PZ’s Guide to Turner Classic Movies’ “In The Ministry” Night

Today, Maundy Thursday 2015, is “In the Ministry” night on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It’s […]

Mockingbird / 4.1.15

Today, Maundy Thursday 2015, is “In the Ministry” night on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It’s an incredible opportunity for us all. What TCM has scheduled is a feast of Hollywood fare that show Protestant ministers in a positive light. These are some of my favorite films ever, and they tend these days to get the short end.

Here are a few thoughts concerning Turner’s offerings tonight, by way of description, and I hope you’ll be able to watch them, or Tivo them. I realize it’s “Tenebrae” night, and Foot-Washing Night; but the service is usually over by 9, which will get you home by 10 for One Man’s Way. And if you miss One Foot in Heaven, it’s not the end of the world. Except maybe you’ll still be home in time to watch the conclusion of , in which the lovely, finally triumphant Methodist minister plays a certain hymn on the new carillon of his church.

The Sandpiper is one of the best ever, notwithstanding its core story, which still redeems the Episcopal minister, by the way. It has a remarkable scene in which Richard Burton, playing the lead character, explains to a secular not-nice person why Episcopal ministers should be called ‘Mr.’ Elizabeth Taylor is in that scene, too. The Sandpiper you could almost title “The World of James Gould Cozzens Meets the World of Jack Kerouac”. Literally. For the Episcopal minister, played by Richard Burton, is very “blue” and very sincere and very kind, and very much a quiet preppy, as is his wife, played by Eva Marie Saint; while the third party, played by Elizabeth Taylor, lives at Big Sur and spends time at Kerouac’s favorite restaurant there. Moreover, Charles Bronson, I think, plays a ‘Jack Kerouac’ type, or it may be another actor. Maybe a better way to put it would be: “By Love Possessed Meets Big Sur“. It’s really a wonderful, odd movie. Vincente Minnelli directed it. (I met his daughter Liza at a Baptism in Scarborough. She was godmother to the child.)

One Foot in Heaven is also wonderful! Frederic March plays a Methodist minister in a thankless “cure” who ends up winning over the whole town! The movie is a chain of once-off pastoral conversations and encounters, all of which enact elements of the Gospel, and all of which come back at the end for a conclusion of quite overwhelming power. I love the scene when the minister decides not to accept a call to a wealthy parish. “The Church’s One Foundation” will never be the same for you again! (Cozzens also used that endless hymn in a scene of extraordinary power, the dramatic climax of By Love Possessed.) One Foot in Heaven was The Rev. Fred Barbee’s favorite movie, RiP. Oh, and there’s a great scene near the beginning in which the Frederic March character, having just been converted, explains why he doesn’t think he’ll become an Episcopal minister. It’s not unloving and it’s quite funny.

Stars in My Crown is fantastic. The end is second to none; and I think the “vigil” over the sick person, and the conversations with the doctor, are beautifully and reverently portrayed. You want to know something?: Jacques Tourneur, who directed basically everything, said that Stars in My Crown was his favorite movie.

One Man’s Way (1964). This stars Don Murray, who was also in Bus Stop and — wouldn’t you know — The Viking Queen by Hammer Studios, as Norman Vincent Peale. It also stars the wonderful Diana Hyland, who plays the wife of NVP. I have never seen it, and I realize that Mockingbird readers will not for the most part want to be keen on Peale. But he did a lot of good in his day. And his church is still going in NYC. One Man’s Way, which I have never seen but have heard is good, has a surprising and unusual finale. Apparently, it is most encouraging. So I’m kind of dying to see One Man’s Way.

The only one of these that I don’t know well is The Little Minister, with John Beale, who much later played the sympathetic but troubled — to put it mildly –doctor in Blood of the Vampire. I saw it 55 years ago and didn’t get it at all. But I was only nine. A lot of people like The Little Minister. Katherine Hepburn’s in it, and I seem to remember a lot of folderol about a horse or pony. On the other hand, it is one of the only major movies to have a kind Church of Scotland parish minister as the lead character. (What is the “other” one? Hint: Hammer Horror. Tho’ it’s not a lead role. It’s a good role, though.) Better stop there.


P.S. OK, OK, if Mbird readers are really dying to know what other masterpiece of world cinema depicts a Church of Scotland parish minister as a good character, well, I’ll say it. Right here and now. It’s X-The Unknown, in which the malignant blob that rolls over the Scottish countryside after hapless British Army demolition “experts” release it from the earth’s core, looks like it’s going to envelop a little child. And guess what, a wonderful Church of Scotland minister, properly attired, I might add, darts out from his kirk, in which the people of the town have gathered for sanctuary, and scoops up the child with perfect courage, and saves her. One of one’s favorite scenes ever!

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2 responses to “PZ’s Guide to Turner Classic Movies’ “In The Ministry” Night”

  1. Jim E says:

    “One Foot in Heaven” is a wonderful movie, and Frederic March is great as the minister. That final scene singlehandedly made “The Church’s One Foundation” one of my favorite hymns and I choke up almost every time I hear it. I’ll have to catch up with the rest of these. Thank you for the heads up!

    • David Zahl says:

      “Moreover, Christianity is fun”. That line alone in the clip above (which i had to rewind three times to make sure i’d heard it right) is enough to make a person want to watch “One Foot in Heaven”. Amazing.

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