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TUESDAY - False Preachers

Programmed by: Hannah Ozmun

In the opening sequence of The Night of the Hunter, Lillian Gish reads from the Gospel of Matthew as children’s faces shine like stars against the night sky: “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Taken from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, the text goes on to provide another metaphor for identifying false prophets: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit ... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
This series explores the trope of the false prophet in American film, ranging from the cartoonish wickedness of Reverend Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter, to the delirious atheism of Hazel Motes and sham piety of Asa Hawks in Wise Blood, to the tragic big-heartedness of Sonny in The Apostle. These films provide a window into the entanglement of money, morality, and ecstatic faith that characterizes the American religious landscape. Conscience threatens to dampen charisma as many of these preachers grapple with their sins and struggle to justify their double lives. Glimpses of sincerity shine through otherwise cynical stories of hucksters looking to line their pockets. Divine revelation overpowers human weakness, egotism, and duplicity. Blindness—both physical and figurative—appears as a motif in several of these films, suggesting that the eyes cannot always be trusted: not by sight, but “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

Supported by The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter (1955) still

Charles Laughton · 92m · DCP

A diabolical traveling preacher marries a gullible widow, hoping to pocket the $10,000 hidden away by her late husband. Set in the Depression-era South, The Night of the Hunter follows her children as they flee their stepfather by starlight. Equal parts horror, comedy, and fantasy, The Night of the Hunter echoes tropes of silent film with striking shadowplay and an unforgettable performance by 61-year-old Lillian Gish.

7:00PM Tuesday, September 26th

Salesman (1969)

Salesman (1969) still

Albert, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin · 91m · DCP

The door-to-door salesmen in this Maysles brothers documentary aren’t exactly preachers—but they are in the business of religion as they try to sell large, expensive Bibles to working-class Catholics. A portrait of mid-century consumerism and suburban ennui, Salesman follows its subjects from house to house as they pitch the Good Book and swap notes about the day’s successes and failures.

7:00PM Tuesday, October 3rd

Wise Blood (1979)

Wise Blood (1979) still

John Huston · 106m · Digital

John Huston’s Wise Blood captures the absurd, grotesque, yet revelatory tenor of Flannery O’Connor’s acclaimed novel. Wild-eyed Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) becomes a self-proclaimed prophet of the Church Without Christ: “where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way." Motes battles a rival street preacher (Harry Dean Stanton) for souls - including his own.

7:00PM Tuesday, October 10th

Body and Soul (1925)

Body and Soul (1925) still

Oscar Micheaux · 102m · DCP

27-year-old Paul Robeson made his acting debut in Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul playing the roles of identical twins - one honest but poor, the other a crooked preacher - who are in love with the same woman. Micheaux was forced to cut “immoral” and “sacrilegious” scenes; while the director’s cut has never been recovered, Body and Soul is one of Micheaux’s few surviving silent films.

7:00PM Tuesday, October 17th

Marjoe (1972)

Marjoe (1972) still

Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan · 88m · Digital

Marjoe Gortner started preaching in Pentecostal revivals when he was four years old. Now in his late 20’s, Marjoe doesn’t believe in God - but continues to make his living on the revival circuit. In this Academy Award winning documentary, Marjoe takes camera crews behind the scenes of Pentecostal revivals, explaining the tricks of the trade while coming clean about his double life.

7:00PM Tuesday, October 24th

Buck and the Preacher (1972)

Buck and the Preacher (1972) still

Sidney Poitier · 102m · 35mm

“BUCK AND THE PREACHER is now a DCP screening, due to print availability. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Sidney Poitier stars in Buck and the Preacher, his directorial debut. Poitier’s protagonist strikes a fragile balance in the Reconstruction-era Southwest, seeking settlement for Black Americans by negotiating with indigenous tribes, all while avoiding white bounty hunters. The sudden entrance of a grifting man of the cloth (Harry Belafonte) threatens to throw Buck’s entire operation into chaos.

7:00PM Tuesday, October 31st

The Miracle Woman (1931)

The Miracle Woman (1931) still

Frank Capra · 90m · 35mm

One of many collaborations between director Frank Capra and leading lady Barbara Stanwyck, The Miracle Woman follows Florence Fallon, a preacher’s daughter who becomes disillusioned with religion and stages phony miracles for a paying audience. Inspired by real-life evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Sister Fallon is torn between her act and a chance at love.

7:00PM Tuesday, November 7th

The Night of the Iguana (1964)

The Night of the Iguana (1964) still

John Huston · 125m · DCP

Adapted from the play by Tennessee Williams, John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana follows the social and psychological decline of T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton), a defrocked minister who now drives a tour bus in Puerto Vallarta. Shannon attempts to strand a bus of Baptist school teachers at a remote motel, where he sorts out his life with the help of two women (Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr).

7:00PM Tuesday, November 14th

The Apostle (1997)

The Apostle (1997) still

Robert Duvall · 134m · DCP

Robert Duvall wrote, directed, financed, and starred in The Apostle, a humanistic portrait of a Pentecostal preacher named Sonny who goes on the run after killing his wife’s lover. Re-christening himself, Sonny lands in a small Louisiana town and begins preaching on a local radio station. Without cynicism, The Apostle captures the rhythm, artistry, and humanity of charismatic preaching.

7:00PM Tuesday, November 28th