Father Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck) is supposed to instill Catholicism in the Chinese people. The film is about his journey as a priest and the experiences he has while living in China. When he arrives in China he discovers rampant poverty, disease, and illness amongst the people.
Over the course of many years spent living in China, Father Francis Chisholm grows his own congregation. He finds support in his teachings. Enduring many different hardships while he lives in China, Father Francis Chisholm nonetheless continues to work to spread religion. He encounters help with Rev. Mother Maria-Veronica (Rose Stradner). The journey is a long one.
From a production standpoint, the film offers some nice elements. The cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (Gentleman's Agreement, How Green Was My Valley, The Little Princess) impresses. It's a beautiful looking film in most respects. The use of lighting is quite effective throughout. The costumes designed by Bonnie Cashin (Laura, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) are effective. The music by Alfred Newman (How the West Was Won, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) contributes to the film's style well.
Based on the book A.J. Cronin, the screenplay was written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra, All About Eve), who also produced The Keys of the Kingdom, and Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, The Dirty Dozen, How to Marry a Millionaire). Unfortunately, this is is not a particularly great film from a storytelling standpoint. Though the film is more sensitive and thoughtful than many films produced during this era were, it's still a decidedly dated and stereotypical approach to the subject matter. It doesn't feel realistic at all. Nothing about the film felt as effective or genuine as it could (and should) have been.
While religious epics can be wonderful when done right, it's downright frustrating when they aren't. Directed by John M. Stahl (Leave Her to Heaven, Imitation of Life), The Keys of The Kingdom is a mess of a film. The direction is downright terrible with horrible pacing and an uninspired and weak lead performance by Gregory Peck. Peck completely fails to carry this production. While Peck is remarkable in some films (like To Kill a Mockingbird), here he is absolutely disappointing. Peck was absolutely miscast in this role.
Though the film has production aspects that are admirable, it's a messy and outdated religious film that stirs more boredom and frustration than admiration for its religious storytelling. It's largely due to the poor direction by John M. Stahl, who makes The Keys to the Kingdom a terrible misfire worth skipping. The Keys to the Kingdom feels like a missed opportunity.
The Keys of the Kingdom arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation. This is a strong high-definition presentation for the most part. The film looks naturally filmic. It has good clarity overall. The film has little in the way of print damage. However, it isn't a perfect presentation: black levels aren't as impressive as one might hope to find. Still, it's a decent high definition upgrade.
The audio on this release is presented in both 2.0 stereo and 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. This is a quality lossless audio presentation which preserves the original sound design. This is certainly a worthwhile presentation of the audio. Dialogue reproduction is solid and the music sounds good as well. Clarity and fidelity isn't as strong as modern productions but that's to be expected. It's a worthwhile effort.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
Please Note: This is a Region Free Blu-ray release.
The release includes a booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.
On disc supplements include:
Isolated Score Track in DTS-HD Master Audio
Audio Commentary featuring film historians Kenneth Geist and Chris Mankiewicz
Original Theatrical Trailer
The Keys to the Kingdom is a uninspired religious epic that falters with poor quality direction, storytelling, and a weak lead performance. The film is a bore and it doesn't instill the kind of wonder that it should.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray release offers strong PQ/AQ and some extras. For those who are fans of the film, it's worth owning.
For everyone else...