Category Archives: Spiritual Movies

Resurrection (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can heal people.

Edna (Ellen Burstyn) manages to survive a car crash and briefly finds herself in the afterlife, but ends up coming back to this world along with an amazing power to heal sick people with the simple touch of her hands. This makes her a celebrity in the small Kansas community that she lives, but others question her ability and wonder, especially since she refuses to acknowledge religion, if it may have a satanic origin. Her newfound boyfriend Cal (Sam Shephard) thinks she may be the second coming and becomes determined to get her to admit this even if it’s through violent means.

The story is loosely based on the life of Rosalyn Bruyere a self-described clairvoyant and medical intuitive who also acted as a consultant to the film. Although initially conceived as a thriller the script by Lewis John Carlino instead takes a more spiritual route, which I found refreshing. I also enjoyed the way director Daniel Petrie captures the vast Texas landscape, which despite the setting being in Kansas, was fully shot inside the Lone Star state.

The scenes of the afterlife are interestingly captured, but I found it baffling why Edna would just write this off as being ‘weird dreams’ and not connect it to any religious connotations. Having these visions then get ‘interpreted’ by her Grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne) seemed heavy-handed as even if a person was not religious themselves they would still be able to connect-the-dots on their own without it having to be explained.

The healing scenes work off of a murky logic. Edna is told after the accident that she is paralyzed from the waist down due to a blood clot in her spine and yet after she learns of her healing ability she places her hands on her legs to help her walk again, but if the root cause of the issue is actually in the back shouldn’t that be where she places her hands instead? The scene where a woman (Madeline Sherwood) who suffers from 2 degenerative vertebrates in her back, but is able to stand-up  after she sees Edna doesn’t make sense either. Standing with missing vertebrae is liking walking without a knee or cartilage. It’s just not scientifically possible, so unless Edna’s healing can cause bone mass to grow where they isn’t any then I’m not sure how they her powers actually work.

I thought it was a bit loopy too that when Shepherd’s character gets injured in a bar fight his buddies take him to Edna’s isolated farmhouse miles away for her to stop the bleeding, but this is when Edna’s healing ability had not been fully established, before this she had only stopped the nose bleed of a young girl, which some might consider simply a fluke, so the most rational thing would’ve been to take him to a nearby hospital instead. The scene would’ve worked better had Edna been in the bar when Shepherd got injured and then jumped in to heal him after he got stabbed.

I didn’t feel Shepherd’s character had the right chemistry to make Edna want to have a relationship with him either. His beady-eyed stare made him look creepy and his father (Richard Hamilton) had accused Edna of being satanic, so why would she want anything to do with that family? He also came off too much like a nondescript redneck like all the other rednecks that made up that small town. Edna was clearly an outsider, so for her to be attracted to someone I would think that person would need to be an outsider as well.

I could never understand why Edna was so resistant to religion, or so completely confident that her powers weren’t heavenly sent. I got that her Christian zealot father (Roberts Blossom) may have turned her off from religion altogether and she didn’t want to deal with the pressures of being considered Christ-like, which is understandable, but I’m not sure Burstyn was the right choice to effectively pull off that type of character. I love Ellen and think she’s a great actress, but she’s also a very spiritual woman in real-life and it pretty much gets conveyed in her performance here whether that was the intention or not. An actress that displayed more of a cynical, snarky attitude, only to have her outlook change once these powers took hold would’ve created a more interesting and dramatic arch.

The third act has Edna going to Los Angeles where her powers are tested by researchers, but these scenes don’t have any satisfying conclusion to them, which I found frustrating. However, the scene that Edna has with her dying father I felt were strong and the best moment of the whole film.

The spiritual element gets left open to interpretation depending on one’s own perspective, which is good. It also has a really great, and to some degree, surprise ending, but I didn’t like the freeze-frame shots taken from the film shown over the closing credits, which cheapens it as this is typically something done on TV-shows and not movies.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Pyx (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious cult wants prostitute.

A woman is seen falling from a high-rise tenant building to her death and Police Sergeant Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is assigned to the case. When he inspects the body he finds that in her right hand she is holding a crucifix and in her left one is a small metal container known as a pyx. The victim is later identified as being Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) a heroin addict who works as a prostitute. The film then cuts back and forth between showing Elizabeth when she was still alive and the circumstances that lead to her death as well as Jim’s dogged search to find her killer, which may be connected to an underground religious cult.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same title by John Buell and shot entirely on-location in Montreal, has a nice eerie atmosphere.  The cutting back and forth between the two linear stories is interesting and this is the type of mystery that is complex, but not too much. There are just enough clues given to keep it intriguing without so much thrown in that it becomes convoluted. The slow pacing is okay because it keeps things on a realistic level and everything remains plausible and gritty.

