The Catechist of Kil-Arni 1923


Catholic propaganda film produced and written by the Irish lay-priest Thomas Gavan Duffy together with Bruce Gordon as a fund raiser for the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Pondicherry. Although there was a village called Kil-Arni nearby, the film was shot in March and April l923 in the village of Sattiamangalam inhabited by Catholic Untouchables to avoid problems of caste and religious dissent. The plot tells of a reprobate called Ram who is converted to Catholicism by the exemplary conduct of the local priest (Duffy himself) during an epidemic. The main interest of the film resides in its location footage showing the landscapes and farming practices in the district. The non-professional cast was recruited locally. The film was processed in Boston where it was premiered on 25 October 1923.

Suresh Chabria writes: ‘This Catholic propaganda film produced and written by the Irish missionary T. Gavan Duffy was made at the suggestion of Mgr. McGlinchey of Boston. Duffy had accompanied McGlinchey on a tour of Ceylon and India in December 1922 and January 1923. To supplement their resources for missionary work McGlinchey proposed the making of a film which could be used for raising funds among the faithful in the US and Ireland.

Duffy states, ‘All over India Mgr. McGlinchey kept looking for an enterprising missioner who would venture into movie land but found nobody willing and able to accept. Finally I made up my mind to throw aside my regular work for a few weeks and to become the movie-star of the Far East!’ His adventures and experiences during the production of the film in March and April 1923 make for amusing reading. For ‘professional’ help he turned to Raghupati Surya Prakash, the pioneer director and cinematographer from Madras. However, he seems to have valued the assistance of a Catholic layman, Bruce Gordon, more.

The plot is about the conversion of a one-time thief called Ram. During an epidemic he is inspired by a missionary–played by Duðy himself–to become a model Christian and a catechist. Although the film was shot in the village of Sattiamangalam, the name of a nearby village, Kil-Arni, was used because it sounded Irish. Sattiamangalam was also chosen because the village already had a population of Catholic converts who were untouchables, thus avoiding the problem of caste taboos which could have hampered the making of the film elsewhere.

The film produced the desired results abroad and some highly exaggerated reviews. It was screened in India but was criticised for showing Indians in a negative light. With its open contempt for India’s ‘pagan’ culture, the film does have several offensive portions, and today its main interest perhaps lies in the documentary style footage of agricultural practices in the district of Velantangal’, From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 47.
R.S. Prakash (Director, Cinematographer) – Show Filmography
Raghupati Surya Prakash (1901-56) Full name: Raghupati Surya Prakasha Rao. South Indian pioneer director and cinematographer. Worked in Tamil and Telugu. Born in Madras, son of Raghupathi Venkaiah, a wealthy Andhra businessman and photographer who started film exhibition in South India around 1910 and built the first cinema in Madras (1914). Educated by Christian missionaries in Vepery. Sent overseas to learn film-making, he went to London and joined Barkers Motion Photography in Ealing (1918), then went to Germany (where he saw Murnau at work) and to Hollywood. He travelled to various European countries, bringing a 35mm camera home to Madras (1920). The faulty camera ruined his first feature, Meenakshi Kalyanam. Set up Star of the East Studio, known as the Glass Studio, in Purasawalkam, Madras (1921), owned by his father R. Venkaiah, where he made Bhishma Pratigya. A. Narayanan, C. Pullaiah and other pioneers worked with him there. The films were distributed throughout the subcontinent with intertitles in various languages. Probably directed the Catholic propaganda film, The Catechist of Kil-Arni, produced and written by the Irish priest Thomas Gavin Duffy together with Bruce Gordon as a fund-raiser for the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Pondicherry. Operated as distributor (1924-5) and founded Guarantee Pics (1926) with backing from the merchant-landlord Moti Narayana Rao, but it also went bankrupt. Helped Narayanan to set up the famous General Pics (for which he made the hit Leila the Star of Mingrelia) and Srinivasa Cinetone Studio (1928-39). Started a laboratory (1930). Separated from Narayanan in the mid-30s and joined Sundaram Sound Studio. Worked with Govardhan Film Distributors, owning 3 cinemas in Madras. Shot, developed and edited all his early films. Known as a brilliant technician: in Draupadi Vastrapaharanam he managed to make one actor appear in 5 places within one image, apparently without resorting to optical effects. Freelance director from mid-30s. Influenced Y.V. Rao who acted in his Gajendra Moksham. Associated mostly with mythologicals, often shot at the Gingee Fort near Madras. His Tamil reformist social, Anadhai Penn, is an early instance of nationalist propaganda just before WW2. There is contradictory evidence about some of Prakash’s early Tamil sound films, which some sources ascribe to Prakash and others to his collaborator Narayanan; e.g. Draupadi Vastrapaharanam, Krishna Arjuna, Indrasabha and Rajasekharan. We have credited them to both film-makers. Also, the Telugu film Bondam Pelli (1940), made at the Madras United Artists and officially credited to H.M. Reddy, is at times credited to Prakash.

