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.
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.
Only a few days ago, I had posted a message about a Catholic nun who was thrown into a tizzy by the changes of Vatican II. See here. I see that an independent film is being released today (on a limited basis) that shares a similar theme with, no doubt, a different outcome. “Novitiate” tells the tale of Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), a young Catholic woman who enters the nunnery in 1964. This is during the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), when the Catholic church was making drastic changes to its procedural window dressings. The Mother Superior (Melissa Leo) runs the nunnery like a Marine boot camp and tolerates nothing less than absolute submission and obedience. “Faith” for these young nuns is a grueling ladder, with each step hoped to be leading ever higher to “holiness” and merited salvation. Self-mortification is not only encouraged but demanded. As Vatican II eases some of the rigors of religious life, the Mother Superior and other nuns experience a jolting crisis of faith. Their self-identity is totally bound up in their order’s extreme asceticism. The council’s abrupt changes pull the chair completely out from underneath them.
As an ex-Catholic who grew up in the 1960s and attended parochial grammar school, I can attest to the significant changes wrought by Vatican II. The nuns’ garb changed from starched medieval habits to matronly jumper dresses. We had previously been taught that all Protestants were going to hell, which was changed to the teaching that those outside the church would be judged according to “the light they had been given.” Huh? The mass was said in English rather than Latin and guitars and religious folk songs replaced organs and hymns. These changes caused great consternation among the laity, but even more so among the religious. But despite all of these alterations in form, the major Catholic doctrines remained unchanged. Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit remained.
I understand that this film addresses lesbianism in Catholic convents to some degree (which would explain the R-rating). There are those who will find that off-putting, but the reality was that “celibate” convent life did foster sexual deviancy. The many autobiographies of ex-nuns published by Protestant publishing houses in the 19th and early-20th centuries lightly touched upon the sexual deviancy that was rampant in convents, but Catholic spokespersons at the time dismissed all the accounts as pure fiction. After decades of scandalous headlines, few would defend the notion that “chastity” was adhered to in convents, seminaries, and rectories. Those places were clearly hothouses for deviant immorality. I can remember back in 7th and 8th grade how one of our nuns, Sister Maryann, subtly introduced approbation of same-sex relationships into her English literature classes. One not-so-subtle example was the fiction novel she assigned over the summer following 7th grade that dealt with homosexuality. The nun was noticeably on the masculine side and appeared to us students to have an unusually close relationship with one of the other nuns. I was only a kid at the time, but I was no dummy.
“Novitiate” is being released today on a limited basis. It’s scheduled to open at Rochester’s home of artsy films, The Little Theater, on November 24th.
This post is not an endorsement of the film, because I obviously have not seen it yet. But I’m posting this as a heads-up for those who are curious about the doggedly militant brand of Catholicism that I grew up in the first ten years of my life. The attached trailer is not sensationalistic. This was the Catholicism I knew as a young boy.
In the film’s trailer, the distraught Mother Superior asks a poignant question:
“The church gave me my work, my community, even my identity, and now the church is trying to invalidate all that, saying none of it matters. So my question is, what is it that really does still matter?”
Ah, great question, Mother Superior! Excellent question! And sometimes in real life the Lord does have to pull the carpet out from under us in order to get our attention. Friends, religious legalism and ceremonial ritualism don’t matter, not even one small bit. None of us are good. None of us can merit Heaven. But Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Do you qualify? Repent of your sins and reach out to Him in prayer. Accept Him as your Savior by faith alone then ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that teaches God’s Word without compromise.
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Stathis Giallelis, Lou Antonio, John Marley, Paul Mann, and Linda Marsh
Warner Bros., 1963, 168 minutes
After directing fifteen films based on the ideas and scripts of others, Kazan worked up the nerve to write the screenplay of “America America” by himself. The movie loosely chronicles the immigration of Kazan’s uncle to America.
