Cast & Crew
On a voyage to Italy for the 1950 Holy Year celebrations, Pennsylvania priest John X. Halligan bunks with Joe Brewster, an affable conman who, unknown to John, has escaped from San Quentin. Joe, who was reared a Catholic, strikes up a friendship with John, but when the boat docks in Genoa, Joe steals his sleeping roommate's suitcase and disembarks in John's cassock to avoid waiting police. Joe's disguise fools them, as well as two priests who have come to meet John. The priests whisk Joe away to see the local sights, then place him aboard a bus filled with clerics bound for Rome. When John awakens, he must leave the boat in Joe's flashy clothes and is immediately arrested. At the police station, the commissioner assumes that John is Joe, until John recites the Preface to the Latin Mass, something only a priest could do. After being outfitted in new ecclesiastic clothing, John leaves for Rome with instructions to help the local police capture Joe. Meanwhile, Joe is befriended by Irishman Father McGinniss, who obtains a room for "Father John" in the Monastery of the Three Saints. Viewing the humble cells of the monks, Joe finds the quarters eerily reminiscent of San Quentin, but is content to have a hideout. When John arrives in Rome, he checks in with commissioner Aggiunto Bodulli, who speaks English peppered with Western idioms learned while a POW in Texas during the war. Bodulli wants John, who is the only person in Italy who can identify Joe, to help him, but is aware that John is reluctant to be a "stool pigeon." While the two men watch a procession, John is startled but says nothing when he sees Joe carrying a cross and helping a small, elderly priest carry his. Later, when Bodulli tells John that he will have a policeman pick him up the next day at the Monastery of the Three Saints, where he is registered, John realizes that Joe must be there. Unknown to John, Bodulli arranges for policeman Antonio Silesto to follow him. John arrives at the monastery as Joe and McGinniss are listening to a boys choir concert, and Joe is reminded of his days as a choirboy. When Joe is told that someone is waiting to see him, he thinks it is the police and is happy the visitor is John, to whom he apologizes. John wants to turn Joe in, but Joe convinces him to wait twenty-four hours. Later, as John walks through Rome, he realizes that Silesto is following him. Silesto apologizes for his ineptness, then invites John home to dinner to help him celebrate his wife's birthday. During their pleasant dinner, sirens are heard, and John learns that the Monastery of the Three Saints is on fire. He rushes to the monastery, leaving Silesto behind. John is relieved to find Joe, but is knocked out by a falling timber and is carried to safety by Joe. At the Trevi Fountain, a grateful John joins Joe for a carriage tour of Rome. At the Colosseum, Joe tells John that "the boys" were talking about a special pilgrimage to Rome's four major churches through which a penitent can have all of his sins forgiven. John tells Joe that forgiveness is only earned if the penitent is truly sorry, makes a confession and receives Holy Communion. Joe then asks John to hear his confession, and the two embark on the pilgrimage. The next morning, at the third church, St. Paul Outside the Walls, John gives a street urchin money for a relic he knows is phony, and Joe scolds him for putting the boy on the same path he was on as a child. While they are talking, Silesto, who has come to church with his wife, sees them and calls Bodulli. Although Joe and John have not seen Silesto, as they near Saint Peter's, they become worried when a pair of policemen stare at them, and run down an alley. Seeing a locked gate, Joe turns the handle and the pair find themselves in a monastery garden where an elderly monk uses a notepad to relate that they are all there for life, to pray and atone for the sins of others. Joe is puzzled by the air of love among these "lifers" and is shaken when the monk writes an apology for staring, saying that it is because the rusted side gate had not been opened in a hundred years. After Joe and John leave, Joe suggests that they split up so that John will not get in trouble, and the two take a taxi to the train station, where Joe slips away among a throng of priests. Bodulli and his men find John, and he unintentionally gives Joe's plans away by mentioning the names of the three churches they have just visited. Knowing that the fourth church on the pilgrimage is St. Peter's, Bodulli takes John with them to the Vatican. They arrive just after Joe has gone through the Holy Door, thus completing his pilgrimage. Joe does not resist his arrest, but soon escapes, disappointing John, who thinks that he must have been mistaken about Joe's true desire for repentance. Later, while the downhearted John is taking a walk, he again comes to the monastery gate and is surprised that it opens easily. Inside, he finds Joe tending the garden and angrily accuses him of using the kindly monks. Joe does not speak, but uses a notepad to tell John that he had been in a place with a past but no future and wants to spend the rest of his life in a place with a future but no past. The elderly monk then reassures John by writing that he knows everything about Joe and believes him to be truly penitent. Content, John gives Joe his most prized possession, his mother's rosary, and promises to work to get him a pardon in America and to visit him during the next Holy Year, in twenty-five years.
