PZ’s March Movie Picks

Gone with the Wind, The Dunwich Horror, and more!

PZ has annotated a list of movies playing on Turner Classic Movies in March 2021. Watch overlooked movies that feature Christian themes and the dynamics of Grace. In several of this month’s movies, Christian ministers and the Gospel get a very explicit and commendatory hearing! All times are Eastern.

March 1st, 2:45 pm, A Matter of Life and Death (1947)

This is a total gem from the British production duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In this beautiful and touching story, a downed and dead RAF player, played by David Niven, is caught between life and death. He is drawn hugely towards the young American radio operator, played by Kim Hunter, with whom he was speaking when his plane crashed on its way back from a bombing mission over Germany. There’s a lot of metaphysics here, which works; God the Father makes a marvelous appearance; and so does His inspired earthly messenger John Bunyan. Do Not Miss.

March 3rd, 4:00 am, The Human Comedy (1943)

We’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s come up again, and this time you have no excuse because it’s being shown at 4 o’clock in the morning — a good time for the (Holy) Spirit to descend. Mickey Rooney plays the small-town delivery boy who brings telegrams to wives and mothers whose husbands and sons are away at war. The scene on the troop train is one of the most touching Christian situations ever offered within a Hollywood movie. Moreover, the hero of the story — not Rooney — is a devout Presbyterian; and that comes out!

March 4th, 8:00 pm, Gone with the Wind (1939)

Don’t let yourself ever be talked out of wanting to see this wonderful movie. It works on every level: Civil War story, character study of a mean and prideful young woman, romantic epic (nevertheless), and great characters portrayed by Hattie McDaniels, Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia De Havilland. One simply must see it — and at least three times through the first time.

March 7th, 10:00 pm, Westworld (1973)

This is pretty sharp science fiction with a creative and original premise. Yul Brynner plays the iconic robotic outlaw and Richard Benjamin is a sort of urban dweeb who’s fighting for his life. There’s nothing particularly Christian or uplifting here, but hey, it’s a superb escapist movie. Written and directed by Michael Crichton.

March 8th, 12:00 pm, Santa Fe Trail (1940)

This is a real surprise. The name sounds like it’s one thing, but the content is very big: the religious abolitionist career of John Brown (played by Raymond Massey) that climaxes in the siege of Harper’s Ferry. The movie is fair, too, and casts all the characters in a humane and sympathetic light (including even Jefferson Davis). Plus, which I like, there is a perfect Protestant Episcopal wedding in there, on board a railway carriage no less. Watch for the proper vesture! LUV you.

March 9th, 12:00 am, On Moonlight Bay (1951)

This delightful movie, albeit somewhat “corny,” derives from the novelist Booth Tarkington. We sure love BT! I think he was America’s best popular novelist in the early 20th century. I’ve referred here to his Claire Ambler (1928) before. Also, too, On Moonlight Bay tells a story with a shadow hanging over it. You’ll see.

March 9th, 3:30 pm, Light in the Piazza (1962)

Guy Green is a director we ought to know. An Englishman who worked himself up the ladder in his country’s film industry, Guy Green directed several outstanding movies, a couple of them with explicit Christian themes. Light in the Piazza is not exactly one of them, but it moves in a moral universe that is both extremely compassionate and abnegating of the wrong kind of temptation. Plus, there’s Hayley Mills!

March 10th, 2:45 am, The Dunwich Horror (1970)

This is for the H. P. Lovecraft fans and also for the fans of Daniel Haller, who photographed almost all the Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe’s. It’s extremely atmospheric and worth it for the lighting and the camera angles. Also, this version of “The Dunwich Horror” short story is not as anti-Christian as Lovecraft’s original was — rootedly so. (Mary and I were interviewed once for a church job in Lovecraft’s house in Providence. No wonder we didn’t get the call.)

March 10th, 2:00 pm, Gabriel over the White House (1933)

I’ve mentioned this before, but now it is even more poignant, at least for me. A once-in-a-century work of imaginative popular art, Gabriel over the White House is completely unique. “I will always wait for you” (Jimmy Webb, Voices, 1979).

March 13th, 4:00 pm, Inherit the Wind (1960)

This famous adaptation of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial has an outstanding cast and a powerful script. What seems to be a quite savage “send-up” of American fundamentalism turns out at the end, which is something of a “twist” ending, to be two-sided. Personally, I prefer William Jennings Bryan to Clarence Darrow, but I also once visited, in person, the grave of Mr. Scopes. No kidding.

March 13th, 10:15 pm, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

This is top-flight Hammer horror. Peter Cushing is perfect as Sherlock Holmes, and you’ll recognize most of his cohort. I like especially Miles Malleson’s portrayal of a somewhat fuddy-duddy Church of England bishop who just happens to be a superb etymologist! Good wins over evil in the best Terence Fisher/Anthony Hinds tradition. Paging my friend Paul Leggett — Presbyterian minister and Terry Fisher fan extraordinaire.

