Film Review from the May 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
Those who enjoy a good story with plenty of action and first class acting should be sure to see this film which has now been generally released.
The film is made in Italy where Don Camillo (played by Fernandel) is a parish priest in a village with a Communist Party dominated local council. He is not averse from fisticuffs on occasions, in fact sometimes he is simply itching for a scrap when the communists become particularly trying to him. This character is loved by the local catholics and commands the respect of the communists. Although as a priest he is officially out of politics he really makes no secret of his antagonism to the local Communist politicians, even though both groups co-operated in the underground movement directed against the German occupation of Italy in the last war.
The Communist mayor (portrayed by Gino Cervi) controls his supporters with paternal despotism.
The really outstanding feature of the film apart from the first class acting, lies in its thread of humour arising from the underlying background of religious belief of many of the communists which sometimes comes to light at times embarrassing for the Mayor. These communists apparently want the best of both worlds—sometimes they are shown as enjoying material advantages gained as a result of their support of the Communist Party and in taking part in a communist organised strike for higher pay. Sometimes they are glad of the comforts of the Catholic Church—at times that they considered important, such as baptisms, marriage and death; as for instance when the Mayor insisted on the baptism of his son by Don Camillo and also when the communist agricultural strikers as surreptitiously as possible, followed the bidding of the priest and went back to work.
The popularity of the film in Italy and France indicates that the idea of Catholics and Communists having a similar mentality and a similar basically religious attitude towards life does not strike a jarring note in the minds of the viewers in those countries.
This is particularly interesting because Italy is the fountainhead of the world Catholic Church and at the same time the greatest stronghold of the Communist Party this side of the iron curtain.
Catholic Action, the lay body reorganised in its modern form by Pious XI in 1922 is forbidden by its statute to be constituted as a political party but its political influence is none the less exceedingly powerful and widespread. By means of clubs, associations, camps, youth movements, newspapers, general propaganda and broadcasting, Catholic Action comes nearest to being the counterpart and challenge to the Communist organisations. This is even more true of the Commtati Civici, an offshoot of Catholic Action, which provides the real shock troops of the campaign. Run on a system not unlike that of the Communist cells, this "committee of action" come into their own above all at election times when their propaganda and their house to house methods are extraordinarily thorough and well-conceived. The influence of some of the Catholic activities in villages was demonstrated in the film.
It is understandable that Catholics and Communists should be rivals because their ideologies are very similar and they both depend on the same type of uninformed and prejudiced electorate for support. Both are autocratic with a hierarchy of officials who interpret for the layman the policy ladled out by a ruler at the apex of the pyramid. The Catholic creed is based on belief in the Holy Trinity, whilst the Communist creed is based in what is called Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism. One relies on belief in God, obedience to the Church and hopes of Heaven; the other kow-tows to a dictator, obeys the Party and is spurred on by believing that the U.S.S.R. is a socialist heaven. The Catholic devil is found in a variety of unexpected places and disguises, in fact this is his outstanding characteristic, and he must be continually sought out, recognised and castigated. For the Communist, it is the "Social Fascist," which term is used to cover most enemies and even critics of Communists, who is the arch fiend and tempter of the comrades to stray from the straight and narrow path of orthodoxy.
It is no wonder then that the Communist Party have been able to recruit 2 million members from a population so steeped in catholicism as the Italians. Their members want what they consider the best of both worlds—the social reforms of the Communist Party and the comforts of the Church.