Amina Pirani Maggi
Hong Tche Tsao
Boys Choir Of St. Peter's
A. Arnold Gillespie
Robert J. Kern
Edwin B. Willis
When in Rome
The film opens with a title card informing the audience that 1950 saw the Holy Year celebrated in Rome and at the Vatican, with millions of people making the pilgrimage. One of those people is Father John X. Halligan (Van Johnson), visiting for obvious reasons, and the other is Joe Brewster, for reasons best described as leading the fugitive lifestyle. He's trying to evade capture for crimes committed and ends up, of course, on the same boat headed for Genoa as Father Halligan.
Halligan gets to that boat by way of Coaltown, PA, where we first meet him saying farewell to his flock. They give him saint medals to be blessed by the Pope and wish him well. Once he meets up with Joe Brewster, those plans begin to fall apart. Upon arriving in Genoa, Brewster takes Halligan's clothes so he can pose as a priest in order to better to evade capture. Halligan finds him and helps him evade the police on one condition: He join Father Halligan on the pilgrimage.
Van Johnson made a name for himself in the forties as the All-American boy, playing war heroes and generally all-around good guys. His choice to play Father Halligan was an easy one, if not a particularly challenging one. Two years after the film, Johnson was dropped by MGM as his career had taken off like studio execs they hoped it would. He would give his best performance shortly thereafter in The Caine Mutiny, prompting many to consider his acting talents had been underused.
Paul Douglas was a character actor whose star was going nowhere but up. After his first big success in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), he found himself in one success after another. His work with Clarence Brown on Angels in the Outfield became his most successful film, finding himself the star of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's favorite movie. The President reportedly watched it so many times the White House staff got sick of it and began dreading movie night with the President.
While Angels in the Outfield was a box office success, When in Rome lost money at the box office. Of course, movies like When in Rome were never big hits, not enough to justify a trend at least, but they got made, here and there, in the heyday of Hollywood, by both Hollywood liberals and conservatives who hadn't yet found a way to politicize faith. One of its key writers was Dorothy Kingsley, who was herself a devout Catholic and took Robert Buckner's story to heart. She would rarely get sole screenwriting credit since she was usually brought in to doctor scripts started by others. It's clear that this was one such job she was more than happy to do. When in Rome may harken back to a different era of gentler films but it still packs a punch with its tale of redemption.
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley, Charles Schnee, Robert Buckner (Story)
Producer: Clarence Brown
Music: Carmen Dragon
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Film Editor: Robert J. Kern
Art Director: Edward Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Van Johnson (Father John X. Halligan), Paul Douglas (Joe Brewster), Joseph Calleia (Aggiunto Bodulli), Carlo Rizzo (Antonio Silesto), Tudor Owen (Father McGinniss), Dino Nardi (Commissario Genoa), Aldo Silvani (Cabby with horse and buggy)
By Greg Ferrara
When in Rome
TCM Remembers Van Johnson - Important Schedule Change on TCM In Honor To Salute VAN JOHNSON
The new schedule for the evening of Tuesday, December 23rd will be:
8:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime
9:45 PM A Guy Named Joe
12:30 AM Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
2:30 AM The Last Time I Saw Paris
4:30 AM Thrill of a Romance
Van Johnson (1916-2008)
Van Johnson, the boyish leading man whose clean cut, All-American appeal made him a top box-office draw for MGM during World War II, died on December 12 in Nyack, New York of natural causes. He was 92.
He was born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25, 1916, in Newport, Rhode Island. By his own account, his early childhood wasn't a stable one. His mother abandoned him when he was just three and his Swedish-born father offered little consolation or nurturing while he was growing up. Not surprisingly, Johnson found solace in singing and dancing lessons, and throughout his adolescence, he longed for a life in show business. After graduating high school in 1934, he relocated to New York City and was soon performing as a chorus boy on Broadway in shows such as New Faces of 1936 and eventually as an understudy in Rodgers and Hart's musical, Too Many Girls in 1939.