Unfortunately the story has no payoff. The slow reveal of the religious cult offers nothing new or exciting and seems to be borrowing elements from other horror flicks that have dealt with the same theme. Except for a few brief moments the film is devoid of any action and the shootout on a yacht is edited in such a quick way that it’s hard to follow what happened. The overuse of nighttime shots gives the film a grainy appearance that looks more like it was a victim of a low budget and poor lighting.

The two leads give good performances and Plummer looks almost unrecognizable with a bowl haircut and appearing almost 20 years younger than he already was. The music was composed by Harry Freedman and star Black does the vocals, which is distinctive and gets the viewer into a spiritual mood, but there aren’t any frights and it’s hard to put this thing into any type of category as it’s really not a horror film at all.

Even as a standard mystery it’s only average and just enough to hold your interest. Ultimately it goes down a familiar path that we’ve seen too many times before and is devoid of any true shock or surprises.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 13, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Small town fights developer.

Milagro, New Mexico becomes the centerpiece to controversy when a rich developer (Richard Bradford) decides to build a resort, which cuts off the water supply to the rest of the struggling inhabitants of the nearby town. Joe Mandragon (Chick Vennera) is one of those farmers who is frustrated with the current situation and in a fit of rage kicks a water valve, which allows water to flow into his field where he soon begins to grow beans. Kyril Montana (Christopher Walken) is then sent in by the rich tycoons to ‘settle-the-score’, which only helps to make the town’s resistance to the development even stronger.

The film is based on the 1974 novel by John Nichols and was directed by Robert Redford eight years after he helmed his first feature the very successful Ordinary People. From a completely technical standpoint the film shines in all areas as it delightfully mixes whimsical comedy with harsh real-world issues and manages to keep the tone consistent throughout. My favorite element was the difficulty the activists had in getting the townspeople  ‘on-the-same-page’ and organized to fight their mutual enemy, which illustrated one of the biggest challenges to fighting for social change where just trying to convince and mobilize others is sometimes the toughest part.

John Heard has the film’s best character arch playing a former political activist who dropped out of trying to change-the-world years ago, but after sufficient prodding finally gets back to his old form in one very fiery and memorable moment. Walken is quite good in reverse playing a man sent to initially squash the rebellion only to eventually soften a bit (just a bit) on his stance. Carlos Riquelme is delightful as the elderly Amarante who despite being weak with age fights-the-good-fight including a hilarious scene where he precariously tries to drive a bulldozer.

I wasn’t quite as crazy about Daniel Stern’s inclusion. He plays his part well and the character is likable, but I didn’t understand the need for him in the story. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t trust that the Hispanic cast alone could carry it and a white guy needed to be added in in order to usher in a more mainstream demographic. Vennera is weak only because he constantly reminded me of Bruno Kirby Jr. and could’ve easily passed off as his twin in both his looks and voice.

The only argument I would have against the film, which is otherwise a charmer and does not in any way deserve the outrageous R-rating that it was given, is the addition of Robert Carricart as the Coyote Angel that only Riquelme’s character can see. To an extent this cheapens the struggles that the townspeople go through because it gives what is otherwise a serious problem too much of the fable-like treatment. I would’ve preferred a grittier approach focusing solely on the efforts of the people to create the change, which would’ve left a stronger emotional impact and avoided telegraphing the idea that it was all going to work-out due to this extra magical force.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Redford

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Last Wave (1977)

last wave 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suffering from strange premonitions.

David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is a lawyer working in Sydney, Australia who is hired to defend some aborigines that have been accused of murder. David’s specialty is taxation law and he feels overwhelmed in this new role, but still takes it on with an earnest dedication, but in the process begins to experience strange dreams and even sees one of his clients, Chris (David Gulpilil), in them. This coincides with weird weather events that begin occurring all over the continent including the phenomena of black rain. David can’t help but feel that somehow this is all connected and after doing extensive research finds that tribal aborigines have a belief system involving what they call dreamtime in which spirits from another world communicate with us through our dreams and David has been the chosen recipient due to his lifelong ability to dream of events in his sleep that eventually occur later in real-life.

The film, which is directed by the gifted Peter Weir, has terrific imagery that almost makes-up for its other shortcomings. There have been a lot of movies that have tried to create creepy nightmare segments, but the ones here work much better than most and gave this viewer an effectively spooking feeling. The silhouette of the aborigines in the pouring rain, the shots of a large seismic wave and use of tribal music all get used to ultimate effect. Even the rain storms become fascinating to watch. None of them were actual ones, but instead large firehoses were employed along with giant fans to create a sort-of surreal stormy effect that actually looked better than the real thing.

