Film Series on
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
Mary Pickford Theater
302, James Madison Building
June 9 - August 20, 1998
The Mary Pickford Theater film series to complement Religion and the Founding of the American Republic broadens the exhibition's scope to explore the many ways in which film and television have addressed this most fundamental of issues. Given the centrality of religious practice to American history -- as the exhibition amply demonstrates -- it comes as no surprise that matters of faith are well represented in our popular culture. This representation has taken many forms, ranging from Biblical stories like The Ten Commandments to more allegorical approaches such as The Night of the Hunter. However, all the films in this series share a common denominator in that they are influenced by the religious ferment that accompanied America's birth.
The Pilgrim and Puritan migrations have long been fodder for the artistic imagination, of course, and cinema is no exception. We will present two versions of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter: the 1926 MGM silent with Lillian Gish, plus a 1954 adaptation from Kraft Television Theatre. Of more recent vintage is The Crucible (Fox, 1996) starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, but we'll also have some rarely seen treats such as a 1956 episode of the CBS-TV series You Are There about the Salem witch trials, in addition to some educational films produced by Yale University in 1924.
Other films in the series examine the role of faith in contemporary American life. The evangelicalism which characterized the Great Awakening is represented in The Miracle Woman (Columbia, 1931) and Elmer Gantry (UA, 1960), as well as documentaries about preaching giants Martin Luther King and Billy Graham. We'll also look at the evolution of the African-American church -- particularly its music -- in Say Amen, Somebody (Xenon, 1983) and a special showing of Mahalia Jackson on the CBS-TV program Look Up and Live from 1959.
Far from dry theological analysis, these films richly illustrate the enormous impact America's religious underpinning has had on her popular culture and public discourse. With few exceptions, even the most critical works in the series are generally respectful of the faith experience, neither demanding sectarian allegiance nor totally refuting belief in a divinity that shapes our ends.
RESERVATIONS may be made by phone, beginning one week before any given show. Call (202) 707-5677 during business hours (Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). Reserved seats must be claimed at least 10 minutes before showtime, after which standbys will be admitted to unclaimed seats. All programs are free, but seating is limited to 64 seats.
Tuesday, June 9 and Monday, June 29 (7:00 pm)
- The Scarlet Letter (MGM, 1926). Director: Victor Seastrom. Writer: Frances Marion. Cast: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Henry B. Walthall. (80 min., si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- Based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic, The Scarlet Letter stars Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne, with Henry B. Walthall as her cuckolded husband and Lars Hanson as Rev. Dimmesdale. It remains the best of multiple versions of the story, particularly due to a typically assured Gish performance and the direction of Swedish import Seastrom, who imparts to the film a kind of desperate melancholy. Gish had personally promised MGM boss Louis B. Mayer that the story could be filmed without offending public sensibilities, and she later wrote that she insisted on Seastrom because "the Scandanavians are closer in feeling to what our New England Puritans than present-day Americans." Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Mike Mashon.
Wednesday, June 10 (7:00 pm)
- Hallelujah! (MGM, 1929). Director: King Vidor. Writers: King Vidor, Wanda Tuchock. Cast: Daniel Haynes, Nina Mae McKinney, William Fountaine, Fannie Bell De Knight. (106 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- With the coming of sound, Hollywood began to vary their formulas in the hope of adapting them in the way most appropriate to the new medium, and rumor had it that black voices recorded better on the new sound equipment than white voices. For the first time in films from the major studios, African-Americans found abundant opportunities, appearing frequently in short films focusing on particular entertainers, especially musicians. From this short-lived historical moment emerged two Hollywood features, Hearts in Dixie and Hallelujah!, stories which sadly cast African-Americans in roles that sadly invoked numerous racial stereotypes. Director King Vidor wrote in his 1952 autobiography that he had long wanted to make a film centering on black themes, and he used his own salary as part of the film's $500,000 budget. Most of the film was shot in Memphis, but the sound equipment did not arrive in time, so the film was shot silent with sound added in the post-production. Despite general acclaim, the film was not shown widely in the south, and the reaction of the northern African-American community was largely negative, primarily because of the film's paternalism. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Brian Taves.
