The First Legion by Douglas Sirk (1951, 86 min., 35mm). All is not well in the hushed spaces of Jesuit Saint Gregory’s seminary. Dominated by conservative older men, the institution is sometimes suffocating to younger initiates. A new wind blasts through the stalwart institution when aged Father Sierra, who has been bedridden and failing for several years, stands and walks after envisioning Blessed Joseph. Suddenly, all are animated by the apparent presence of a miracle—from young priests who have sought a sense of spiritual meaning, to older ones who see an opportunity to advance the cause of canonization. The public is likewise energized, as pilgrims flock to the lure of healing power. All of this is to the great chagrin of Doctor Peter Morell, who treated Father Sierra and looks upon the topic of “miracles” with derision. Morell’s disgust moves him to confide to Father Arnoux that things are not as they seem in Father Sierra’s recovery—threatening the hopes of thousands, including those of the small religious community. Douglas Sirk evokes powerful, universal emotions with this fascinating independent production, completed before his celebrated, decade-long run as a director of melodramas. Here, the question of openings and dead ends that occur in both scientific pursuits and faith journeys is made all the more fascinating as enacted by a sterling cast—each man seeking a way to live a principled life that accommodates both common sense and hope. Description written by Shannon Kelley, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

 

Preservation funding provided by The Louis B. Mayer Foundation and The Carl David Memorial Fund for Film Preservation.