With the Armenian and Greek minorities facing increasing intolerance and persecution in 1890’s Turkey, the Greek Topouzoglou family sends their eldest son, Stavros (Giallelis), from their small village to Constantinople in the hope that he can establish the family in the relatively safer environs of the city. But Stavros secretly dreams of immigrating to the mythical America, with its promises of security and prosperity. Along the journey to the city, the naive and trusting Stavros is robbed of his family’s cherished possessions by a comical Turkish rascal (Antonio) and arrives at his cousin’s rug store with only the clothes on his back. Stavros balks at his cousin’s scheme to marry a wealthy merchant’s unattractive daughter and begins working as a lowly hamal (porter) to buy passage to America. After months of back-breaking toil, he is robbed of his savings by a prostitute. Stavros associates with a group of anarchists and is nearly killed in a government ambush. He returns half-dead to his cousin and disingenuously agrees to marry the daughter of merchant Aleko Sinnikoglou (Mann). Stavros has feelings for the plain Thomna (Marsh) and is tempted by the comforts of domesticity, but won’t be swayed from his goal. The middle-aged wife of one Sinnikoglou’s wealthy customers takes a shine to young Stavros and arranges for his ocean passage to America as her traveling “companion.” When her husband learns he’s been betrayed, he tries to have the young Greek returned to Turkey, but Stavros takes the identity of a deathly-sick Armenian friend (Gregory Rozakis), who voluntarily jumps overboard so that Stavros may realize his dream. Stavros arrives at Ellis Island and kneels down to kiss American soil. He shines shoes in New York City with a passion, saving his hard-earned coins in order to eventually bring his family to America.
Kazan based his novel, “America America” (1962), and the subsequent film adaptation on the journey of his uncle, Joe Kazan, who had a cameo in one of Kazan’s early films; “Boomerang.” Kazan moved the filming to Greece because of Turkish censorship. The breathtaking black and white cinematography was done by the legendary Haskell Wexler. Newcomer Giallelis’ performance at times borders on the amateurish and his broken English is occasionally undecipherable, but his facial expressions are wonderfully dramatic. The 22-year-old Greek actor had to learn English for this role. Kazan employed a large number of weathered native non-actor extras who sharply contrast with the professionals of Kazan’s Actor’s Studio. Linda Marsh breaks your heart as the rejected bride-to-be and deserved an Oscar nomination. Paul Mann is outstanding as the domineering but big-hearted future-father-in-law. The film won an Oscar for Best Art Direction and was also nominated for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
“America America” was Kazan’s favorite film. It’s extremely long at almost three hours, but I would have a hard time deciding which scenes to cut. This is a wonderful movie, an epic testament to the courage and determination of our immigrant ancestors who sought the freedoms of America. They pined for an America where they heard the streets were literally paved with gold and where they would be “redeemed” and washed clean (of the injustices of the old homeland), as Stavros says in the film. However, after they arrived in America, many immigrants found the conditions in the late 19th and early 20th-century urban sweat shops and tenements to be as oppressive as conditions in the “old country.”
Warner Bros. finally released this film on DVD in 2011. Film historian, Foster Hirsch, provides an informative and infectiously enthusiastic commentary. Kazan would go on to complete the trilogy of Stavros’ epic tale with the novels, “The Anatolian” (1982), and “Beyond the Agean” (1994). Spoiler alert: In his later years, Stavros becomes disillusioned with America and yearns for the old homeland.
See one of the trailers for “America America” here.
Additional thoughts from a believer
Kazan directed “America America” when he was 54 years old. Once the celebrated “golden boy” of Hollywood and Broadway, the despised, friendly-witness of the 1952 House Un-American Activities Committee would direct only three more films. Like “America America,” they would all be commercial failures. Kazan always felt uncomfortable as a Greek immigrant outsider in Hollywood’s illusory world of homogenized glamour. With this movie, Kazan embraced his ethnic roots and, in a certain sense, tried to come to terms with his strained relationship with his deceased father.