Thursday, June 11 (6:30 pm)
- Elmer Gantry (UA, 1960). Director/Writer: Richard Brooks. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Jeanne Simmons, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley Jones. (145 min., sd., color, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy MGM).
- Richard Brooks once commented that Elmer Gantry was "the story of a man who wants what everyone is supposed to want --
money, sex, and religion. He's the All-American boy." A similar sense of cynicism pervades the film, which Brooks adapted from the Sinclair Lewis novel. Lancaster is a morally bankrupt, Billy Sunday-like preacher in cahoots for a time with Simmons, doing an Aimee Semple McPherson impersonation (for another, see Barbara Stanwyck in The Miracle Woman, July 21). Considered shocking in its day, the recent travails of some real-life evangelists make the film seem almost quaint today. PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START TIME.
Tuesday, June 16 (7:00 pm)
- Angels With Dirty Faces (Warner Bros., 1938). Director: Michael Curtiz. Writers: John Wexley and Warren Duff, from a story by Rowland Brown. Cast: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, the Dead End Kids. (97 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- The Dead End Kids have two role models in their neighborhood -- Jimmy Cagney, the fast-talking, well-heeled, gangster with a heart of gold, and Pat O'Brien, the solid, well-meaning, boring priest. Whom would you choose to idolize? The Kids make their choice, but will Jimmy "turn yellow" to stop the boys from following in his misguided footsteps? Although there's not much doubt to the outcome, this is another wonderful Warner Bros. outing from the studio's heyday.
Wednesday, June 17 (7:00 pm)
The Devil's Disciple (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, 1959). Director: Guy Hamilton. Writers: Roland Kibbee and John Digton. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Eva LaGallienne, Janette Scott. (82 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy MGM).
A high octane cast stars in this adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw satire. Although co-produced by Lancaster's and Douglas' production companies, Olivier steals the film as the witty and urbane, albeit murderous, General Burgoyne, who finds that hanging the occasional villager cannot quell disturbances in a tiny New England hamlet during the Revolutionary War. Lancaster is the minister-turned-guerilla fighter, while Douglas essays yet another in his series of smart-alecky troublemakers.
Thursday, June 18 (7:00 pm)
- Say Amen, Somebody (Xenon Entertainment, 1983). Director: George T. Nierenberg. Cinematography: Edward Lachman. Cast: "Mother" Willie Mae Ford Smith, "Professor" Thomas A. Dorsey, The Barrett Sisters. (100 min., sd., color, 35mm; LC Collection).
- As increasing numbers of African-Americans converted to Christianity during the Second Great Awakening, they brought into the church musical forms like chants and spirituals. These would later blend with folk music and jazz to create gospel, a uniquely American music firmly grounded in evangelism. Say Amen, Somebody is an exuberant documentary about gospel music featuring "Mother" Ford and "Professor" Dorsey, who truly know the meaning of making a "joyful noise."
Tuesday, June 23 (7:00 pm)
- Salesman (Maysles Brothers, 1969). Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin. Cinematography: Albert Maysles. Editors: David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. (90 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Maysles Film).
- Along with Frederick Wiseman's High School, the Maysles brothers' Salesman has become a classic of cinema vérité. It follows four door-to-door Bible salesman from their winter rounds of Catholic parishioners near Boston to a Chicago convention, and finally through the bizarre "Moorish" development of Opa-Locka, Florida. While Bible salesmanship is in some ways a direct descendant of 19th century benevolent societies, the pervasive tone here comes from the clash of Christian ideas with crass hucksterism. As with most cinema vérité, one sees what one wants: "patronizing" according to Variety, "gentle compassion" to the New York Times. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Mike Mashon.
