Remember convents? Catholic girls were once attracted to the “discipline” of religious orders.

Written and directed by Maggie Betts and featuring Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, and Dianna Agron.
Sony Pictures Classics, 2017, 123 minutes

You have to be around sixty-years-old or older to remember pre-Vatican II, militant Catholicism. This film brought back memories.

Plot (spoiler alert!)

Young Cathleen experiences very little love in her broken home, but she is awarded a scholarship to a Catholic school for girls and is intrigued by the nuns who teach her. To the absolute chagrin of her “freespirited” mother (Nicholson), Cathleen (Qualley) decides to enter the convent of the Sisters of the Blessed Rose in 1964 at the age of seventeen. She is attracted by the nuns’ close-knit community, disciplined lifestyle, and intense “spirituality.” However, Cathleen’s fanciful conception of convent life meets cold reality like a hard slap across the face in the person of Reverend Mother (Leo), who rules the institution with an iron fist. Cathleen and the other novices must endure harsh and humiliating treatment and adhere to a thick catalog of rules and regulations for the opportunity of becoming a full-fledged nun. Many drop away or are deemed unsuitable and dismissed. The remaining young women have a sympathetic ally in one young nun, sister Mary Grace (Agron), who chafes under the boot of Reverend Mother, but the old war horse has her own problems.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) is ushering in many reforms of church practices and rules governing religious orders and Reverend Mother is none too pleased with this threat to her fiefdom. She resists the changes as long as possible while venting her frustration on her charges. Cathleen struggles to endure her training and even starves herself into the infirmary in an attempt to master her spiritual failings. Under orders from the archbishop, Reverend Mother can no longer forestall the Vatican II reforms and reluctantly notifies the sisters of the changes. Horrified by the unsettling news, many nuns leave the convent and return to the secular world. Only a small handful of novices remain, and on the day they take their “final vows” to become full-fledged nuns, Cathleen decides to leave the convent.


Boy, did this film bring back memories. I attended Catholic parochial school from 1961 to 1970 and personally witnessed the last stages of militant, pre-Vatican II Catholicism and then the dramatic window-dressing changes of Vatican II. I can remember all the nuns who taught me quite vividly. Some were kind and some were very troubled souls who released their anger on us children. Those poor women were attempting to merit their way to Heaven by living ascetic lives according to the strict rules of their order, the Sisters of Mercy. We talk about religious cults, but was there anything more cultish than a group of women living together as the brides of Christ replete with wedding rings and dressed in 11th century garb? As the movie shows, these women had to endure great hardship and humiliation. Many forms of self-mortification were encouraged. This movie alludes to lesbian relationships inside the convent, what real-life nuns termed as “particular friendships.” This is a sensitive topic, but lesbianism was a very real issue in convents, where women, young and old, were deprived of natural affections. As an eighth-grade student, I witnessed signs of a “particular friendship” between my homeroom teacher and another nun.

This was a good film, but a painful one to watch because of the memories. As a child, I witnessed first-hand the type of vicious cruelty doled out by the film’s Reverend Mother. Being the target of a nun’s hissy fit was painful. Melissa Leo is excellent in the role of convent despot.

Additional comments from an ex-Catholic believer

Catholicism changed its window dressing with Vatican II, but it still preaches the same core doctrines and the same false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. All of these poor nuns attempted to earn their salvation through severe asceticism, but Catholics still try to merit their salvation as they are instructed by their church. At the end of the film, it states that, following the changes of Vatican II, “90,000 nuns renounced their vocations and left their convents.” My hope is that some of them eventually trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. There are relatively very few nuns in the U.S. today; the number dropped from 180,000 in 1965 to 50,000 in 2014 and the majority of those that remain are elderly.

For the testimonies of 20 former nuns who left Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, see here.

In this scene, the novices meet with Reverend Mother and each confess their sins publicly as a weekly ritual . The other novices are asked to accuse each nun of any sins they have observed.

George Harrison: Lost and without a shepherd

George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Directed by Martin Scorsese
HBO, 2011, 208 minutes, available on Netflix

I was driving to work this past week, listening to (c)hristian radio, and Greg Laurie (not recommended) mentioned he had recently watched “Living in the Material World,” a documentary about ex-Beatle, George Harrison, on Netflix. So I set aside some time to watch this 3.5 hour documentary.