Everyone who doesn’t know the Lord has a spiritual void they seek to fill. When I walked away from the Lord for many years, I tried to fill the vacuum by reading many books about my ethnic heritage. It became an obsession. Millions of Americans log into Ancestry.com every day to try to determine exactly who they are in this rootless society. In the end, it doesn’t satisfy. The only Rock and sure foundation is the Lord, Jesus Christ. If He is not your personal Savior, you don’t have anything.
It’s been several months since posting a review of one of Elia Kazan’s films, so it’s time to get back on track with the director’s fifteenth and last profitable project.
Splendor in the Grass
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, and Audrey Christie
Warner Bros., 1961, 124 minutes
After the dismal commercial failures of his three previous films (the so-called “Southern Trilogy”), Kazan turned to popular playwright, William Inge, for a box-office-friendly teenage melodrama.
Arthur “Bud” Stamper (Beatty) and Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Wood) are king and queen of their high school in 1928 Kansas and madly in love. Bud is from a wealthy family and the top jock on campus (although not a gifted student), while Deanie is from a much more modest background, but is one of the school’s most attractive and popular girls. Together, they’re an ideal couple, but must increasingly battle the temptation to become more intimate. Deanie’s materialistic mother (Christie) counsels her daughter to remain chaste because Bud is the “catch of a lifetime” and he surely wouldn’t marry a “bad girl.” In the meantime, Bud tells his Type-A-on-steroids father, Ace Stamper (Hingle), that he can no longer fight lustful temptations, so he’s determined to marry Deanie immediately after graduation and run the family ranch, but the small town oil baron insists that academically-challenged Bud go to Yale in order prepare himself to take the oil business to the next level. Bud’s scandalously immoral older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), has brought shame to the Stamper name and Ace hopes Bud can redeem the family’s reputation.
Recognizing that he can no longer control himself, Bud cools the relationship with “good girl,” Deanie, but lets off some steam with Juanita (Jan Norris), the school “floozy,” thereby humiliating Deanie, and sending her into an emotional breakdown. Somewhat recovered and desperate to win back her boyfriend, she forces herself on Bud, but he rejects her uncharacteristic advances. Deanie becomes so distraught, she attempts suicide. As Deanie teeters on the verge of a complete mental collapse, her doctor advises an anxious Bud to end all contact for her health’s sake.
Bud goes to Yale, but his heart isn’t in it and he’s failing all of his subjects. An Italian waitress, Angelina (Zohra Lampert), befriends him in his lovesick misery. His father visits Yale in an attempt to rally Bud, but ends up jumping from a New York City skyscraper when the stock market crash of 1929 totally destroys his business. In the meantime, Deanie is sent to a sanitarium to recover her mental and emotional stability. There, she befriends a male patient and a lukewarm romance blooms. When Deanie is released after a long, thirty-month stay, she returns home, and immediately asks to see Bud to determine if there’s any spark left in their relationship. She visits Bud on his struggling ranch and learns he’s married to Angelina, with one infant child and another on the way. Disappointed but not broken, Deanie stoically commits to going forward with her life, finding “strength in what remains behind.”
“Splendor” resonated with audiences across the country. Inge won an Oscar for his screenplay (Kazan had a large amount of input) while Wood was nominated for her performance. This was Beatty’s film debut, another notable “find” for Kazan. Hingle’s full-throttle performance is quite memorable but skirts with being “over the top.” Most of the movie was shot around New York City.
I first watched “Splendor” when I was in my early teens and was floored by the unorthodox conclusion (the attached video captures the final 3.5 minutes). Kazan stated in later interviews that the last reel was his favorite of all of his films. It certainly wasn’t a stereotypical Hollywood ending. Two characters in love are supposed to live “happily ever after,” but real life is never so orderly, which is why “Splendor” struck a chord. I remember being quite smitten with the lovely and vulnerable Deanie character, probably like many of the film’s teenage male viewers. The startling uniqueness of this film launched my decades-long study of its director.
The two DVD’s of “Splendor in the Grass” released by Warner Brothers unfortunately provide no commentary or remarkable bonus features.
Trivia alert: Screenwriter, Bill Inge, has a small role as a Protestant minister saddened by the spiritual emptiness of his church’s biggest contributor, Ace Stamper.
Additional thoughts from a Christian believer
Kazan was a Marxist atheist who rebelled against religious and societal norms of morality. Perhaps more than any of his previous films, Kazan used “Splendor” to attack “middle-class materialism” and “puritanical morality.” Antagonists Ace Stamper and Mrs. Loomis are presented as the duplicitous enemies of the pure love of their children. Bud and Deanie struggle to adhere to their parents’ hypocritical moral code, ultimately destroying their love.
“Splendor” was somewhat revolutionary in its day for its exploration of teenage sexuality, but by today’s standards it hardly raises an eyebrow. It’s interesting to note that Leftist crusader, Kazan, carried on an affair with Loden throughout the filming of “Splendor,” returning to his wife and children each evening at his comfortable estate in the tony suburb of Newtown, Connecticut. Hypocrisy?
Christians understand we cannot satisfy the ultimate moral code, the Ten Commandments. But God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. He conquered sin and death and offers eternal life and fellowship with God to all those who accept Him as Savior by faith alone. As Christians, we attempt to follow the Lord in obedience, albeit imperfectly. As a teenager, I struggled with sexual temptation. Those hormones were firing like a well-tuned 350 V-8 engine. It’s a common experience, right? These days, teens are experiencing even greater pressure to give in to temptation at an even earlier age. The Lord gave us guidelines for a reason. To protect our physical and emotional well being and the well being of others. Rampant premarital and extramarital sexuality have led to all kinds of individual and social problems. Perhaps the church would have done better to present sexuality positively, as a natural and wonderful gift of God for married couples, rather than negatively, as something dirty and not to be spoken of. After all, The Song of Solomon is in the Bible. But a person must accept Christ as Savior before they can follow Him in obedience.
Natalie Wood left her then-husband, Robert Wagner, for co-star Beatty during the filming of “Splendor,” much to the delight of Kazan, who sought emotional reality from his actors. Wood would reunite with Wagner in 1972. She died under suspicious circumstances in 1981 while on an excursion on the Wagners’ boat, the ironically-named “Splendour.” William Inge committed suicide in 1973. Beatty would go on to achieve fame mainly as Hollywood’s celebrated #1 Lothario. But now they castigate Harvey Weinstein?
After watching “Splendor,” I can remember scrambling to the library to read William Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” (1804), with the famous passage cited in the film:
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Scholars still debate whether Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a Christian. Most of his earlier poetry glorifies nature as a semi-deific force. Later poems displayed a much more orthodox Christian view. In his “Ode,” the poet admonished his readers to move forward with their lives rather than dwell in the past.
God’s Word has much to say about looking back. Believers are to focus on Christ and Christian service and not look back at the world’s temptations with desire.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” – Philippians 3:13
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 1 Peter 1: 24-25
See here for more Bible verses about looking forward in Christ.
The independent fundamental Baptist church that my wife and I attended after we accepted Christ in the early 80s was like a lot of other IFB churches back then when it came to the Arminian-Calvin, free will vs. predestination debate. Our pastor leaned heavily toward free will, but also preached the eternal security of the believer. I can remember him getting behind the pulpit and deriding the Reformed movement’s TULIP acronym like it was straight from the pit of hell.
After returning to the Lord following a loooong prodigal season, the last two churches we’ve attended have been Reformed Baptist, although the pastors didn’t/don’t really push the doctrine of election very hard that I’ve heard. I appreciate the Reformed movement’s emphasis on the Lord’s grace and forgiveness compared to the Arminian movement’s heavier emphasis on works and guilt (even with the possibility of losing salvation in some circles). So I’m somewhere in the middle of the Arminian-Calvin debate and firmly committed to non-commitment unless the Lord shows me otherwise.