Wednesday, June 24 (7:00 pm)
- The Chosen (Contemporary, 1982). Director: Jeremy Paul Kagan. Writer: Edwin Gordon (adapted from novel by Chaim Potok). Cast: Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger, Robby Benson, Barry Miller. (108 min., sd.,color, 35mm; LC Collection).
- Hasidic Benson and Orthodox Miller struggle to forge a friendship despite widely differing religio-cultural beliefs. The idea of Robby Benson playing the Hasidic Danny Saunders invariably provokes giggles, but he does a credible job, primarily because of the strong script and even stronger supporting cast. This sort of opposites-attract plot device has been used thousands of times in literature and film, but The Chosen never sinks to the level of artifice or cheap sentimentality.
Thursday, June 25 (7:00 pm)
- Sacred Ground: The Story of the North American Indian's Relationship to the Land (Freewheelin' Films, 1977). Director: Rodney Jacobs. Writers: N. Scott Momaday, Alfonso Ortiz, and Robert Murray. Narrator: Cliff Robertson. (49 min., sd., color, 16mm; LC Collection).
Sons of Liberty (Warner Bros., 1939). Director: Michael Curtiz. Writer: Crane Wilbur. Cast: Claude Rains, Gale Sondergaard. (25 min., sd., color, ¾" video; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- Sacred Ground is an entertaining exploration of the Indian myths and legends behind such geological sites as Devil's Tower, Bear Butte, and Canyon de Chelly. It has the added advantage of some spectacular cinematography, making it a bit more than the standard school-age documentary fare. Among the most successful short subjects produced by Warner Bros. were the historical drama two-reelers, led by Sons of Liberty, a "Special" filmed in Technicolor, based on an incident in the life of a Jewish patriot, a hero in the American Revolution. The only short directed by Warners stalwart Michael Curtiz, it won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.
Wednesday, July 1 (7:00 pm)
- The Landing of the Pilgrims (Edison, 1915). Director: Langdon West. Cast: Richard Tucker, Margaret Prussing, Duncan McRae. (11 min., si., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection).
The Stoning (Edison, 1915). Director/Writer: Charles J. Brabin. Story: James Oppenheim. Cast: Viola Dana, Charles Sutton, Harry Beaumont, Helen Strickland. (36 min., si. b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
A Mormon Maid (Paramount, 1917). Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Writer: Charles Sarver. Cast: Mae Murray, Frank Borzage, Hobart Bosworth, Noah Beery. (52 min., si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
- Tonight's screening begins with The Landing of the Pilgrims, a rather straightforward adaptation of Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish, although with a sharp turn into melodrama. The Stoning is a surprisingly strong attack on hypocrisy within the church. Here, a devout girl's honor is besmirched by a local scoundrel, but the unwillingness of her fellow worshipers to show forgiveness leads to tragedy. The Mormon Maid is representative of that group of films heavily informed by the prejudices of their era (The Birth of a Nation being the most prominent example). A pioneering family is besieged by these religious settlers -- when the Mormons aren't forcing women into polygamous marriages, they're out terrorizing in Ku Klux Klan robes. If nothing else, The Mormon Maid is illustrative of a profoundly regrettable tendency of the cinema to lapse into stereotypes in the service of popular entertainment. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Patrick Loughney.
Tuesday, July 7 (7:00 pm)
- Penn of Pennsylvania (British National, 1941). Director: Lance Comfort. Writer: Anatole de Grunwald. Cast: Clifford Evans, Deborah Kerr, Dennis Arundell, Aubrey Mallalieu. (78 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
Hush, Hoggies, Hush -- Tom Johnson's Praying Pigs (Center for Southern Folklore, 1978). Directors: Bill Ferris and Judy Peiser. (4 min., sd., color, 16mm; LC Collection).
- Also known as The Courageous Mr. Penn, this British import extols the virtues of Quaker founder William Penn and his battle against religious persecution. Earnest, if a bit dry, it strives mightily to toe the line between war propaganda (threats to freedom -- read: Hitler -- are to be resisted) while commending the Quaker community's pacifism. Our first feature, Hush, Hoggies, Hush is, well, you'll just have to see for yourself. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member David Parker.