My five older sisters were big fans of the Beatles and I grew up with their music playing constantly from the family phonograph from 1964 until 1970 when they disbanded. Harrison (1943-2001) was the shy, quiet Beatle who eventually embraced Hinduism (particularly the Hare Krishna sect) with a passion. See my earlier post on Harrison and his influential Hare Krishna song, “My Sweet Lord,” here.

Scorsese’s documentary is an interesting and entertaining look at Harrison’s journey. He was brought up in a Roman Catholic family (as was fellow-Beatle, Paul McCartney), but finding no fulfillment in that impersonal, ritualistic religion, he got mixed up in Eastern “spirituality” through the music of Ravi Shankar. Of course, he didn’t find any real fulfillment in Krishna Consciousness either and regularly fell back into substance abuse and marital infidelity. After having been run ragged by the Beatles’ celebrity steamroller, Harrison sought “spiritual peace” and meaning in all the wrong places.

I enjoyed the many archived photos and videos of the “Fab Four,” along with the interview clips from Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, George Martin, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Ringo Starr, along with many others.* But in the the end, this is a sad story of an unbeliever desperately trying to find spiritual meaning outside of Jesus Christ.

“I was brought up in the kind of Catholic situation up until I was about eleven years old, which was that God is this thing that we’re never going to see, we’re never going to meet, but you still have to believe in what we say. It’s like this blind faith in something that they can’t show you.” – George Harrison

The impersonal and ritualistic religion that Harrison grew up in was/is not Christianity. But you CAN know God through salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:36-38

*I learned from this documentary that Harrison was a major financial backer of Monty Python, the British comedy ensemble. There are times when Christians can be overly dour and humorless, but I found the clips of Monty Python’s satire of Jesus’ crucifixion and a mocking reference to His sermon on the mount in this documentary to be repulsive. It’s understandable why ex-Catholic and passionate Hindu, Harrison, would have found this anti-Christian humor attractive. It’s also obvious why Monty Python never filmed a skit goofing on backer Harrison’s Hare Krishnas with their shaved-heads and saffron robes, chanting incessantly and begging for money at airports.

Decent DVD summary of differences between Biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism

Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome
Eric Barger, DVD, 2015, 53 minutes

Last week, I posted a message about a conversation that I had heard on Southwest Radio Ministries’ daily radio show regarding Mormonism. Out of curiosity, I checked SRM’s website to see if they offered any resources on Roman Catholicism. There weren’t very many (see here), but I did see “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” from Eric Barger and Take a Stand Ministries. For some inexplicable reason, I thought this offering was a book and ordered it. Well, it turned out to be a DVD. Argh! No problem. My dumb error.

This DVD presentation is a low-tech-but-decent overview of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity. Barger starts off by discussing the early Reformation and then briefly examines several anti-Biblical Catholic doctrines such as Mariolatry, praying to saints, image idolatry, transubstantiation, purgatory, and works justification.

The revealing centerpiece of the video is breakaway Anglican “bishop” and ecumenist, Tony Palmer’s presentation at a conference for Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers hosted by Kenneth Copeland on January 21, 2014. Copeland is one of the main propagators of the “name it and claim it,” word of faith, prosperity false gospel. In his presentation, Palmer declared that he had come in the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist to reconcile the children (evangelical Protestants) with their father (pope Francis). He proclaimed that the “protest is over” and it was now time for Protestants to put aside doctrinal disagreements and “unite with” (i.e., submit to) the pope and Catholicism. Palmer then produced a cell phone video of pope Francis making the same appeal. If you have never seen this presentation before, you need to. The compromise and betrayal of the Gospel is stunning and will take your breath away. Of course, a good case could be made that Palmer, Copeland, and many of the “name it and claim it” ministers who were in attendance at this conference were not genuinely saved.

This DVD is a decent introductory overview of the errors of Rome and of the demonic spirit of Scripture-defying ecumenism that’s currently infiltrating the church. Order from Southwest Radio Ministries here.

Large portions of “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” are available via the two You Tube videos below. Judas Tony Palmer’s appeal begins at the 6:00 mark on the second video.



Netflix’s “The Polka King,” an unlikely-but-fact-based dark comedy

The Polka King
Directed by Maya Forbes and featuring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, and Jackie Weaver
Netflix, 2018, 1h 35m

This dark comedy is based on the tumultuous life of Polka band leader, Jan Lewan(dowski) (photo right).