The story though borders on being convoluted and would’ve worked better had the movie been given a longer runtime. The first hour is spent with the viewer seeing a lot of strange events that make no sense and are given no explanation. It is only after about an hour in that some expert, who’s given no formal distinction to what their line of study is or degree, explains to David the importance that dreams have to the aborigine culture, which helps tie things together, but this should’ve occurred earlier as some viewers will probably find it too confusing and off-putting otherwise.

Chamberlain is his usual bland self, but okay in this type of role as it doesn’t demand anyone who is colorful. The character though is supposed to be this very pragmatic individual, but he seemed to buy into the mystical qualities of the aborigine belief system much too quickly. A person with a practical approach to life would most likely be quite cynical to the events as they first occurred and even reluctant to base any value on his own nightmares, at least initially.

The ending is a major letdown. For one thing we have the main character inside an ancient sacred site beneath a sewer system where he suddenly has to start ‘thinking out loud’ by explaining what he is seeing on the drawings along the wall even though the viewer could’ve figured this out for themselves without the ‘narration’. The ambiguous conclusion is frustrating and makes sitting through the rest of it feel like a big waste of time.

last wave 1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD (Criterion), Blu-ray (Reg. B), Amazon Instant Video

Another Chance (1989)

another chance 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jaded playboy seeks redemption.

John Ripley (Bruce Greenwood) enjoys trying to bed every attractive woman that comes along. He even has his dog Rocky trained to bite on their purses and lead them over to him wherever he may be sitting. He is a big star on the daytime soaps and uses this position to take advantage of every young, nubile starlet willing to go to have sex with an established actor if it can in some way help boost their career. Then he meets the beautiful Jackie (Vanessa Angel) and starts to have strong feelings for her, but she catches him with another woman and it’s all over. He tries to win her back, but in the process loses his job and home. While working a part-time gig at a look-a-like show he gets into an ugly confrontation with a psychotic man resembling Humphrey Bogart (Robert Sacchi) who pulls out a gun and shoots him on the spot. John then finds out that he has been banished to hell, but pleads for one more shot at redemption, which he is given, but only if he can win back Jackie’s heart.

The film, which was written and directed by B-actor Jesse Vint, certainly has a crazy wide open storyline that seems to want to mix in the mindset of today’s modern world with that of spiritual one, which doesn’t work at all. Initially I thought the heaven and hell thing was thrown in simply as a plot device, but the more it continued the more I became convinced that this movie was intended to be religious one even though it gets enveloped inside the jaded world of modern day Hollywood, which just makes it all the more loopy.

In more competent hands this might’ve worked as an interesting curio, but the script needed to be better focused and the editing much tighter. The narrative is too heavy-handed to take seriously and everything gets photographed in a flat sort of way making the whole thing seem on par to a TV-movie instead of a theatrical one.

Greenwood gives an engaging performance and helps make a potentially unlikable character more tolerable. Angel is good too and it’s too bad she couldn’t have been in more scenes. The supporting female cast is overall quite attractive, but they’re all made to dress and act like bimbos. Anne Ramsey is on-hand for a brief bit as John’s crabby landlady and Allan Rich has a supporting role as a sleazy agent, but overall the one thing I liked most about the movie was Rocky the dog and that’s about it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jesse Vint

Studio: Moviestore Entertainment

Available: VHS

Brother John (1971)

brother john 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Is an apocalypse coming?

Upon the death of his sister, John Kane (Sidney Poitier) returns to his hometown in Alabama to attend her funeral, but the town’s mayor (Bradford Dillman) and sheriff (Ramon Bieri) think he is an outside union agitator there to stir up trouble with the local factory. Doc Thomas (Will Geer) is an old man who’s been in the town his whole life and knows better. He recognizes that John has a special gift of some kind and can see into the future, but what John proclaims is not good as he states that an end of the world is coming and the human race will have to justify their existence to the almighty.

This film, which was written by Ernest Kinoy and directed by James Goldstone, is unique in that it never reveals too much and keeps the viewer in a shroud of mystery the whole time. We’re given certain hints that John may hold a special power, but never any explanation, which in some films could prove frustrating, but here it makes it intriguing and unusual. Everything is given the low-key treatment including a memorable scene where a racist police officer (Warren J. Kemmerling) invades an African American home bent on teaching John ‘a lesson’ by taking him into the basement only to get a surprise whooping of his own when John proves to be far superior.