Wednesday, July 8 (7:00 pm)
- The Little Church Around the Corner (Warner Bros., 1930 C reissue of 1925 release). Director: William A. Seiter. Writer: Olga Printzlau. Cast: Claire Windsor, Hobart Bosworth, Kenneth Harlan. (60 min., si., b&w; 16mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
You Are There: The Salem Witch Trials (CBS, 1956). Director: William D. Russell. Writer: Milton Geiger. Narrator: Walter Cronkite. Cast: Nanette Fabares, Susan Seafort, Sheila McKay, Carol Dee. (28 min., sd., b&w, 16mm, courtesy CBS).
- The Little Church Around the Corner is based on a 1902 comedy-drama about a minister who accepts a position in a wealthy church in hopes of persuading his parishioners, among them the mine owner, to improve the miners' conditions. When a mine explosion traps the owner and his daughter, the minister rescues them and faces the angry miners. Tonight's print is a 1930 condensation of the original 1925 release, intended for home distribution as part of the Kodascope Library (a fascinating precursor of the videocassette rental). You Are There was a children's series that used on-the-spot reporting techniques to describe historical events. To say it was a "children's series" is misleading in a sense -- these programs were almost uniformly excellent and served as an entertaining introduction to world history.
Thursday, July 9 (7:00 pm)
- Angel and the Badman (Republic, 1947). Director/Writer: James Edward Grant. Cast: John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot. (100 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Republic Pictures).
- In 1947, the thoroughly unexpected result of John Wayne's first independent production was, of all things, a pacifist western. Angel and the Badman has Wayne playing a wounded gunman nursed and sheltered from his enemies by a family of Quakers, including beautiful daughter Gail Russell (if this sounds familiar, think Harrison Ford in Witness). The film has its flaws, among them insistent music and a lack of traditional action. Still, Wayne-as-romantic-lead is amusingly undone by women, by religion, and by friendly persuasion.
Tuesday, July 14 (7:00 pm)
- The Green Pastures (Warner Bros., 1936). Director: William Keighley. Writer: Marc Connelly. Cast: Rex Ingram, Oscar Polk, Eddie Anderson, Frank Wilson. (93 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- The Green Pastures was the only film with a largely African-American cast made at a major studio during the 1930s, and attracted many of the leading black performers of the time. Although a prestigious version of the long-running Broadway musical show, appealing to different races, for which Warner Bros. paid $100,000 for the rights, the film failed to generate the hoped-for income at the box-office. The Green Pastures conveyed religious beliefs in the manner of folk culture, as humankind overcomes temptation to remain true to their belief in God, told in what at the time were regarded as patterns of speech and thinking endemic to the region and the race. The score included portions of more than 25 spirituals sung by the Hall Johnson choir.
Wednesday, July 15 (7:00 pm)
- The Converts (Biograph, 1910). Director: D.W. Griffith. Camera: G.W. Bitzer. Cast: Linda Arvidson, Arthur Johnson, Henry B. Walthall, Owen Moore, Mack Sennett. (10 min., si., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection).
The Way of the World (Biograph, 1910). Director: D.W. Griffith. Camera: G.W. Bitzer. Cast: Dorothy Bernard, Dorothy West, Henry B. Walthall, Tony O'Sullivan, Mack Sennett. (10 min., si., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection).
The Unbeliever (Edison, 1918). Director: Alan Crosland. Writer: Mary Raymond Shipman. Cast: Raymond McKee, Marguerite Courtot, Erich von Stroheim, Kate Lester. (65 min., si., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection).