Polish immigrant, Jan Lewan (Jack Black), struggles to achieve the American dream. His Pennsylvania-based polka band and Polish gift shop teeter on insolvency, but Lewan has BIG plans and devises a pyramid investment scheme in order to finance them. Many of his polka fans are lured by promises of a 12% return on investment. Lewan’s “empire” appears to be on the rise, but cracks soon appear in the foundation. Try as he might, Lewan can’t seem to satisfy his wife’s (Jenny Slate) insatiable expectations that come with their nouveau riche lifestyle. As some investors begin to cash out, Lewan finds it harder and harder to make ends meet. Federal agents finally topple the house of cards and Lewan is imprisoned for five years. During that period, his throat is slit by his disturbed cellmate and his wife divorces him. Lewan was released from prison in 2005 and is still liable for the $5 million dollars taken from investors.


This film is both comical and sad. Director/writer Maya Forbes and writer Wallace Wolodarsky have done a great job of translating this unlikely-but-true slice of Polish-Americana to the small screen. Jack Black’s performance may seem a bit “over the top” to the uninitiated, but those familiar with the Lewan story will agree that he catches the essence of the naively exuberant polka band leader. “The Polka King” premiered on Netflix on January 12th.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Covetousness is a sin we don’t hear too much about, but it drove Lewis into prison and it drives us as well. There may not be a European American ethnic group that’s more Catholic than Poles. This movie is saturated with symbols of Lewan’s and Polish Americans’ ritual Catholicism. As part of his growing financial “empire,” Lewan began conducting tours to European cities and Rome/the Vatican. An example of the band leader’s naiveté is when he arranges his first excursion to the Vatican and pays off a church official with a suitcase full of cash to secure an audience with pope John Paul II for his customers. Maybe he wasn’t so naive after all.

List: The Nineteen Films of Elia Kazan with Reviews

Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of rewatching and reviewing all nineteen films of one of America’s most influential directors, Elia Kazan (1909-2003). Whew! That was a fun as well as challenging project. Thanks to all of you who accompanied me on this “journey.” Below is a handy listing of all of Kazan’s movies and links to my reviews.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
A hopeful young girl grows up in a poor family racked by alcoholism.

The Sea of Grass (1947)
A tyrannical rancher withstands the onslaught of homesteaders.

Boomerang (1947)
An honest DA must fight the temptation of an easy conviction.

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
A journalist discovers anti-Semitism permeates American society.

Pinky (1949)
A bi-racial nurse confronts bigotry in her small corner of world.

Panic in the Streets (1950)
A medical examiner has only hours to stem a city-wide epidemic.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A harrowing game of cat and mouse as a Southern belle descends into madness.

Viva Zapata! (1952)
The politically oppressed must resist the temptation of becoming the oppressors.

Man on a Tightrope (1953)
This Red Scare propaganda piece was Kazan’s penance for having been a member of the American Communist Party.

On the Waterfront (1954)
Longshoremen rebel against their corrupt union and Kazan defends his HUAC testimony.

East of Eden (1955)
Two very dissimilar sons compete for their father’s affections.

Baby Doll (1956)
Everyone’s seeking justice in this Southern black comedy.

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
A “ne’er do well” transforms into a populist Pied Piper.

Wild River (1960)
An elderly matron stands up to the federal bureaucratic steamroller.

Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Young love disintegrates under family pressures.

America America (1963)
Kazan retraces his uncle’s journey to America.

The Arrangement (1969)
A successful but frustrated advertising executive tries to find happiness.

The Visitors (1972)
The horrors of the Vietnam War come home to America.

The Last Tycoon (1976)
A cutthroat movie studio executive meets his match.

Kazan’s fade to black

The Last Tycoon
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Robert De Niro, Ingrid Boulting, Robert Mitchum, Theresa Russell, and Jack Nicholson
Paramount, 1976, 123 minutes

Film producer, Sam Spiegel, tapped successful playwright, Harold Pinter, and director, Mike Nichols, to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, “The Last Tycoon,” to the screen. When Nichols bailed on the project, Spiegel desperately turned to his “On the Waterfront” director, Elia Kazan. “The Last Tycoon” would be Kazan’s last film.


Monroe Stahr (De Niro) is the ruthless, arrogant, production executive at a major film studio in 1930s-era Hollywood. He’s so successful he routinely flouts the studio president, Pat Brady (Mitchum). When an earthquake causes a flood on the lot, Stahr spots Kathleen Moore (Boulting) clinging to a massive floating movie prop; the head of the Hindu god, Shiva, and instantly falls in love with this young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife. Brady’s daughter, Cecilia (Russell), has a schoolgirl crush on Stahr, but he only has eyes for Kathleen.  A relationship ensues, but Kathleen attempts to break it off by leaving a note stating she’s engaged. Stahr won’t take no for an answer and pursues the enigmatic Kathleen at the expense of his studio responsibilities. When Kathleen telegrams him that she married her fiancé, Stahr is crushed. He attempts to vent his anger and frustration in a meeting with a union organizer (Nicholson), but succumbs to a forceful right hook. While Cecilia consoles the physically and emotionally battered Stahr, Brady and the studio board smell blood. Stahr is dismissed and takes one final, lonely walk through the lot.


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished, last novel was inspired by MGM’s legendary, golden-boy producer, Irving Thalberg. Sixty-seven-year-old Kazan had not directed a film in four years, but he accepted Spiegel’s offer to direct “The Last Tycoon” mainly as an opportunity to move from New York to California so that his terminally-ill mother could escape the bitterness of another New York winter. Unlike his previous film projects, Kazan had no input into the script. There is very little about this movie that distinguishes it as a Kazan film.

There’s none better than De Niro in portraying a mafia goon, but he’s out of his league playing the sharp-as-a-tack Stahr, who must deftly orchestrate ten or twenty film projects in his head nineteen hours a day. De Niro lost forty-pounds in preparation for the role of the sickly executive. Boulting is so detached in her performance she simply can’t muster any interest from the audience. One of the few bright spots in this movie is Theresa Russell in her film debut. A number of screen notables make appearances including Tony Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, John Carradine, Anjelica Huston, and the legendary French film actress, Jeanne Moreau.

“The Last Tycoon” is a paper-thin story that generates little audience interest. While there are a few decent performances, it’s not enough to save this clunker. Kazan wrote later that he immediately knew he had a dog on his hands the day of the first private screening. Unfortunately, the great director finished his film career on this sour note.

There are no extras with the DVD.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Like the character, Monroe Stahr, and his inspiration, Irving Thalberg, Elia Kazan had also been one of the entertainment industry’s wunderkind “golden boys.” In the 1940s and 1950s, no other American director could rival Kazan’s combined standing in Hollywood and Broadway. But as Kazan became increasingly involved in autobiographical projects in the 1960s, audiences lost interest and his star began to descend. Kazan would finish his life writing novels for an ever-dwindling readership. He died in 2003.

Kazan’s rise and fall is another reminder to us that life without Christ is unfulfilling and ultimately, deadly. Kazan achieved great career success and was the toast of both coasts, but was also haunted by his friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Atheist Kazan had remarkable insights into human beings; their strengths and especially their weaknesses. But he had no answers, only questions.


Star Wars’ quasi-spirituality: Everybody worships something.

My wife and I were blessed to have our youngest son, son B, stay with us the last ten days. He’s an Air Force sergeant stationed down in Texas, so we only get to see him once a year. Both of our two sons are atheists, but son B is an especially hardcore scoffer.

Our oldest son, son A, who lives about 5 miles from us, planned a few family activities while his brother was in town, including all of us going to the movie theater this past Saturday night to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Argh!!! Some of you may think I’m a big movie buff because of my reviews of films directed by Elia Kazan, but going to the movies is actually one of the last things I want to do, ESPECIALLY to a “Star Wars” movie. Ach! I’d much rather watch paint dry on a wall than go see a “Star Wars” movie. Several times I privately shared with son B my strong reluctance to see the movie.

So Saturday morning, my wife and I, our two sons, and oldest granddaughter had breakfast at Donuts Delite, Rochester’s legendary donut shop (see here for my review). I had the usual; a cup of joe, two giant slices of breakfast sausage pizza, and a vanilla crème-filled donut. The best! Son A then announced he and son B would go Christmas shopping and then call my wife and I to meet them at the movie theater later that evening. Argh! I definitely didn’t want to go and deliberated in my head how I was going to get out of it. The only hiccup was that my wife and I had previously asked son B to attend church with us Sunday morning, not exactly something at the top of his hit parade. Would son B strategically use my refusal to see “Star Wars” as an excuse for him not to go to church the next day? Yes, he certainly would. Time passed and it was getting late and I thought I might be spared “Star Wars” torture, but son A called at 6:40PM to say he had bought tickets for the 7PM show. Ach! Double ach! But I bit the bullet and drove to the theater without voicing an audible complaint.

Once at the theater, we sat through several previews and I noticed some of the upcoming movies had a pronounced “spiritual” theme including “A Wrinkle in Time” starring New Age high priestess, Oprah Winfrey. Then came “Star Wars.” Ach, “Star Wars!” It’s a cultural phenomenon! People soak it up like religion. And it is religion for them. There’s lots of references to good versus evil and the hazy “force.” People will willingly subject themselves to every new chapter of fictional “Star Wars”-spirituality but cannot sit still for one second under Gospel preaching. But I don’t get freaked out by “Star Wars” and its quasi-spirituality. The lost flail around trying to make sense of the Universe. The never-ending conflict between bad-guy First Order villains and the good-guy Rebels aided by the nebulous “force” appeals to them much more than the Biblical way of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The lost definitely worship at the altar of entertainment. It’s spiritual blindness. After 150 very long minutes, the final credits thankfully rolled.

Yes, son B did attend church with us the following morning without nary a protest and he got to hear an excellent message on salvation in Christ. Thank you, Lord! Was there a crack in his hard heart? We pray the Lord continues to work in the hearts of our two boys.

Postscript: If you’re a Christian and a casual “Star Wars” fan, my apologies. I can enjoy and even cull spiritual lessons from the films of atheist director, Elia Kazan. Perhaps you can do the same with “Star Wars”?

Kazan’s look at Vietnam on a shoestring budget

Elia Kazan had been one of America’s most celebrated and influential film and theatrical directors in the 1940s and 50s, but by the early 1970s, after the financial failure of five of his previous six movies, he could not find backing for a new film project written by his son, Chris Kazan, which explored themes regarding the unpopular Vietnam War. Kazan opted to film “The Visitors” himself on a shoestring budget using a 16mm camera.

The Visitors
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring James Woods, Patricia Joyce, Steve Railsback, Chico Martinez, and Patrick McVey
United Artists, 1972, 88 minutes


Bill (Woods) and Martha (Joyce) and their infant child live in a Connecticut farmhouse owned by Martha’s domineering father, Western pulp fiction writer, Harry (McVey). They are not married and their relationship seems to be somewhat strained.

Two visitors, Sarge aka Mike (Railsback) and Tony (Martinez), show up at the house unexpectedly. They had served together in the same platoon with Bill in Vietnam, but Bill had testified against them at a court martial for wartime atrocities. The pair had been released due to a legal technicality after having been imprisoned for two years and had driven from Kansas to Connecticut to find Bill. The intentions of the visitors are unclear and Bill is nervous and fearful.

Harry stops by for a visit. He’s an overbearing redneck who enjoys the company of the two manly guests as much as he openly despises his daughter’s passive boyfriend.

As the night progresses, Martha learns from Bill the details of the wartime atrocity, which involved the rape and murder of a Vietnamese girl, and she angrily confronts Sarge. While she abhors him, she is also strangely attracted to his aggressive demeanor. Bill breaks things up and attacks Sarge. A fight ensues and Bill is beaten to a bloody pulp. Martha is also attacked. The visitors leave, satisfied that they have meted out justice. After Bill regains consciousness, he asks Martha if she’s all right. She just stares back at him with silent contempt.

The moral of the story: It was bad enough to see the violence of Vietnam on the television screen, but it was something altogether different when it crossed over your threshold.


Kazan stated in an interview that “The Visitors” was an “anti-war picture,” and that it was about “the price of the Vietnam War on the soul of the American people.”  While the production quality is unsurprisingly low given the budget constraints, the rising tension between the characters is palpable. Railsback’s character is especially convincing as a coiled cobra patiently waiting to strike its victim. The script was loosely based on a portion of Daniel Lang’s book, “Casualties of War” (1969), which also inspired Brian De Palma’s same-titled 1989 film.

Like the Bill character, Kazan had also testified against his friends at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1952 when he named the names of former associates of the American Communist Party. While I haven’t read of Kazan having ever been physically attacked because of his testimony, he was widely ostracized by liberals on both coasts until his death in 2003.

The shoestring-budget movie was filmed at Kazan’s home and property in Sandy Hook, Newtown, Connecticut (yes, THAT Sandy Hook where 20 elementary school children and 7 adults were massacred by a disturbed young man in 2012). It’s unique among all of Kazan’s films because of its extremely basic, no-frills production quality. “The Visitors” had an extremely limited release. Of all of Kazan’s nineteen films, “The Visitors” is the only one not on DVD, but it is available as a VHS tape and through Amazon streaming.

Additional thoughts from a believer

The United States’ protracted involvement in the Vietnam War wore down the resolve of the American people. By the time Kazan made “The Visitor” in 1972, the nation had had enough. In 1973, America ceased military operations in Vietnam. South Vietnam eventually fell to the North Vietnamese-led forces in 1975.

The First World War was proclaimed to be “the war that would end all wars.” International organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations were established to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts. But conflicts and wars continue. As the Bible says, the hearts of men are desperately wicked. Individuals have a difficult time maintaining harmonious relationships let alone nations. The only lasting peace comes through a relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.



Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World

I’m a bit behind on my reviews, so I’m going to keep the next several somewhat brief.

Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World
Directed by David Batty, narrated by Hugh Bonneville, and featuring Padraic Delaney as Martin Luther.
PBS, 2017, 120 minutes

I missed this docu-drama when it aired on PBS back in September as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so I recently ordered the DVD. I enjoyed “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World” quite a bit. It’s clear that this was a low-budget production and written with a wide audience in mind, but it surprisingly tells Luther’s story quite accurately, including the reclaiming of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Multiple sound bites from the most powerful Catholic clergyman in America, cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, are included in the first half of the film. Dolan concedes that the Catholic church was exceedingly corrupt at the time of the Reformation and he praises Luther for his zeal. However, he makes sure to point out that some monarchs supported Luther only as part of an effort to usurp territory held by Rome. No debate with that, but leave it to Dolan to draw attention to the temporal sidebars of the Reformation rather than to the spiritual battle of whether man is saved by Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit or by the Biblical Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The film does focus on the moment when the Holy Spirit used Romans 1:17 to enlighten Luther to the Gospel of grace.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

I’m not altogether pleased with the title of this documentary. It infers that the Gospel was Luther’s “idea.” Rather, Luther, along with others, recovered the New Testament Gospel that had been buried under layer upon layer of ecclesiastical ritual, tradition, legalism, and ceremony.

Praise the Lord for Luther and all the Reformers who were used by the Holy Spirit to return the church to the Gospel of grace. I’m definitely going to watch this film again. Order from Amazon here.

Postscript: Catholics should have absolutely zero objections to Martin Luther and the Reformation at this point because their current pope says even atheists can merit Heaven if they follow their conscience.

Talk about a “mid-life crisis”!

The Arrangement
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Deborah Kerr, and Richard Boone
Warner Bros., 1969, 125 minutes

Following the release of his previous film, “America America” (1963), director Elia Kazan turned to writing fiction. His semi-autobiographical novel, “The Arrangement,” was surprisingly the highest-selling fictional work of the year when it was published in 1967. Kazan adapted the novel to the screen two years later.


Middle-aged Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas) is a successful advertising executive living a very comfortable, upper middle-class lifestyle with his wife, Florence (Deborah Kerr), in a sprawling California home complete with servants and an in-ground pool. But Eddie secretly despises the “arrangements” and compromises he’s made in his life and unsuccessfully attempts suicide on the highway. While recovering, Eddie has flashbacks of his unsatisfying career and of the young, outspoken, co-worker, Gwen (Faye Dunaway), who goaded him to follow his own desires and who he partnered with in an extramarital affair. Following his recovery, Eddie reluctantly returns to the job he hates but finds he cannot tolerate it and surrealistically buzzes the company office tower in his private plane as his final parting shot.

As Florence wonders WHAT is going on with her suddenly unhinged husband, Eddie is summoned to New York City to be with his ailing father (Richard Boone). He also uses the opportunity to visit Gwen, who had moved to the Big Apple primarily to get away from Eddie. Although Gwen has a new boyfriend, Eddie is undeterred. Meanwhile, Florence chases Eddie to New York to keep close tabs on her unpredictable husband.

Eddie sneaks his father out of the hospital in the middle of the night according to his wishes and brings him back to the old family homestead. The old Greek is suffering from dementia and insists Eddie take him to the bank for a loan to restart his rug business. At the house, Eddie has painful childhood flashbacks of his domineering and abusive father.

After the family absconds with the father and commits him to a nursing home, Eddie walks in on a meeting with Florence and her lawyer, Arthur (Hume Cronyn), as they draw up divorce papers. Eddie is arrested after setting fire to the old family home (symbolizing the extirpation of the painful childhood memories) and being shot by Gwen’s jealous boyfriend. Eddie is subsequently committed to a mental institution where he’s satisfied to stay, but Gwen prods him into leaving and moving forward with his life. The father dies and the family gathers at the cemetery; Eddie and Gwen are together while Frances appears to have found a new provider in Arthur.


While the film is not completely autobiographical, it does draw very heavily on the director’s life experiences. Kazan later wrote extensively on his troubled relationships with his father, his first wife, Molly Thatcher, and his spirited mistress and second wife, actress Barbara Loden. He had also experienced a bit of a personal, water-shed crisis after becoming extremely dissatisfied with his role as a theatrical director while desiring to be a writer.

Kazan admitted later that alpha-dog, Douglas, was all wrong for the part of troubled Eddie. His take-charge personality could not be concealed from the camera. Dunaway is bit over-dramatic as the strong-willed mistress. Kazan originally envisioned Barbara Loden playing the part of Gwen, which would have equated to the former-mistress-turned-wife portraying herself. Boone is spot-on as the overbearing father and Kerr is okay as the painfully long-suffering wife.

Kazan employs a number of questionable techniques in this film which serve as distractions. There’s some cartoonish “Ka-pow” graphics straight out of the then-popular Batman television show. The conflicted Eddie is made to debate his successful and sales savvy alter-ego within the same scene. Adult Eddie is present as an observer in flashbacks to his youth. There’s also plenty of flashy editing that was “cutting edge” hip in the late 60s.

“The Arrangement” was not well-received by the public. Kazan later blamed the film’s failure on some missing key elements from the novel that had to be left out of the script for brevity’s sake. This film has only a few redeeming qualities, but Kazan fans will appreciate the many references to his own personal life, which he elaborated on in great detail in his fascinatingly candid 1988 autobiography. “The Arrangement” was one of the first films dealing with “finding one’s true path,” a theme that would later preoccupy Hollywood. The 2007 DVD offers no commentary although the trailer and an interesting but short promotional documentary are included.

Additional thoughts from a believer

We’re all aware of the fabled, “mid-life crisis.” We’ve seen others go through it to some degree and, if we’re old enough, we’ve seen it in ourselves. A person reaches their forties or fifties and is confronted with their mortality. They ask themselves, “Is this all there is to life?” After working hard for so many years to please others by conforming to family or societal expectations, some resolve to please only themselves with the remaining time they have. Sometimes they go to sadly comical, stereotypical extremes like the 55-year-old guy who buys a high-performance, red convertible sports car and dumps his wife for a 30-year-old girlfriend.

The protagonist in “The Arrangement” is suffering through a “mid-life crisis” on steroids. Will he find true and lasting happiness and fulfillment as a struggling writer living with his former mistress? Me thinks not. Much of “The Arrangement” reminds me of the Book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:1-2). Without Jesus Christ as your Savior, life is empty, life is meaningless, life is hopeless. Accept Christ as your Savior. Christ can save you from the coming judgement for your sin and give your life everlasting meaning in Him.

Kazan went on to write five more novels, but none would reach even a fraction of the popularity of “The Arrangement.” He began divorce proceedings against Loden in 1978, but dropped the suit when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was followed by terminal liver cancer.

Trivia: “The Arrangement” is actually something of a sequel to “America America.” Eddie is the nephew of the protagonist of the 1963 film, Stavros Topouzoglou. In “The Arrangement,” the much-older Stavros is shown covetously eyeing the shoes of his dying brother, eliciting memories of the importance of a pair of shoes in the earlier film. Grizzled actor, Richard Boone, who portrayed Douglas’ father in the film, was actually six-months younger than his co-star.