Editor's note: The 2003 film Luther releases to video today. Since Christianity Today magazine already reviewed the film when it hit theaters, we asked Peter Chattaway to compare and contrast three different film versions—from 1953, 1973 and 2003—about the famous Reformer.

It can be very fascinating to see how filmmakers approach the key people and moments of the past—especially when several films are made about the same historical subjects, yet portray those subjects in such vastly different ways. When the films in question are produced decades apart from one another, they become documents not only of the historical eras they explore, but of the times in which they were made. Three films about Martin Luther produced over the past half-century offer an intriguing case in point.

Martin Luther(1953)
directed by Irving Pichel

This film, released last year in a 50th-anniversary DVD with a few bonus features, was produced by American Lutherans at the dawn of the Eisenhower era, at a time when films such as The Ten Commandments and A Man Called Peter reflected the heightened religiosity of the United States, and at a time when audiences were willing to be educated about the past, sometimes through films that adopted fairly didactic forms.

To put Luther's story into a broader and perhaps more familiar historical perspective, the film packs in as many references as possible to contemporary persons and events, such as Columbus's recent discovery of America, the painters Michelangelo and Raphael, the martyrdom of Jan Hus a century earlier (as well as the martyrdoms of Wycliffe and others), and the role that Philip Melanchthon played in developing early Lutheran theology.

The film was directed by Irving Pichel, whose next ...

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