- Two D.W. Griffith one-reelers precede an Edison feature on tonight's bill. Both The Converts and The Way of the World examine the ageless conflict between worldly pleasures and more spiritual concerns. In The Converts, a man who pretends to be a priest finds that his ruse cannot dampen the power of salvation, while in The Way of the World, a real priest ventures out into the streets amongst the laborers to find that his message is not to everyone's liking. In The Unbeliever, an aristocrat finds faith in God when Jesus appears to him as he lays wounded in a Belgian battlefield. Made in cooperation with the Marine Corps, the film also features a turn by Erich von Stroheim as -- what else? -- a German soldier.
Thursday, July 16 (7:00 pm)
- The Crucible (20th Century-Fox, 1996) Director: Nicholas Hytner. Writer: Arthur Miller, based on his 1953 play. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison. (123 min., sd., color, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy 20th Century-Fox).
- Miller's story of the 17th century Salem witch trials, originally written as a stage allegory about the post-war Communist "witch hunts," receives a cinematic treatment focusing on an illicit relationship between married John Proctor (Day-Lewis) and young Abigail Williams (Ryder), and the ensuing web of sexual revenge, religious intolerance, mass hysteria, and accusations of witchcraft. The basic characters and events are from historic 1690s Salem, but with some changes needed for Miller's script; perhaps most notably, changing the age of Williams from 11 to 17 in order to make the sexual affair between her and Proctor more plausible. Miller was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay, as was Joan Allen for her performance as Elizabeth Proctor, but critics have commented unsatisfactorily on some of the character definition and acting, oversimplification of Puritan beliefs, and excessive and unbelievable hysteria on the part of the witch-accusing village girls. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Judi Hoffman.
Tuesday, July 21 (7:00 pm)
- The Miracle Woman (Columbia, 1931). Director: Frank Capra. Writer: Jo Swerling. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, David Manners, Sam Hardy, Beryl Mercer. (87 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Columbia Pictures).
- Barbara Stanwyck takes her cue from Aimee Semple McPherson in this story of a small-town minister unappreciated by her congregation, yet tempted by a slick operator to "get famous, get rich, and what's more, get even." Soon, she has her own radio show and revival tent ("The Temple of Happiness") complete with flashing lights and lions tamed by her "love and understanding." Although the script tries hard to portray Stanwyck's Sister Fallon as sympathetic, viewers are likely to remain unmoved.
Wednesday, July 22 (7:00 pm)
- The Chronicles of America: The Pilgrims (Chronicles of America Picture Corp., 1924). Director: Edwin L. Hollywood. Writer: William B. Courtney. Cast: Robert Gaillard, Harry Simpson, John Hopkins. (30 min., si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
The Chronicles of America: The Puritans (Chronicles of America Picture Corp., 1924). Director: Frank Tuttle. Writer: Evangeline Andrews. Cast: Arthur Hohl, Audrey Hart. (30 min., si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
The Pilgrim (First National, 1923). Director/Writer: Charles Chaplin. Photography: Rollie Totheroh. Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Mack Swain, Kitty Bradbury, Marion Davies. (41 min., si., b&w, laserdisc; LC Collection).
- In 1923 the Yale University Press commissioned films based on the fifty volumes in their Chronicles of America series. Ultimately, only fifteen episodes were produced, and we're presenting two of them this evening. The Pilgrims traces their escape, first to Holland and then their departure on the Mayflower for America. The hardships of the settlers are shown in a manner which, according to the subject guide, "reveals the simple faith of the Pilgrims and their devotion to the ideal of freedom of religious thought and expression." In like manner, The Puritans "examines the capable leadership of Governor Winthrop who struggled to maintain the Massachusetts Bay Colony's charter in the face of religious dissension from within and political attacks from across the sea." On a much lighter note, we end with Charlie Chaplin's The Pilgrim, in which Charlie plays an escaped convict mistaken for a minister. His pantomime of the David-and-Goliath story is not to be missed.
Thursday, July 23 (7:00 pm)
- From Milkpail to Pulpit: The Life Story of Aimee Semple McPherson (International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, 1985). Director: Pam Gordon. (ca. 45 min., sd., color, 16mm; LC Collection).