Johnson eventually made his way to Hollywood and landed an unbilled debut in the film version of Too Many Girls (1940). By 1941, he signed a brief contract with Warner Bros., but it only earned him a lead in a "B" programmer Murder in the Big House (1941); his contract soon expired and he was dropped by the studio. Johnson was on his way back to New York, but as luck would have it - in the truest Hollywood sense - friends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz introduced him to Billy Grady, a lead talent scout at MGM, which was currently Ball's new studio. Johnson was signed up and almost immediately MGM had a star on its hands.
It might have been slow going at first, with Johnson playing able support in films such as Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant and The War Against Mrs. Hadley (both 1942). By 1943 the studio capitalized on his broad smile and freckles and starred him in two of the studio's biggest hits: A Guy Named Joe and The Human Comedy. Those two films transformed him into a boxoffice draw with a huge following, particularly among teenage girls. A near fatal car accident that same year only accentuated the loyalty of his fans, and his 4-F status as the result of that accident created an opportunity for him when so many other leading actors of the era (James Stewart, Clark Gable) were off to war. Johnson was quickly promoted as MGM'sleading man in war heroics and sweet romancers on the big screen: The White Cliffs of Dover, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (both 1944), Thrill of a Romance, the episodic Week-End at the Waldorf (both 1945), and a musical remake of Libeled Lady entitled Easy to Wed (1946).
Hits though these were, it wasn't until after the war that Johnson began to receive more dramatic parts and better material such as supporting Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the political farce State of the Union (1948). other significant roles included the well-modulated noir thriller The Scene of the Crime, the grim war spectacle Battleground (both 1949), the moving domestic drama Invitation (1952) in which he played a man who is paid to marry a woman (Dorothy McGuire) by her father. Before he left MGM, he closed his career out in fine form with the sweeping musical Brigadoon, co-starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse; and the lilting soaper The Last Time I Saw Paris (both 1954) with Elizabeth Taylor.
After he left MGM, the parts that came Johnson's way weren't as varied, but he had his moments in The Caine Mutiny (1954), the beguiling romance drama Miracle in the Rain (1956) with Jane Wyman; and his lead performance in one of the first successful made for-TV-movies The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957). By the '60s, Johnson returned to the stage, and played the title role in London's West End production of The Music Man. He then returned to Broadway in the drama Come on Strong. He still had a few good supporting parts, most notably as Debbie Reynolds' suitor in Norman Lear's scathing satire on marital differences Divorce American Style (1967); and television welcomed his presence on many popular shows in the '70s and '80s such as Maude, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and of course Murder She Wrote. There was one last graceful cameo in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), yet for the most remainder of his career, Johnson worked mainly on the dinner theater circuit before retiring from showbiz completely by the mid-90s. He is survived by a daughter, Schuyler.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Van Johnson - Important Schedule Change on TCM In Honor To Salute VAN JOHNSON
The following written foreword appears after the opening credits: "1950 was a Holy Year. Three million pilgrims from every part of the world thronged to Rome, the Eternal City. Our story is about two men who journeyed to Rome that year. One was Father John X. Halligan, a young priest from Coaltown, Pennsylvania, whose mission was a holy one; the other was Joe Brewster, late of Sing Sing, San Quentin, Joliet and Atlanta, whose mission was not so holy...If our story has a moral, it's a simple one: God May move in mysterious ways, but He gets there just the same."
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, actor Douglas Fowley was under consideration for a role in the film. Although actors Harry Shannon, Walter Sande, Curtis Cooksey, David Fresco, Larry Olsen and Robin Camp are listed on the CBCS, neither they nor their roles were in the released film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, When in Rome was to have been Cooksey's motion picture debut. Much of the film was shot on location in Rome. Roman locations included The Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and the churchs of Santa Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. According to an M-G-M production memo included in the AMPAS Library file on the film, some interior shots of St. Peter's Basilica were also made. For additional information on the 1950 Holy Year, please see the entries for Holy Year 1950 and The Holy Year at the Vatican in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.