The main purpose of these posts is to examine the image of the church as presented in movies. There are plenty of people in our culture who have little experience with real churches. If people see positive images of the church and clergy in movies, they might be more likely to go to a real church, and if they see negative images of the church and clergy in movies they might be less likely to go to a church. A preacher that is a perverse killer I'm putting in the category of a negative image. Not only is Powell a killer (which again, is bad enough), but he really has a poor understanding of women and sexuality.
Early in the film we see Powell (Robert Mitchum) driving away from one of his victims, praying in his car. "Well, Lord, how many widows has it been? Six? Twelve? You send me money to go forth to preach your Word. Widows with their money in the sugar bowl. Not, Lord, that you mind the killings, your book is full of killings. But there are things you hate, Lord, perfume smelling things, lacy things with curly hair." He thinks God hates women and sex.
When he weds his next widow, he refuses to consummate the marriage saying, "a woman's body is for the making of children, not the lust of man." He doesn't seem familiar with Paul's teaching in First Corinthians that a man's body belongs to his wife and a woman's body belongs to her husband.
We do get to see one of his revival meetings, where he has his new wife debase herself, testifying about her sinfulness. There is nothing inspiring or encouraging about his preaching. And they use torches for light inside a tent, which one would think does not meet with OSHA regulations.
Is there anything good to be said about him? Well, he did tattoo the word, "HATE" on one hand and "LOVE" on the other to illustrate the battle of good and evil. Got to love the comittment to visual illustrations.
Harry Powell was an early example of what has become a cliché in films: the preacher as deranged killer. Since his appearance in this classic tale of terror, one would think seminaries offered courses in "Repressed Sexuality 101" and "Disposing of the Corpses of Your Victims 410," considering the sheer numbers of crazed clergy.
So if all we had to go by is the behavior, teaching, and ministry of Harry Powell, his ministry gets 1 steeple.
But fortunately, his isn't the only church representative presented in the film.
The children of Powell's final victim find themselves running from the killer. They find help in the home of Mrs. Cooper, a widow who takes in orphans. Rachel Cooper is played by silent movie star Lillian Gish. She's a Sunday School teacher who not only cares for her students in class, but also takes kids into her home. She knows the Scripture well, telling her kids about Moses and Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.
And did I mention she knows how to handle a rifle? This is something we need more of: Sunday School Teachers as Action Heroes. She definitely earns her church three steeples. We could use more Mrs. Coopers in the movies and real life.