The Fighting Priest (Golden Arrow Productions, 1934). Narrator: Harlow Wilcox. (7 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
The American Experience: The Radio Priest (Drasnin Productions, 1988). Producer, Writer, and Narrator: Irv Drasnin. (60 min., sd., b&w, ¾" video; LC Collection).
- Prophets or charlatans? Aimee Semple McPherson and Father Charles Coughlin brilliantly exploited radio in the Twenties and Thirties to garner massive followings for their message of salvation (and in Coughlin's case, a strong dose of anti-Semitism as well). From Milkpail to Pulpit is a documentary produced by the remnants of McPherson's broadcasting organization. Drawing extensively from an autobiographical sermon delivered in 1938, it is -- unsurprisingly -- a flattering look at the controversial preacher. Father Coughlin enjoyed enormous popularity and for a time his highly emotional, ultra-conservative views were quite influential. He used his electronic pulpit to alternately promote or vituperate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He extols Roosevelt in the 1934 short The Fighting Priest (and would renounce FDR later that year), and is the subject of The Radio Priest, a documentary from PBS' acclaimed American Experience series.
Tuesday, July 28 (7:00 pm)
- Profiles in Courage: Anne Hutchinson (NBC, 1964). Director: Cyril Ritchard. Writer: Jonathan Miller. Cast: Wendy Hiller, Alan Mowbray, Donald Harron, Neil Hamilton. (48 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).
Profiles in Courage: General Alexander William Doniphan (NBC, 1964). Director: Paul Stanley. Writer: Don M. Mankiewicz. Cast: Peter Lawford, Simon Oakland, Michael Constantine, Paul Stevens. (48 min., sd. b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).
- Profiles in Courage was a series of dramatized biographies about Americans "who put their careers and their popularity on the line," according to Executive Producer Robert Saudek (who is also, incidentally, former chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division). The episodes were drawn from John F. Kennedy's book and additional stories were approved by the President before his death. Anne Hutchinson portrays her struggle with the Puritan hierarchy over theocratic control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, reaffirming the principle of the separation of church and state. In General Alexander William Doniphan, a newly commissioned officer refuses an order to execute the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, risking insubordination rather than violate his own conscience.
Wednesday, July 29 (7:00 pm)
- Kraft Television Theatre: The Scarlet Letter (NBC, 1954). Adaptation: George Faulkner. Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Bramwell Fletcher, Kim Stanley. (60 min., sd., b&w, ¾" video; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).
Look Up and Live: The Gospel Song (CBS, 1959). Host: Rev. Allen Kershaw. Guest: Mahalia Jackson. (30 min., sd., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection, courtesy CBS).
- Kraft Television Theatre was a live anthology drama mainstay on NBC's Wednesday night schedule from 1947 to 1958. It was one of the first (and, as it turned out, one of the last) television programs produced entirely by an advertising agency, in this case J. Walter Thompson. Thompson purchased time on NBC on behalf of Kraft Foods, and was solely responsible for mounting the show each week. This adaptation of The Scarlet Letter was broadcast May 26, 1954, and features Leslie Nielsen -- well before he discovered comedy -- as Arthur Dimmesdale. Look Up and Live was a long-running ecumenical program on CBS which was produced on a rotating basis by the Protestant National Council of Churches, the National Council of Catholic Men, and the New York Board of Rabbis. More about religiosity than religion, the program eschewed sermonizing for a more abstract approach. Tonight's episode stars the incomparable Mahalia Jackson in an examination of what constitutes a "gospel" song. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Mike Mashon.
