Based on the true story of Peter Marshall, a poor Scottish boy who would grow up to become a beloved pastor and eventual chaplain of the United States Senate, A Man Called Peter is a paint-by-numbers biopic that is notable mostly for its leading performance and CinemaScope presentation.
The Production: 3/5
A Man Called Peter, a 1955 drama based on the life of pastor Peter Marshall, is a fairly bland biography of its subject that is somewhat salvaged by a charming leading performance from Richard Todd and sturdy direction from Henry Koster. Utilizing the wide CinemaScope frame, Koster is able to make the film work better than it might have in lesser hands. The film has the potential to be stuffy, old fashioned and overly reverent, and if the script falls into that trap for the final act, the opening and especially middle sections have some genuinely riveting moments.
As a young boy growing up in a Scotland, Peter Marshall has an unquenchable love of the sea and a strong faith. Saving his money, he earns enough for passage to America, where he enrolls in divinity school. Assigned to a small town upon graduation, his sermons capture the town’s attention, and also draw the attention of a young woman named Catherine (Jean Peters), who will become his wife. After their honeymoon, Peter accepts a job at a well-known but little-attended church in Washington DC, and his sermons and genial manner are soon drawing ever larger crowds. But while the Marshalls are soon blessed with the arrival of a son, first Catherine and then Peter will be tested as they face unexpected health complications.
Based on Catherine’s biography of her husband, A Man Called Peter portrays its protagonist as a near-saint. While this doesn’t allow much of an arc for the film to trace of his character, it does present an opportunity for Richard Todd to win the audience, first with his charm, and later with a series of pleasant sermons which the screenwriter Eleanore Griffin has scripted to be universally rousing. The script’s ever-present halo over Peter makes it hard to truly know him, but at the same time, makes his character’s presence a reassuring one.
3D Rating: NA
A Man Called Peter is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.55:1. Colors are generally strong, and the image is stable. Though the film isn’t particularly sharp, this seems more characteristic of early CinemaScope lenses rather than being a fault of the transfer. There are some minor instances of dirt and debris that come and go for brief moments throughout the film, along with some occasional smaller scratches. While none of this is terribly intrusive, and the onscreen action is always discernible, this transfer is perhaps a notch below the high quality CinemaScope transfers that Twentieth Century Fox has been providing Twilight Time lately. It’s still quite good but falls short of perfection.
The disc provides two audio options, both in the lossless DTS-HD MA format: a 4.0 mix and a 2.0 mix. Of these, the 4.0 is the preferred option, featuring directional dialogue and a very wide front soundstage. Dialogue is well-mixed and always discernible, and the directional dialogue can be quite lively. The 2.0 track has less separation but similar fidelity. There are some faint traces of hiss from time to time, but it’s unobtrusive and not a distraction.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Isolate Music Track – Alfred Newman’s score is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 3.0 audio.
Audio Sermon by Peter Marshall (26:54, SD) – An audio recording of a sermon from the real Peter Marshall is illustrated by a series of contemporary photographs showing the real-life locations often dramatized in the film.
Fox Movietone Newsreels (22:40, SD) – A series of mostly silent black & white newsreel footage strung together without context or explanation. While the footage undoubtedly contains some noteworthy events, the lack of any kind of title cards, subtitles or explanatory introduction makes it difficult for the viewer to tell what they are looking at.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:19, SD) – Cropped to 1.85:1, the trailer emphasizes the film’s real life and literary origins. Though viewers who have seen the film may quibble with this, the trailer describes the film as “light hearted” and “lifting.”
Booklet – Julie Kirgo’s insightful essay is included along with production stills and original poster art.
A Man Called Peter is a mostly unremarkable film, perhaps most notable for its charming lead performance and its use of the CinemaScope frame. The transfer provided by Twentieth Century Fox for this Twilight Time release is perhaps a touch under the high standards they’ve recently set for CinemaScope titles, and the inclusion of newsreel footage without any context renders a key bonus feature more frustrating than insightful. However, it is still a quality presentation, and fans of the film should be mostly satisfied with this release.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.