Hopeful Movies During a Pandemic, Part II

By Paul F.M. Zahl

Every time my wife and I think that things are getting better, the metrics change and the cases go up (or down), and we feel like we’re back in May. Guess we thought we had done every previously postponed domestic task and tried every possible new interest and basically come to the end of our resources. And then it all started back up again.

We even thought we had watched every movie we could imagine ever watching.

But wait! At least there – in the matter of movies – we weren’t done yet (see “Hopeful Movies for Episcopalians in Self-Quarantine,” TLC, April 5). Turns out there were more good ones, at least good vintage Hollywood ones, and our supply had not, in fact, run out.

So, I’m giving you some new leads, some new “forgotten” classics, to keep us going for at least a month or more. These are all movies you can find and watch, and they are all movies with a hopeful message. They even contain some nice priests and ministers, some wise and altruistic religious people (including two exemplary Episcopal bishops), and some definite new beginnings.

Here are four of them, with info at the end of each entry for how to access them. Each of these modest little films can light up your night – and maybe take you one more step along the way to our lasting re-opening!

Satan Never Sleeps (1962)

This one, directed by the same man that made Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s, tells the story of two Roman Catholic priests arrested by the Red Chinese, one of whom, the older one, becomes a stunning, martyred witness, like St. Polycarp, to faith in Christ. The younger priest, played by William Holden, survives, and must navigate both the Red Guards and an obsessed young parishioner. Warning: the first 20 minutes of Satan Never Sleeps are boring. But it heats up wonderfully.

Available on DVD and Amazon Prime

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951)

Here is the tale of a depressed Episcopal nursing home, into which a semi-Christ figure named ‘Mr. Belvedere’ enters and changes the chemistry of the place. We meet the rector, who is kind but defeated; the resident nurse, who is looking for love; and the residents themselves, who have all basically given up. Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell is about the power of imputing love to activate optimism. The movie assumes the entirely good intentions of the Episcopal clergy, including the local bishop.

Available on DVD and You Tube

It Started with Eve (1941)

Here is a delightful and fast-paced comedy starring Deanna Durbin, Bob Cummings, and Charles Laughton. It’s a love story based on a kind of mistaken identity, with snappy dialogue. It Started with Eve was directed by Henry Koster, who also directed The Bishop’s Wife and The Robe – and … Mr. Belvedere, above. Henry Koster once went on record asking why a Jew like himself seemed to get religious Christian movies just right. His several movies like this one are pitch perfect.

Oh, and a wise and kindly Episcopal bishop plays an important role in It Started with Eve.

Available on DVD or can be watched for free at: https://m.ok.ru/video/281684544070

The Space Children (1958)

This is a quiet gem within the broad terrain of 1950s Hollywood science-fiction.

A group of scientists’ children at a US Army rocket-launching site come under the benign influence – you don’t know this at first – of an amoeba-like alien creature.

Turns out the creature has noble intentions and quotes the New Testament.

The anti-war message of the movie is soft but memorable, and the conclusion brings in a Martin Luther chorale. The Space Children is an un-ending delight.

Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Prime

There they are. Four diverting, optimistic and cool retro classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Maybe they can “Give You Just a Little More Time” (Chairmen of the Board, 1970), so that when you’ve seen them all, you can… maybe… start going to church again.

The Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl is a retired priest, and was formerly rector of All Saints’ Church, Chevy Chase, Maryland, and dean of Trinity School for Ministry. He is the author of many books.


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