Adapted from Graham Greene's novel, a priest is a fugitive from the police in a Latin American country that has outlawed religion.
A priest (Henry Fonda) tells an Indian woman (Dolores del Rio) that he is a fugitive and has come to his church. He rings the bell, and people come. He baptizes two children. James Calvert (Ward Bond) with a bag of money gets off a ship and defaces his wanted poster. The police lieutenant (Pedro Armendariz) fines criminals and lets them go. The police chief (Leo Carrillo) shows the lieutenant a photo of the priest. The lieutenant says that he will take hostages. The lieutenant leads men on horses, and they disrupt a town. The lieutenant finds the Indian woman in the church. People are gathered by a wall, and the lieutenant says that the priest is a traitor to the state. The police take a man who has a family. The priest tells the Indian woman that he will leave.
The priest walks with a boy. He asks for wine for the mass, and he is told that it is forbidden. The priest tries to buy wine. After being offered brandy, he gets a bottle of wine, but they drink it and stop him from leaving. The priest says he will drink brandy; he sees the wine bottle is empty and refuses to drink. Police arrest the priest and put him in jail.
In the morning the priest tries to stop the police from taking the hostage. An officer dismisses the priest, who runs out of town. The priest enters an inn. Calvert buys a bottle from the Indian woman and leaves. The Indian woman takes the priest into another room, and they hide him from the police. The Indian woman tells the priest to escape, and she dances for a policeman. The lieutenant comes in and stops her. The police leave and chase the priest. In a corn field Calvert shoots at the police until he is shot.
The priest finds sanctuary in another state. The priest tells the doctor (John Qualen) that he was the last priest in the country, but he was afraid and let people die for him. A man asks the priest to go to Calvert, who is dying. Calvert refuses to confess to the priest and dies. The lieutenant takes the priest and tells him he was convicted. The priest says the lieutenant believes in God, but the lieutenant denies it. The priest refuses brandy so that he can live his death. The Indian woman visits the priest. In the morning the priest goes with the police. The lieutenant hears the shots. As people pray, a new priest arrives.
John Ford directed this artistic and allegorical film
that reflects the conflict in Latin American societies between
the Catholic religion and revolutionary militarism.