The Power and the Glory was adapted for the screen by Dudley Nichols and directed and produced by John Ford as The Fugitive in 1947. Although Ford is considered a great filmmaker, the movie was not commercially successful, and it is considered by many critics to be Ford’s weakest film. The film did receive some good reviews when it was first released, notably from the New York Times, which called it a “thundering modern parable on the indestructibility of faith.” But the film tried to cater to conventional expectations of priestly conduct: Henry Fonda, as the priest, is a stronger person than Greene’s character, and the lieutenant, who is portrayed as a complete fanatic, is made the father of the illegitimate child. These attempts to purify the priest rob Greene’s vision of its power. On the other hand, in 1961 CBS produced a television version that was more faithful to the novel, and viewers were outraged at Sir Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of the priest. The television adaptation cast George C. Scott as the lieutenant and Julie Harris as Maria, the woman with whom the whisky priest fathered a child.
Greene has written a number of other “Catholic” novels, of which The Heart of the Matter is generally considered the best. In this novel, Major Scobie, basically a good, honest man, is driven to suicide by pride, love, and perhaps a mistaken sense of duty. The religious question of the novel is whether Scobie, a Catholic, might have found salvation, despite the Church’s position that suicide is an unforgivable sin. Greene’s answer, given by a priest at the conclusion of the novel, is consistent with the ethics of compassion and forgiveness evident in The Power and the Glory: “The church knows all the rules, but it doesn’t know what goes on in a single human heart.”
The book that most closely parallels The Power and the Glory is Monsignor Quixote. The characters of The Power and the Glory reappear in this reworking of the Don Quixote story: the priest is Monsignor Quixote, and he is on the road again, this time hounded not by the revolutionaries but by his more modern Bishop. The priest is accompanied by the literary descendant of the Mexican lieutenant, the Communist ex-mayor of the town, whom Quixote insists on calling Sancho. The debate between religion and politics is rejoined, but this time in comic tones. There is even a suggestion that both Catholicism and Marxism are as outdated as Don Quixote’s chivalry.