film and that he wanted to be guided.
Ironically, the film would pair Tom Tryon, Preminger’s lead actor with Burgess Meredith as an aged rural priest. Meredith would later play The Penguin in the same Batman series that Preminger had a role in.
Pope Benedict, of course, is notable for many things including some interesting theological writings. He was critical of his predecessor, John Paul II, for inviting Bob Dylan to perform at the World Eucharistic Conference in 1997. That kind of music was unbecoming and inappropriate.
This brings me to the last link in my chain. No, I’m not about to reveal that Ratzinger played an obscure villain in Batman before he became Pope but the link (to me) is as interesting.
Bob Dylan is currently on tour, taking in the West coast of America. A few nights ago he dropped his normal encore (a duo of “All Along the Watchtower” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”) and replaced it with a song called “Stay with Me”. Now “Stay with Me” is a song of humility, submission, devotion and contrition and was composed not by Dylan but by Jerome Moross and Carolyn Leigh.
It wouldn’t be out of place in Dylan’s own songwriting oeuvre, slotting in somewhere right between “Saving Grace” and “What Good Am I?” but in fact it was originally composed to be the main theme of Preminger’s “The Cardinal”, a film that Ratzinger judged to be suitable to represent a view of the Catholic church that he could embrace. Now that makes me smile.
The song is perhaps best known as performed by Frank Sinatra (who told Playboy in the 60s that he was an atheist!) and is the second Sinatra song that Dylan has picked up in recent days following on from “Full Moon and Empty Arms” which was released as a stand alone song by his official website.
Whether this means that the next Dylan album will be a set of Sinatra covers remains to be seen. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the lyrics to “Stay with Me” below:
Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see,
Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me.
Like the lamb that in springtime wanders far from the fold,
Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold.
I grow cold, I grow weary, and I know I have sinned,
And I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind.
And though I grope and I blunder and I kneel and I’m wrong,
Though the road buckles under where I walk, walk along
‘Til I find to my wonder every path leads to Thee,
Or that I can do it, pray, stay with me.
Stay with me