Producer: Thomas Gavan Duffy; Writer: Thomas Gavan Duffy, Bruce Gordon; Cinematographer: R.S. Prakash
Cast: Thomas Gavan Duffy

Country: India

Broken Hearts of Broadway 1923

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The story of a young actress trying to attain stardom on Broadway

Director: Irving Cummings
Writers: Louis D. Lighton, Hope Loring
Stars: Colleen Moore, Johnnie Walker, Alice Lake


Little Church Around the Corner 1923

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A wealthy minister in a mining town is something of an advocate for the miners’ safety, but he doesn’t really get involved in the issue. He is soon snapped out of that attitude, however, when his daughter is trapped underground in a mine explosion, along with the mine’s owner.


Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Olga Printzlau
Production company: Warner Bros.
Cinematography: Homer Scott

Stars: Claire Windsor, Kenneth Harlan, Hobart Bosworth


Where the North Begins 1923

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A German Shepherd puppy is “adopted” by a wolf pack in the snowy and frozen Great North and raised by them as one of their own. A few years later he comes upon a fur trapper and saves the man from certain death, and begins to feel a kinship with him that is stronger than the one he has with his adopted pack.


Director: Chester M. Franklin
Producer: Harry Rapf
Production company: Warner Bros.
Screenplay: Chester M. Franklin, Lee Duncan, Fred Myton, Raymond L. Schrock, Millard Webb

Stars: Rin Tin Tin, Claire Adams, Fred Huntley

Derby Day 1923

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The gang is selling lemonade and hot dogs across the street from the big racetrack, where Sammyand Farina‘s father is a jockey, but since Mary‘s
father owns a horse, she can let the rest of the gang in for free. The
kids have so much fun at the track that they decide to mastermind their
own races with anything they can find to ride, which turns out to be
such noble steeds as a mule, a cow, a horse, two dogs, and a goat.
Nothing is overlooked in their kiddie race from the brass band
to the betting window (odds up to 1000 to 1). Mary’s father even offers
a five dollar purse to the winner. The only thing they miss is the
willingness of their pets to be ridden, and the race turns into a
marathon run with Farina
leading the way on his tricycle and winning! Unfortunately, the police
come to break up the play, and everyone now has something to be running
from instead of toward.

Director: Robert F. McGowan
Film series: Our Gang

Production Co: Hal Roach Studios
Music composed by: Brian Benison
Screenplay: Hal Roach, H. M. Walker

Stars: Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon, Mickey Daniels

Zaza 1923

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Director: Allan Dwan
Screenplay: Albert S. Le Vino
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Producers: Allan Dwan, Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky

Production Co: Paramount Pictures

Stars: Gloria Swanson, H.B. Warner, Ferdinand Gottschalk

Scaramouche 1923

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A law student becomes an outlaw French revolutionary when he decides to avenge the unjust killing of his friend. To get close to the aristocrat who has killed his friend the student adopts the identity of Scaramouche the clown.

Director: Rex Ingram
Screenplay: Willis Goldbeck
Music composed by: William Axt

Stars: Lloyd Ingraham, Alice Terry, Ramon Novarro