Friday, July 22, 2016

Sports Churches -- Rolling Home (1946)

What? You’ve never heard of Rolling Home? According to the opening credits, it’s “a simple story of a man, a horse, and a boy.” Still doesn’t ring a bell? You’re not alone. I don’t think this choice offering on Amazon Instant Prime has come to the attention of very many people at all for the last eight decades or so, if it even did back then.

So why are we at Movie Churches watching it? Because this film had some of the most innovative ideas for church fundraising ever purposed.

As we’ve seen before, throughout much of the twentieth century (before churches on the screen became the home of repression and homicidal clergy), the primary mission of churches in films seemed to be raising enough money that they didn’t go under. Rolling Home is certainly not an exception to that rule. The Reverend David Owens pastors Winona Community Church which is, not surprisingly in a film of this period, on the brink of bankruptcy.

Fortunately, almost everyone in the church seems to have the same idea about how sufficient funds can be raised. Early in the film, we see the pastor talking with a young woman, Pamela Crawford, and it’s apparent they are fond of each other. But when talk gets around (as it always does in this community) to the church’s financial woes, Pam suggests the best way to deal with the financial problem would be for the Pastor to marry her sister-in-law, the Widow Crawford. The discussion becomes awkward, to say the least.

Later, the pastor goes to a meeting of the church trustees to discuss the financial situation of the church, where he mentions that members of the congregation live in nice houses and seem to be prospering, and yet they aren’t giving enough to the church to keep it going. (This might be a good time for Pastor Owens to cite Haggai 1:4: “Is it time for you to be living in paneled houses while this house [the Temple] lies in ruin?” We never do hear Pastor Owens cite Scripture anywhere in the film.) The chairman of the trustees brushes the suggestion aside that the solution to all their troubles would be for Pastor Owens to marry the Widow Crawford.

The Widow Crawford is not too subtle about suggesting this plan as well. We are treated to an odd scene of Pastor Owens wearing his suit and collar talking to the Widow Crawford as she swims laps in her pool. She gets out of the pool, showing her attractive figure, and the Rev hands her a towel as they discuss (what else is there to discuss?) the financial situation of the church. She indicates that matrimony would be a dandy path to solvency for the church.

When it comes right down to it, everyone is suggesting that Pastor Owens should be a gigolo to support his calling. This is all made a bit more bizarre by the fact Russell Hayden, the actor playing the role of Pastor Owens, is a rather plain man who looks too old for the widow, let alone for Pam. But he holds fast against the temptation of a pretty young woman citing “an ideal of marriage” which won’t allow him to go against his conscience. Notably, he does not cite Scripture to uphold his ideal because Scripture often has a much more practical picture of marriage. Arranged marriages for financial and political purposes are common in Scripture, but that doesn’t suit Hollywood’s ideals for marriage.

Ultimately, Owens finds a moral solution to the church’s financial problems when a little boy enters a stolen horse in a race (and it is a wholesome trotting race, one where they do NOT sit down right on the horse). The pastor has to slug the man who tries to recover the horse right before the race, and he takes the place of the drunken jockey, but all’s well in the end.

We have to take the word of congregants that Pastor Owens is a good, if unconventional, preacher, because we never hear him preach. We hear him say a few kind words at a funeral where -- surprisingly -- “Ave Maria” is sung at a Protestant service.

Some good came of the film: it gave Harry Carey Jr, who had just returned from World War II, his first adult role (which led to his long-lasting career as a character actor). The story credit for the film goes to William Berke, who also produced and directed the film. (Berke also directed Ding Dong Williams, That’s My Baby!, and Pardon My Gun, should you wish to research more of his oeuvre.)

Since the building they’re constantly talking about saving has a nice belfry, I’m giving Winona Community Church Two Steeples.

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