March 14th, 11:45 am, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

A more or less perfect vintage comedy — Hollywood at its best. One especially likes the nice Episcopal rector, the father of the story’s heroine, who comes close to getting (good naturedly) poisoned by two church ladies. The performance — of the minister, I mean — is pitch perfect, as that is the way many Episcopal rectors really were prior to 1979: a little fuddy-duddy (yes), generally learned, mostly more or less Ivy League, kind of a tad detached from reality, but entirely benign.

March 15th, 2:00 am, Journal d’un Curé de Campagne (1951)

A spectacular embodiment of living Christian faith. Almost everything George Bernanos wrote was a masterpiece of artistic Christian reflection, and this movie, based on his novel, catches his drift! Watch for the scene depicting the young priest’s conversation with the “lady of the manor.” It is the purest grace, and totally true to actual parish experience. This “Diary of a Country Priest” deserves five stars.

March 16th, 12:15 pm, The Lost Patrol (1934)

This was my dad’s favorite movie from his youth. When I saw it with him in the early 1960s, it was easy to see how good it was. Plus, it featured Boris Karloff! Then later, in the 1970s, one connected it with other movies by its celebrated director, John Ford. The Lost Patrol is perfect story-telling — sort of a perfect short story told exceptionally.

March 17th, 2:15 am, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)

Edward Albee feels dated to me now — sort of a “radical” whose ideas are now believed by almost everybody. But this movie of his celebrated play is gorgeously shot, in black and white, by Haskell Wexler, and the direction is beautiful. Mrs. Zahl and I saw this one on TV in the Spring of 1973, before we were married, and it made an impact on us. (Maybe I just liked Sandy Dennis. Tho’ I liked Mary a lot more.)

March 17th, 8:00 pm, The Quiet Man (1952)

A romantic comedy, you might say — or better, a comedic romance — which works on every level. The music, the technicolor photography, every single performance, the big (suffusedly Christian) idea of the story: everything comes together to make this one of John Ford’s truly immortal masterpieces. And don’t miss the sincerely dear Church of Ireland (i.e., Protestant) minister. He plays a pivotal role.

March 19th, 12:30 am, Swing Time (1936)

After some 15 viewings of this, over almost 60 years, it still stands out as the high point for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. The big dance numbers are soul-stirring, as are even the more intimate dance numbers. The comedy, which always feels a little contrived or “stretched” in these dance movies, never takes over. What does take over is the sublimity of the overall effect. Today, Swing Time feels immortal, an effortless Five Stars.

March 19th, 2:15 am, Stagecoach (1939)

Another absolute masterpiece, and again, in every department. The performances are, in the true, tested sense, iconic — from John Wayne and Claire Trevor to Donald Meek and John Carradine. The ending is absolutely razor sharp, and the story drips with grace from beginning to end. Oh, and it’s John Ford again.

March 22nd, 2:00 am, Leon Morin, Priest (1961)

It’s a good day, always, when the Gospel gets its fair shake in a mainstream movie. Leon Morin, Priest sure does that, and in a way as penetratingly and memorably as any movie ever made on this subject — a good Catholic priest! The title character does all things well, from dealing with the Nazis, to dealing with possible sexual temptation in the context of pastoral counseling, to dealing with a sincere new convert to Christ, to being a perfect “foster father” for a time, to knowing when it is time to leave. Jean Paul Belmondo, against “type” you might say, creates the portrait of a pure and real, sublime and normal man of God. If it were possible to give it, I would give this movie ten stars.

March 23rd, 11:30 am, Susan and God (1940)

We’ve noted this one before, but it can never be too much! Susan and God, perhaps like Gabriel over the White House, is one of a kind. Rachel Crothers wrote the play on which the film is based, but Anita Loos deepened the Christian element, drawing on something Daphne Du Maurier wrote for Frank Buchman. It all comes off perfectly — and I mean, perfectly. If there exists a perfect vintage Hollywood movie for Mockingbirds, it may well be Susan and God.

 March 28th, 6:00 am, Showboat (1936)

Another “perfect storm” — lots of them this month. James Whale, who directed Bride of Frankenstein (1935), helmed Showboat, the source for which had been written by the wonderful Edna Ferber. Paul Robeson sings, as do Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, and others. Plus, the Episcopal Church — in its historic Protestant incarnation — makes a fun appearance. Two, actually. The whole thing just works, and the upshot, may I say, is extremely moving and reconciling.

March 29th, 2:00 am, Black Narcissus (1947)

A famous Powell/Pressburger that appears to be a somewhat savage judgment on Anglo-Catholic nuns laboring in the Himalayas for the salvation of Hindu souls. But the overall result is fairer than that, and more sympathetic than that. This is a very good movie, tho’ it could have gone “One Step Beyond” in empathy for the world-view of its leading characters.

March 29th, 11:30 am, Smilin’ Through (1932)

This one’s a little “creaky,” but its heart is in the right place. The Church of England gets a good showing here, as does the old (and true) chestnut concerning everlasting love. There is also a profound theme of love’s misfires being handed down across the generations. In this case, blessedly, a “generational curse” is healed.


One response to “PZ’s March Movie Picks”

  1. Josh Retterer says:

    Arsenic and Old Lace and The Hound of the Baskervilles, two perfect watches. Love these picks!

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