Cast & Crew
Historical background on Ancient Roman life and society are presented against the photographic background of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Appian Way and other sites. A description of the rise of Christianity is presented, as illustrated in art and architecture created from the early centuries of the church through the Renaissance. Treasures of the Vatican are shown, from the architectural genius of Bernini to the paintings of Giotto, Caravaggio and Raphael and sculpture of Michelangelo. Michelangelo's ceiling for the Sistine Chapel is described in detail, as are various treasures contained in the Vatican library and museums. A description of the Palatine and Swiss Guards accompanies scenes of the guards on duty in the Vatican, followed by scenes of celebrations during the twenty-fourth Holy Year, in 1950, during which throngs gathered at St. Peter's Basilica to attend Mass and see Pope Pius XII. His Holiness addresses the audience by reading a short passage and delivering a homily in English.
Although there is a copyright statement on the opening title card, dated 1952 in the name of Jerome Cappi, the film was not registered for copyright and the date appears to have been an error. A voice-over narration by Raymond Burr recounts the history of Rome, Roman dieties, Christianity, art and architecture as it relates to Christianity and the history of the Vatican as seen in its treasures. The end credits read: "By special permission of the Vatican" and include the names of the choirs and a band heard throughout the film, the 3000 Boys Choir, the Sistine Chapel Choir, the Cappella Giulia Choir and the Palatine Band. Following these names, a title card reads: "The works of the great masters: Giotto, Cellini, Bernini, Sangallo, Raphael, Canova, Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Perugino, Cola dell'Amatrice, Mellozzo da Forli, Bramante, Michaelangelo [sic], Pinturicchio." At several places within the narrative, frescoes of Italian masters are called "mosaics."
According to an article in San Francisco Chronicle, a pressbook and articles in trade publications, filmmaker Cappi began negotiating with the Vatican to film the documentary in 1948 and shot the project over the course of three years. The San Francisco Chronicle article stated that Vatican officials required detailed sketches of all lighting set-ups because "too much heat from arc lamps would crack the paint on the masterpieces." According to these articles, the film marked the first time that Pope Pius XII had specially filmed a segment in English and the first time that the treasures of the Vatican had been filmed in Technicolor. In a Los Angeles Daily News interview, Cappi stated that the Pope himself helped him to win Vatican approval for the project, and that the film crew was allotted only one hour to film the pontiff's message.
Although the SAB listed "Bengino and Answini" as assistant directors, their full names have not been confirmed. The SAB and various news items list Buena Vista Corp. as the film's distributor in most territories, but Favorite Films of California was to handle the film in Northern California, Seattle and Portland. According to a June 10, 1953 news item in Variety, following the success of the Lutheran-sponsored film Martin Luther, a column by William Mooring in the weekly Catholic newspaper The Tablet asked its readship to encourage theater owners to show The Immortal City and other "Catholic religioso pics." According to a press release contained in the AMPAS Library file on the film, it was to be re-released on June 28, 1967 for a two-week run at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood.