Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1979. Anthea Film, Ithaca. Screenplay by Benedict Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald, based on the novel by Flannery O’Connor. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. Produced by Kathy Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzgerald. Music by Alex North. Production Design by Sally Fitzgerald. Costume Design by Sally Fitzgerald. Film Editing by Roberto Silvi.
Brad Dourif is marvelous as an ambitious but not exactly sophisticated young man who arrives in Macon, Georgia full of fire and brimstone, but not the kind you’d expect. His desire is to start his own church, but one in which no one relies on the blood of Jesus Christ to save them and traditional ideas of salvation are reversed. Don’t take that to mean that he’s any kind of socialist revolutionary, however; Dourif does not do much more for his followers than the blind preacher (Harry Dean Stanton) who speaks on the streets with his daughter (Amy Wright) in tow. Even in trying to avoid making economic gains from his work gets Dourif nowhere, attaching an enterprising charlatan (Ned Beatty) to him when he is not being chased by a sweet and simple young man (a terrific Dan Shor) who is an instant disciple. Based on the novel by the master of the southern Gothic, Flannery O’Connor, the film is more interesting than entertaining, the perfection of O’Connor’s lengthy and complicated dialogue translating well to the screen but the sharp-edged turns of plot, which feel like a punch in the face on the page, coming off quirky and unnecessarily adorable on screen. John Huston doesn’t quite find the spine of the action here, but his view of the blandness of this small town and the terrific performances he elicits from his cast do make an impression, plus he maintains O’Connor’s flavor of observing human frailty without being cruel or judgmental about it.