The Reluctant Saint

Maximilian Schell

The Reluctant Saint

 Film directed by Edward Dmytrk, reviewed by Thomas O Meehan 

A few days ago watching Turner Classic Movies I caught the film The Reluctant Saint (1962). It was strikingly like the religious films of my youth in its poor production values. I was struck though by the competent acting. Could this be the only well-made Catholic religious film in existence?

As TCM is notorious for shamelessly showing the same “Classic” movies over and over seeing something new there is always an occasion. Intrigued, I continued watching. Several actors were clearly professional and familiar from European film. Then Recardo Montalban appeared! What was afoot here?

The next recognizable actor seemed even more out of place; it was a young Maximilian Schell. He portrayed a simpleminded Franciscan novitiate, Saint Joseph of Cupertino.

Now I am no actor but it seems to me that an intelligent and accomplished man like Schell might have his work cut out convincingly playing a fool, especially a holy one. It was at this point that the late Jerry Lewis’s contribution came to mind. Schell was clearly using Lewis’s portraits of idiots as a kind of template on which to hang his performance. Schell’s simpleton monk is a fully formed human, unlike the grotesque characters of Lewis. Never the less, tiny mannerisms seemed familiar enough for me to see Lewis’s raw mud transformed into Schell’s three dimensional sculpture of a saint.

The Reluctant Saint was directed by Edward Dmytryk in 1962. A box office failure, it is well worth viewing today as a semiprecious tessera in the mosaic of film history. The Reluctant Saint was directed by a former Communist, yet it tells at face value the story of Saint Joseph actually levitating. You don’t see that every day. Another treat is Akim Tamiroff portraying a deeply sympathetic and humane Catholic Bishop. Montalban even gets to depict a somewhat admirable Inquisitor. And of course there is Schell’s portrait of a holy fool who is as puzzled as the viewer is at the miraculous.

THOMAS O MEEHAN is a freelance writer and a former government Senior Research Analyst and Inspector. He lives in Bucks County PA and he blogs at


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