Friday, January 5, 2018

Robert Mitchum Month: Mister Moses

Mister Moses (1965)
Our preference is to see films in the most optimal of conditions. Ideally, that’s in the way movies were made to be seen: in a movie theater with excellent projection and sound. We do that on occasion, as we did last month when we watched Lady Bird. If that’s not possible (and it usually isn’t), we stream a film from one of the many services available (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) or we get a DVD (Redbox, the public library, or our personal library). Sometimes, sadly, viewing conditions are even less optimal.

Which is how we watched Mister Moses.The film wasn’t available on any of the conventional streaming services. Netflix DVDs and the public library didn’t have the DVD. I could have bought a DVD from online second hand dealers, but the best price was $20. I ended up watching it on Youtube.

Someone had taped a screening of Mister Moses from an independent station in Los Angeles. The station’s logo appears frequently in one corner of the screen; the commercials were edited out (but it’s quite clear where they’d been); and some of the content seems to have been edited out as well (the film on YouTube is shorter than sources say it should be). We work with the version of Mister Moses we have (which is also the version available to you).

But really, during Robert Mitchum month, this isn’t a film we want to miss. Mitchum plays a character named “Moses” who acts as a Moses, for crying out loud!

This 1965 film, directed by Robert Neame (Scrooge, The Poseidon Adventure), tells the story of an African tribe whose homeland is about to be wiped out by a flood waters created by a new dam. A bureaucrat offered to bring an airplane and fly the people to their new home, which meant leaving their livestock behind. The tribe objected.

The tribe is served by a missionary, Rev. Anderson (Alexander Knox), whose daughter is engaged to Robert, the bureaucrat. Robert asked to speak to the chief, but Rev. Anderson said,“The chief and I have good talks.” He obviously knows the language and values the people’s culture, in contrast with government officials who see the people as a barrier to progress and as a problem to be dealt with.

Meanwhile, a confidence man named Mister Moses (Robert Mitchum) arrives; he’s “persuaded” (or blackmailed) by the missionary’s daughter into leading the tribe and their animals to their new homeland. The daughter, Julie, had deduced that Moses has criminal past.

In church, Rev. Anderson told the people the story of Noah, but the chief objected that the people need instead to follow the example of the story of Moses. The chief and the people of the tribe seem to know Bible stories well, which speaks well of Rev. Anderson’s service with them. We see a worship service where people sing “Hark the Herald” in their own language (maybe Swahili? Earlier, someone said, “Jambo.”) Everyone seems to participate.

The Reverend treats the people of the tribe with respect, and he also treats Moses with respect, though the man quite obviously has an unsavory past as a patent medicine salesman. (He is also a diamond smuggler, but that is not common knowledge.) That balance of trusting God and respecting people’s choices proves quite effective in Rev. Anderson’s ministry. In the end, Moses does lead the people (and their animals) to the promised land.

In many contemporary films and literature, missionaries are presented as condescending know-it-alls who believe they are superior to the people they are sent to serve. In Mister Moses, the Reverend Anderson is a true servant, humbly bringing the Word of God. He earns a Movie Churches rating of Four Steeples.

No comments:

Post a Comment