Thursday, July 30 (7:00 pm)
- The Jazz Singer (Warner Bros., 1927). Director: Alan Crosland. Titles: Jack Jarmuth. Cast: Al Jolson, Eugenie Besserer, May McAvoy, Warner Oland. (88 min., sd. and si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- The Jazz Singer claims to be the world's first cantorial and an attempt to legitimize the overthrow of Jewish traditionalism. The story of The Jazz Singer was not only that of Al Jolson, but of the Warner brothers who produced the film, many of their employees, and indeed, most of the Hollywood moguls of the period. There is no way to overstate the seismic effect The Jazz Singer had on the movie industry. When Jolson said to his audience, "Wait a minute, wait a minute! You ain't heard nuthin' yet," he was absolutely and astoundingly correct. The first time he saw Jolson perform, playwright Samson Raphaelson was struck by the religious fervor of Jolson's ragtime. He wrote, "I am given a vision of cathedrals and temples collapsing and silhouetted against the setting sun, a solitary figure, a lost soul dancing grotesquely on the ruins... Thus do I see the jazz singer."
Tuesday, August 4 (7:00 pm)
- Marjoe (1972). Directors: Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan. Editor: Larry Silk. (88 min., sd., color, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Krypton International).
- This fascinating quasi-documentary follows evangelist-turned-actor Marjoe Gortner on his last trip through the Pentecostal belt before turning his eyes toward Hollywood. He's first seen in riveting vintage clips as "Little Marjoe" (the name a conflation of Mary and Joseph), billed as "The World's Youngest Evangelist," performing a marriage at age four and preaching a hellfire sermon at six ("I'm here to give the devil two black eyes!") Given his impending "conversion" during the period of filming, one can only wonder -- as a crew member does -- "are we going to film Marjoe's cruxifiction when [his followers] find out about this?"
Wednesday, August 5 (7:00 pm)
- The Next Voice You Hear (MGM, 1950). Director: William Wellman. Writer: Charles Schnee. Cast: James Whitmore, Nancy Davis [Reagan], Jeff Corey, Lillian Bronson. (83 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- God reveals himself to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith through the radio (rather like Father Coughlin), with profound implications for the world in general. An agreeable, if somewhat cloying, antidote to the Biblical spectaculars so prevalent during the Fifties, it was capably directed by old pro William Wellman on a three week shooting schedule and a shoestring budget. Theologically, it's not at all heavy-handed, and in many ways it's a fairly perceptive look at small town America.
Thursday, August 6 (7:00 pm)
- The World of Billy Graham (NBC, 1961). Director: Eugene S. Jones. Writer: Joseph Liss. Narrator: Alexander Scourby. Telecast: November 29, 1961. (60 min., sd., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).
Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" (ABC, 1963). Reporter: Richard Bates. Telecast: August 28, 1963. (ca. 20 min., sd., b&w, ¾" video; LC Collection).
- This program presents the two most important religious leaders of late twentieth century America. The World of Billy Graham profiles the evangelist with special focus on one of his "crusades" in Manchester, England. Dr. King's famous speech is excerpted from ABC-TV's live coverage of the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. We're all familiar with the stirring "let freedom ring" climax, but this is a chance to witness the speech in its entirety.
Tuesday, August 11 (7:00 pm)
- I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (20th Century-Fox, 1951). Director: Henry King. Writer: Lamar Trotti. Cast: Susan Hayward, William Lundigan, Rory Calhoun, Gene Lockhart. (88 min., sd., color, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy 20th Century-Fox).
- The films of director Henry King are among the few Hollywood works which can be aptly described as spiritual not only in tone but in the way characters approach their lives. Unlike the standard Hollywood Biblical epic, King's stories examine the way in which faith can impact and redeem a life, past and present, as in this film about a rural parson and the difficulties such a calling imposes on his wife. King himself had been converted to Catholicism while directing The White Sister, a 1923 film in Italy about the sacrifices and satisfaction of joining a holy order. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Brian Taves.
Wednesday, August 12 (7:00 pm)
- Wide Wide World: An American Sunday -- A Visit With Three Faiths (NBC, 1956). Director: Dick Schneider. Writers: Harold Flender, Charles Speer. Host: Dave Garroway. Telecast: November 25, 1956. (90 min., sd., b&w, 16mm; LC Collection, courtesy NBC).
