The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Fortnight: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, December 30-January 12

The First Legion (1951)
Directed by Douglas Sirk
A measured (sometimes measuring) reflection on faith and reason and the rippling impact an apparent miracle has on the vulnerable state of belief in a Jesuit seminary as well as outside its ordering doors, The First Legion explores a subtle chemistry. Faith alone is not enough for happiness (early on in the film a pair of priests plan to quit), but too much reason is enough to leave you soul-sick, as in the case of Lyle Bettger’s agnostic doctor. Sirk extends this balancing act with a subdued, deep-focus visual style and the embattled character of Charles Boyer’s lawyer turned Jesuit, whose skepticism threatens both the maybe-miracle and his role with the church. All this measurement concludes in an transcendent ending that Bosley Crowther deemed at the time to be “mentally disturbing,” but more persuasively seems to be Sirk’s marvelous reflexiveness coming on in the end, movingly acknowledging that equanimity can only get you so far. Jeremy Polacek (December 4, 7pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Sirk retrospective)


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