Sunday, October 1, 2023

Captain Clegg aka Night Creatures

I wish I had known about this film when I was still writing here regularly. I had Theme Months and I very much wanted to do Pirate Film Month.  Probably in September, which has Talk Like a Pirate Day. But I just couldn’t find enough. I found a few films with scalawags and clergy, but it tended just to be pastoral cameos. Such as the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) in The Princess Bride who performs the wedding ceremony. But he isn’t quite the focal point of the film.

If I had only known about this film, Captain Clegg aka Night Creatures. Captain Clegg was a pirate captain who was captured and hanged. But not really. A noose was put around his neck and the trap door opened, but the executioner got soft and cut him down, leaving only scars but the neck wasn’t broken. And Clegg takes on a new persona, Parson Blyss in the village of Dymchurch on the Romney Marsh.

Though in ministry, he hasn’t given up on the business of smuggling. Now using the funds to help the poor and oppressed in Dymchuch. So he puts on his clerical collar to preach and lead hymns on Sunday mornings and dawns a skeleton costume to do his skullduggery at night. But the British Navy eventually begins to suspect the good reverend and things go south for him and his comrades.

Did I mention Clegg/Blyss is played by one of Hammer Studios’ horror stars, Peter Cushing? Christopher Lee is not to be found, but Oliver Reed is one of Cleggs’ stalwarts, Harry Cobtree. As part of their plan of deception, Cobtree dresses like a scarecrow. Which might make you think this sounds much like Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow, but actually that film came out a year later.

But how is Dr. Blyss as a pastor? He seems to fill his sanctuary quite well and people sing along with the hymns quite hardily. We see him perform a wedding ceremony, but it’s not clear if he does so under his clerical or nautical authority.

The real question is whether the works he does for the poor have a little less eternal value since he comes by the finances through illegal means. I’m afraid that really isn’t okay. So, if I was using my old Movie Churches Steeple Ratings, he would rate a One Steeple Ministry.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Gideon's Day (1958)


It’s a cool thing when you hear about a film for the first time, a film that’s decades old and you’ve never heard of and you find you can watch it right away. This happened recently when I found a collection of John Ford films from Columbia Studios at the library. There were five films, four of which I’d at least heard of and one I’d seen. But a fifth that was completely new to me.

I learned in Leonard Maltin’s introduction the reason I’d never heard of the film. It had been made in England based on a British bestseller. Ford had read the book and wanted to make the film. But when the film was brought to the United States, the title was changed, and a good deal of footage was hacked away. Ford wasn’t pleased with Columbia’s state-side cut of the film and did nothing to help promote the film’s release. It was released as the lower half of a double bill and was soon forgotten. Until Turner Classic Movies eventually debuted the original cut of the film on their channel and released this DVD in this collection of the master director’s work.

Gideon’s Day (known in the U.K. as Gideon of Scotland Yard) is the story of a policeman, Chief Inspector George Gideon (Jack Hawkins), but I’m not interested in writing about him. Of course, he’s the person John Ford wanted to make a film about. But I’ve been writing about clergy in movies for so long, it’s Sissy Small that caught my eye.

In the film, Gideon relies on information from a criminal informant, Herbert “Birdie” Sparrow (Cyril Cusack.) When looking for Birdie, Gideon learns that his informant is working at St. Ethelbergs Church. The church had asked the police for a recommendation for a caretaker, looking for the man “who was most in need of reforming.”

A pastor at the church is the Reverend Julian Small (Jack Watling.) We see the young boys of the neighborhood mocking the minister from afar, calling him “Sissy” Small and writing that name on the pavement. He complains to Miss Courtney (Doreen Madden), Vicar’s daughter, “I’m a hopeless, pitiful failure. The children laugh at me. I hope to gain their respect but I’m just a figure of fun.”

Miss Courtney tells him he doesn’t have to put up with that. All he has to do is tell the children about his military history, that he was a commando with a daring reputation. Small refuses, saying he won’t use that blood-soaked history as a way to promote himself.

I found this interesting, because this is often a quandary for pastors. How much of your personal life should you share with your congregation? If you look at the Apostle Paul, he certainly shared his past (perhaps to the point of “oversharing” at times.) He talked about his great religious achievements as a Pharisee and his great suffering as an Apostle.

Still, one can’t help admiring Small’s refusal to use his war history as an easy fix.

Gideon comes to the church to see Birdie, who scolds the policeman for lighting up a cigarette in the church. The Vicar Courtney (Henry Longhurst) asks Gideon if he’s a friend of Birdie’s or a fan of Gothic architecture.

Toward the end of the film, bad men come to the church, looking for Birdie the Informant. Rev. Small confronts the thugs, beating up the two men with knives in hand-to-hand combat, just before two policemen arrive at the church. Small insists the police officers remove their hats in church.

The boys of the neighborhood learn of the Rev. Small’s latest exploits and he becomes their hero. As the neighborhood kids gather in the church, Small calls out, “Downstairs, boys, we’re all going to have some cake!”

