Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
I’ll never forget the first time my wife chose a movie to watch after we got married. We got married in September, so leading up to Halloween we watched some seasonal favorites. I told her to pick whatever she wanted, and she popped in Arsenic and Old Lace. I had never seen it let alone heard of it. But I loved it. Hilarious. Thus, started my love for classic movies.
And as the years have gone by and we’ve re-watched a few of these—and as I’ve discovered a few on my own—I’m drawn to the hidden gems of morality, religion, and authentic love present in the classics. There’s so many to choose from, but here’s a few movie scenes from the classics that I urge you to go back to and notice something you might not have seen the first (or fourth) time around.
Gone with the Wind – “Through my Fault”
Seeing this movie before I was a Catholic, I figured the plantation family from the South was Baptist. But actually, the fictional French-Irish settlers were Catholic. After I entered the Catholic Church, the scene in the beginning of the movie moved me. The family on their knees, beating their chests, together saying, “Through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” The Confiteor (this prayer) might have been missed by many, but it quickly identified them as Catholic and made the rest of the movie a somewhat of a different movie for me.
Les Misérables – “What have I done?”
Even an untrained eye will immediately see the Catholic setting, characters, morals, and drama in the story of Les Mis. What hits most viewers right in the feelings is when Jean steals the silver from the bishop’s monastery, only to be caught just seconds later. Being dragged back to the bishop that he stole from, he is shocked when the bishops defends his lie that he was given the silver plates and cups, “you forgot I gave these also,” handing his precious silver candlesticks. Attentive eyes will notice these candlesticks throughout the movie, a precious reminder of the bishop’s deed that convicted Jean into changing his life and living for truth and love.
The Princess Bride – “Mawage”
I don’t know what it is about this movie, but about every five years or so, I have to watch it. Is it funny? I don’t know. I giggle every 40 seconds, but I’m not sure if what I laughed at was funny or just stupid. A scene that remains imprinted in my mind during any wedding scene in real life, a book, or a movie, is the opening sermon to the wedding ceremony. When the camera pans across the cathedral and dramatically zooms in on the bishop, he commands our attention. He about to say something meaningful, but the first time he opens his mouth he sounds worse than Bugs Bunny. “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togethaa tewday.” Iconic, I don’t know why, but I think it’s an amusingly clever and unexpected scene. Perhaps the most iconic Catholic wedding scene in film. And maybe that not funny, but stupid.
Casablanca – “Here’s looking at you, kid”
I’m a serious softie for old dramas and Casablanca is a guilty pleasure I’ve spent innumerable days and nights watching and pondering. Each time I watch with my wife I ask her, “So, did Ilsa really love Rick, or was she trying to do what was good for Laszlo?” We debate all angles of the movie. The last time I watched, though, I couldn’t help but notice a deeply Catholic theme in the final moment of the movie. As Bogart’s New York raised character expertly plans the entire escape, and as Bergman’s confused character attempts to salvage two loves of her life, I’m reminded about the truest definition of love: willing the good of another (Summa Theologiae I-II, 26, 4). And so, Rick sees closure in something that benefited everyone but him. Somewhat of a self-sacrifice, if you ask me.
The Bride of Frankenstein – “A secret grave matter”
The 1930s were host to some great flicks and The Bride of Frankenstein is among the best. In this movie, an evil doctor forces Dr. Frankenstein to create a bride for the monster of the previous films. There’s great dialogue about the morality of the God-playing involved in creation. But on another point, it gets me thinking of John Paul II’s teaching of true love in relationships, which is never forced. Only when we are free, are we truly able to love.
Is there a movie you’ve seen over and over and something Catholic suddenly hit you?