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Film / The Scarlet and the Black

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The Scarlet and the Black is a 1983 Made-for-TV Movie starring Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer, and John Gielgud, about one of the lesser known heroes of World War II: Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (Peck), an Irish priest assigned to work for the Holy Office (i.e. the Inquisition) at the Vatican. He uses his diplomatic immunity (as the Nazis have sworn to respect Vatican sovereignty on Vatican territory) to run a large and complex network hiding and protecting escaped POWs from being recaptured by the SS. His foe in this is Herbert Kappler (Plummer), a ruthless SS commander who eventually decrees that O'Flaherty will be shot on sight if he crosses the white line in St. Peter's square that delineates where Vatican power ends....



  • Berserk Button: O'Flaherty gets one when Kappler asks him to transport his wife and children to safety, saying to him that you cannot just demand forgiveness for the asking (He still does it, however).
  • Chekhov's Skill: The opening scenes show Hugh O'Flaherty teaching a boxing class. His skills as a boxer become very useful later on.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pope Pius XII has his moments, such as in the film's opener when a Nazi officer tells him to communicate to the outside world that the German army and in particular the SS have been acting correctly towards him and the Vatican. The Pope's witheringly dry response is to say that he will be sure to communicate that he was asked to say that.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: O'Flaherty also dresses up as an SS officer on one occasion to hear an imprisoned fellow priest's confession the night before the priest is deported to Germany.
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  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Kappler's non combatant wife and two children.
  • Good Shepherd: Hugh O'Flaherty and the priests and nuns that work under him
  • Hollywood Atheist: Kappler delivers a speech where he expresses viewpoints like this towards the end when it looked like O'Flaherty wasn't going to help him get his family out of Rome-and out of Italy-before Italy's partisans find them. This is somewhat ironic, as the final text crawl notes say the real Kappler eventually converted to Catholicism while in prison.
  • Indy Ploy: O'Flaherty develops one-forgery of Kappler's signature-in order to get a friend out of the jail.
  • I Own This Town: Kappler uses this as a threat to try and intimidate O'Flaherty. It's undermined somewhat by the fact that while Kappler may "own" Rome, he certainly does not "own" the Vatican. In fact, Heinrich Himmler himself warns Kappler against trying to violate Vatican neutrality. Naturally, this is where O'Flaherty runs his organisation.
    Colonel Kappler: "I. Own. Rome. Not you. Not the Pope. Just because you wear a frock, it won't protect you."
  • The Jeeves: 'Alfred West' (in real life named John May) is the butler of the British ambassador D'Arcy Osborne. Refusing to help O'Flaherty directly, Osborne 'lends' West out to O'Flaherty in what seems like a dismissive gesture...until O'Flaherty realises that West is an absolute genius at getting anything from the black market as well as saving O'Flaherty's life on one occasion.
  • Master of Disguise: O'Flaherty turns out to be quite good at disguising himself in order to get around Rome unnoticed.
  • Oh, Crap!: Kappler's reaction when he hears that Himmler is in Italy and wants to ask him about his progress in stopping O'Flaherty, and that Hitler himself has explicitly forbidden ANY violation of Vatican sovereignty.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Despite Ireland’s decision of Isolationism, Father O’Flaherty insists the the Allied troops and Jewish refugees need refuge.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: One of O'Flaherty's disguises is as a nun.


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