- Wide Wide World was an innovative NBC series broadcast irregularly from 1955-1958 on Sunday afternoons, with Today show host Dave Garroway serving as guide. Part of NBC-TV President Pat Weaver's "Operation Frontal Lobes," each episode typically featured a single topic with remote pick-ups from around North America. An American Sunday is a panorama of America at worship, skipping between locales like Monticello to New Orleans (for a concert of spirituals by the Dillard University choir) to Newport, RI (home of the country's oldest synagogue), to a Catholic mission in San Fernando, CA.
Thursday, August 13 (7:00 pm)
- Sins of the Children (Grand National, 1936). Director/Writer: Karl Brown. Cast: Cecilia Parker, Eric Linden, Harry Beresford. (79 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection).
- Sins of the Children was supposedly based on James Monroe Sheldon's 1896 novel, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? which sold twenty million copies in the U.S. and England, and had already been the basis of a 1916 Edison film. Originally titled In His Steps, the name was changed to Sins of the Children in 1937 when the Federal Trade Commission brought charges against Grand National, charging that the film bore little relation to the famous novel. In the novel, a town's children challenge the adults to behave as Christ would; in the film, two families are pitted against each other when the son from one marries the daughter of the other. The boy is ultimately brought to court, accused by his wife's parents of the crime of kidnaping. The spiritual dimension is represented by a religious advisor who encourages the couple to elope. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member David Parker.
Tuesday, August 18 (6:30 pm)
- The Ten Commandments (Paramount, 1923). Director: Cecil B. DeMille. Writer: Jeanie Macpherson. Cast: Rod La Roque, Richard Dix, Edythe Chapman, Nita Naldi. (158 min., si., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Paramount).
- Although DeMille's 1956 re-make has become synonymous with Easter Sunday television, time has not obscured the more prosaic charms of his first version. After recounting the Exodus story, the film shifts to modern-day San Francisco, where two brothers -- one God-fearing, the other not -- struggle to make their way in the world. As saintly brother Dix warns evil seed La Roque, "Laugh at the Ten Commandments all you want, but they pack an awful wallop." DeMille insures they do. Even with the strong Puritanical streak, the film remains an enormously fun Hollywood entertainment. PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START TIME.
Wednesday, August 19 (7:00 pm)
- Gabriel Over the White House (MGM, 1933). Director: Gregory LaCava. Writer: Carey Wilson. Cast: Walter Huston, Karen Morley, Franchot Tone, Dickie Moore. (87 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy Turner Entertainment).
- President Judson Hammond is transformed from party hack to dynamic leader after his miraculous recovery from an automobile accident. The good news: he reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: he's Mussolini. Gabriel Over the White House is a delight precisely because of its confused ideology. Depending on your perspective, it's a strident defense of democracy and the wisdom of the common man, a good argument for benevolent dictatorship, a prescient anticipation of the New Deal, a call for theocratic governance, and on and on. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Mike Mashon.
Thursday, August 20 (7:00 pm)
Film notes by Cooper Graham, Rosemary Hanes, Judi Hoffman, Patrick Loughney, Mike Mashon, Madeline Matz, David Parker, Scott Simmon, and Brian Taves.
- The Night of the Hunter (United Artists, 1955). Director: Charles Laughton. Writer: James Agee. Cinematographer: Stanley Cortez. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Peter Graves. (93 min., sd., b&w, 35mm; LC Collection, courtesy MGM).
- We end the series with a film Pauline Kael rightfully called "one of the most frightening movies ever made." Charles Laughton's sole directorial effort is an allegorical fantasy about an insane self-styled preacher (Mitchum) hunting down two children who hold the secret to some hidden money. The screenwriter James Agee (working from the novel by Davis Grubb) was one of the few prominent religious writers working in America at the time, and he turned The Night of the Hunter into a study of how religion can be used to cloak pure evil at the same time it produces saints. Introduction by Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff member Karen Lund.
Programs are subject to change.
Other Public Programs on Religion and the Founding of the American Republic