This film is full of quirky characters, each given their moment to shine. But perhaps none shines brighter than the Reverend Small. (Who earns his Four Steeple Rating.)

Sunday, May 28, 2023

It Was Playing in a Theater Near Me... Will It Play in a Theater Near You?

Oh Me of Little Faith

It has never been easier to make a film. But getting people to know about your film is a good deal more difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, Mindy and I went to a local theater to see a free film. Not only the film was free – they offered free popcorn as well. 

Mindy had come across an invitation to the premiere screening of Oh Me of Little Faith, a documentary by Emma Yeager – and I’m always happy to go to the show. The film is about, well, Emma Yeager. It documents a miracle in her life.

A few years ago, Emma was pregnant with unexpected and unusual medical complications that led to a cesarean birth. She was quite weak for days afterward, though her doctors had expected her to improve rapidly after her son’s birth. Among other unanticipated difficulties, she was unable to walk. In spite of months of physical therapy and hard work on her part, she was eventually told that she should not expect to walk again. 

Shortly after that, Emma was part of the worship team as she and friends attended a women’s retreat with their church.  During a worship service, after a time of prayer, the worship leader asked Emma to stand up and walk. And she did.

I’m sorry, I should have warned you. SPOILERS. 

The film is well crafted, keeping an element of suspense even though the subject of the film greeted guests in the lobby and welcomed the audience before the movie began. Emma interviewed family, friends, her physical therapist, and her pastor. She is credited as writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and, I suppose, star (if documentaries have stars). Interviewing well is not a common skill, but it’s definitely one of the chief skills Yeager brings to the project.

I believe it’s important in a world full of skeptics, it is a worthy thing to present credible testimony that shows there is a God, and He is at work in the world. Sure, people can come up with alternate explanations for Yeager’s healing, but her presentation makes it difficult to dismiss the possibility of the supernatural out of hand.

But as I mentioned at the beginning, once a film is made, how does the filmmaker get the movie out in the world?

There are a number of sites where one can release a film, but how will anyone ever hear of it?

Yeager is trying to figure that out. Drawing from her church, the theater was full that Saturday morning of the screening. We hadn’t known Emma before that morning but learned about it through a local news site. We’re following her on social media now, and we’ve learned about another local screening here in West Seattle later this month (Tickets are available through Eventbrite). She and her team of supporters are researching festivals.

The new dream of filmmakers is Netflix. I wish her well. (I might even resubscribe to the service if they picked up Oh Me of Little Faith – if only for a month.)

Saturday, March 4, 2023

In Theaters Now: Jesus Revolution


Age is a funny thing in movies; actors rarely seem to play their actual age. In the new Christian film, Jesus Revolution, Kelsey Grammer plays real-life pastor Chuck Smith who founded Calvary Chapel as part of the late-1960s Jesus Movement. But Smith was in his early 40s when the events of the film took place while the famed portrayer of Frasier Crane is in his late 60s.

Joel Courney plays a high school Christian convert in the film, though he’s been eligible to serve in the U.S. Congress for a couple of years now. But the most fun piece of casting is Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee (and yes, that was the name of the hippie turned pastor - Frisbee.) What makes it fun is that everyone comments on Frisbee looking like Jesus. He says, “There’s no one I’d rather resemble.” Roumie is best known for playing Jesus in the web series, The Chosen.

There are a few other things that don’t exactly exemplify authenticity. Though the events in the story take place in Southern California, Alabama plays the role not terribly convincingly. And I’m not sure who else was bothered by this, but a young woman in the film is holding “The Way”, a popular paraphrase of the Bible. Which actually came out in 1972.

But the film does get something very important right. The feeling of revival; the excitement and passion of discovering that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and means something in the present age. I was a kid at that time, but I know people who lived through these times and they tell me they got this right. There are young people who rejected the values of their parents and looked for meaning in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And didn’t find it. And then found meaning in Jesus.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn there is a discrepancy between the views of the critics and the attending audiences. At Rotten Tomatoes, the critics gave a rotten rating of 58%, while the audience raved with a 99% positive rating. I would rarely trust either poll, but I found this critic’s quote quite interesting, “A gently told story preaching to the converts, assuming that evangelical

Christianity is unassailably the answer without considering this particular form of worship may not be the answer for all.” That was the opinion of Nell Minow of

Yes, why would these unenlightened rubes not realize that there’s more to this world than their old-fashioned faith? But they followed a leader who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Rather narrow-minded, that fellow was.

And Chuck Smith said, “You have only one life and it will soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last.” Again, rigid theology, that. As Andre Crouch sang back in the day, “Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him, there’s no other, Jesus is the way.” Some of us still believe this. Maybe you should stick to reviewing films instead of religions, Nell.

Anyhoo, it is a rather corny film. But you might learn a little about an interesting time that has echoes in what is taking place at Asbury University today. And I’d give the church, Calvary Chapel, as presented in the film, our highest rating of Four Steeples.