Poitier is billed as the star, but he seems constrained in a part that allows for very little emotion. Geer is the one that gives the film its biggest impact particularly with the conversation that he has with Poitier while sitting in a jail cell at the end. I also got a kick out of the fact that he was able in a passing conversation to mention Frankfort, Indiana which was the town that he had been born and raised in, in real-life. Bieri is also quite good as the town’s corrupt sheriff who’s racist on one end, but then when things get out-of-control he then ‘negotiates’ with the town’s black pastor (P. Jay Sidney) to see if they can work together to quell the unrest.

Although the setting is supposedly Alabama it was actually filmed in the town of Marysville, California and for the most part it’s successfully able to camouflage it, but not quite. The ending like the rest of the film is vague and answers little of the questions that the plot puts forth, which may be a turn-off to some, but I enjoyed it. In an era where so many other films were intent on making statements and broad characterizations this one pulled back and much like with religion and faith kept things at an elusive level, which gives it a more sophisticated flair.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated GP

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Holy Mountain (1973)

holy mountain 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They search for immortality.

In what seems like a sort-of sequel to Jodorowsky’s cult hit El Topo this film deals with the same type of Christ-like figure and religious metaphor’s. The story centers on a man known as The Thief (Horacio Salinas) who meets up with an alchemist (Alexander Jodorowsky) who introduces him to seven people representing the planets of the solar system as well as the sins of greed, lust and power. The group is instructed to leave their worldly possessions behind as well as their individual identities so that they can become one while they trek up the treacherous terrain of the Holy Mountain where they hope to acquire immortality.

In a lot of ways this film is superior to El Topo simply because it has a bigger budget and more slickly handled. The background sets are dazzling and at some points even amazing. On a purely visual level this film borders on being brilliant and could be enjoyed simply on that note alone. I also really enjoyed the humor and satire. The war manufacturer that makes psychedelic ammunitions to appease the younger generation is great as is the naked woman implanting a giant phallic object into a robotic machine in order to allow it to obtain an orgasm and given birth to a baby robot.

Jodorowsky’s excessive use of shock elements is here as well and for some it becomes the main point of watching it. Within the first 30 minutes alone you’ll see two beautiful women being stripped naked and having their heads shaved. An old man taking his glass eye out and placing it in the hands of a young girl and a young boy being castrated and then putting his testicles into a glass jar, which he places on a shelf lined with other glass jars filled with other testicles. Later on there’s even a scene showing a cow mating with another and a shot of a naked elderly man breast feeding another man. By the end it all starts to get rather mind numbing, but on a purely exploitative level it’s kind of fun because it’s something that most likely could never be filmed today and thus cementing why 70’s cinema is so special and in many ways much more interesting and outrageous than the stuff coming out today.

In the end though it comes off like overkill with a message that gets lost amidst all of the shock elements. It also seems quite contradictory as supposedly this is a spiritual film, but with so much sex and gore it becomes more like a pornographic one and for the most part that’s what many viewers will take from it, which ultimately makes this heavy-handed, experimental production a failed effort.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Studio: ABKCO

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Runner Stumbles (1979)

the runner stumbles 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest accused of murder.

Based on actual events the setting is 1911 in a northern Michigan town where Father Brian Rivard (Dick Van Dyke) presides over a small Catholic parish. He feels frustrated at being stuck in such a depressed town where many of the residents are out of work. In comes Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan) to help run the school and the Father immediately takes a liking to her youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas, but gossip and rumors soon abound when it is found that they are spending too much time together and possibly becoming intimate. When the Sister is found murdered it is the Father who is accused and must fight for his life while straddled with an attorney (Beau Bridges) who seems glib and detached.

One of the biggest problems with the film is the miscasting of Van Dyke in the lead. His performance is stiff, wooden and affected. The chemistry between the two stars is non-existent making the romantic angle seem completely unbelievable. The film would have been better served had a younger man that was more Quinlan’s age and trained in method acting been cast in the part.

Quinlan is excellent in her role, but her efforts become lost as they bounce off Van Dyke’s almost corpse-like presence. Maureen Stapleton adds some excellent support and it’s great to see Ray Bolger in his final film role as the intrusive Monsignor. Bridges is also great as the lawyer and the one thing that livens the film up a little. Had his court scenes been more extended it would have helped the picture immensely.

Director Stanley Kramer, whose last film this was, seems to have lost touch with the modern movie goer. The presentation is stagy and the overly melodic soundtrack does not fit the mood and gets overplayed almost like a radio going on in the background that somebody forgot to turn off. The conversations revolving around the predictably stifling atmosphere of the era add little interest and go on too long as do the debates between giving in to human desires versus religious commitments. The surprise ending hardly makes up for a film that is slow and boring and ultimately making it as stale and stagnant as the small town it tries to portray.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS