The Most Underrated Movie
This was a tough decision, because I had to determine whether we are talking about the most underrated by my friends or by critics. My choice is critically acclaimed, but most of my friends have never heard of this Academy Award winning historical biography.
Fred Zinnemann is one of the great forgotten directors, which is amazing considering that he was nominated for eight directing Oscars in four decades and won two. We don’t hear today’s directors idolizing him or many critics championing his work. You will probably never read about him in “Entertainment Weekly.” For Zinnemann, the script is king, and his greatest genius may have been in choosing the right scripts and knowing how to do them justice.
From Here To Eternity was Zinnemann’s best film according to the Academy. IMDb voters seem to prefer High Noon. But my choice for most underrated movie is A Man For All Seasons, the film of the year in 1966. Perhaps many people pass over it because it is hard to imagine a film that represents the attitude of the 1960s less.
A Man For All Seasons presents us with a character that is still unfashionable in our own day. He refuses to surrender to the dictates of his king and countrymen, and remains faithful in his devotion to his conscience, his God, and the Roman Catholic Church. When Thomas More’s ecclesiastical superior Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles) unsuccessfully presses him to give his approval to King Henry VIII’s request for a convenient divorce, he says, “When statesmen lead their country without their conscience to guide them, it is short road to chaos.” Thomas More was an amazing character who was like a mild-mannered lion trying at every turn to do well even though his political savvy knows how dangerous that can be. As a lawyer, he sees in law the only hope for man’s goodness in a fallen world. “I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake,” he explains.
Paul Scofield plays More in such a way as to make us not only admire him but identify with him. As we watch, we come to value both his humanness and his spirituality. His tired eyes, the way he gently rebuffs his opponents, his genuine professions of loyalty to Henry even as he disagrees with the matter of his divorce, all help to create a character so well-rounded and illuminating that we find him to be better company than the people we meet in real life. It’s a gift the movies seldom actually deliver on, so when someone like Scofield makes it happen, we respond with admiration and gratitude.
The film’s supporting cast is good, though none are as particularly memorable as Robert Shaw as a young and thin Henry VIII. He is full of life yet has a childish temperament and an inconsistent mind. He demands More not stand against his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then decides he must have either More’s outright assent or else his head. Sadly, there was no way that More could pacify the adolescent minded king and remain true to his convictions. In the end he decided like the apostle Peter and John that it was better for him to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19).
Spoiler after the jump for those of you who don’t know your history.
Thomas was faithful to God in his life and in his death. I hope that I would have the ability to die with such dignity if that were God’s will for me.