The other evening, I was scanning through the news and I came across the interesting web sites below. A new documentary, “Calvinist,” from director, Les Lanphere, is being released on October 2nd. The film documents how Calvinism is enjoying increasing interest among young evangelicals. Featured are some notable brothers whom I’ve often quoted in past posts including R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, James White, Tim Challies, Steven Lawson, and Michael Horton.
As I said, I’m somewhere in the middle of the Arminian-Calvin debate, but I do have a fondness for my conservative Reformed brethren and sistren, especially for their bold stand against ecumenism with Rome, something increasingly hard to find these days within evangelicalism.
So, are we soon going to see a rebuttal documentary from the Wesleyans, Pentecostals, and Free Will Baptists titled, “Arminian”? 😁 Why is this committed Arminian-Calvinist advertising a movie promoting Calvinism? Hey, I wanted to give a heads-up to my Reformed friends and I want to eventually see it as well. The documentary isn’t available from Amazon yet, so you’ll have to order it from the official website.
Please, my Arminian brothers and sisters, no hate mail!
Directed by Peter Yates and featuring Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and Jacqueline Bisset.
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 1968, 113 minutes
I threatened to watch and review “Bullitt” and I’m a man of my word (sometimes). After reading Greg Laurie’s biography of actor Steve McQueen a couple of months ago (see here), I purchased perhaps his most famous film, “Bullitt,” on Blu-ray and I finally got around to watching it.
Mobster stool pigeon, Johnny Ross, is sequestered in a flee-bitten San Francisco hotel by ambitious politician, Senator Walter Chalmers (Vaughn), in preparation for his testimony before a crime committee. Police lieutenant, Frank Bullitt (McQueen), and his unit are assigned to guard him, but mob hit men manage to find Ross and shoot him. He dies in a hospital before the goons can finish the job. Bullitt sniffs around town for clues and then follows a menacing, 1968 Dodge Charger that’s been tailing him, leading to a seat-of-the-pants car chase through the famously hilly streets of the city, but the thugs die in a fiery crash. Bullitt then discovers the man he was protecting wasn’t actually Ross, but was a stand-in double. The real Ross is headed to the airport and a Pan Am jet bound for London. Bullitt gives chase across the runway tarmacs, corners Ross inside the airport terminal, and administers Bullitt-style justice. Was there ever any doubt?
Steve McQueen is as cool as it gets in this movie. His clothes are cool. His haircut is cool. He doesn’t speak a lot of dialogue because he doesn’t have to, his cool looks say it all. To make things even cooler, there’s Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy score playing in the background and of course there’s Bullitt’s stunning girlfriend, Cathy (Bisset), always at his side whenever he’s not chasing down killers. The icing on the cake is Bullitt’s ultra-cool, Dark Highland Green, 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 2+2 Fastback. Wowza! Are you kidding me?!?!?! Watching the car chase scene with McQueen pushing the Mustang to its mechanical limits was amazing. I had heard about “Bullitt” and its famous 10-minute car chase scene for decades, but I had never seen the film until now. The plot is notorious for being a bit discombobulated and doesn’t disappoint in that regard. A viewer will need to read a plot summary at Wikipedia or IMDB immediately after seeing the film in order to tie up all the dangling loose ends. Irregardless, this movie is a remarkable action flick and still holds up very well fifty years later. McQueen is the king of cool from start to finish. Robert Vaughn is outstanding as the slimy politician.
Additional thoughts from a believer
When “Bullitt” premiered on October 17, 1968, Steve McQueen was the most popular movie star in the world. After a difficult childhood and a stint in the Marines, McQueen had ascended to the top of his profession and had it all; family, money, fame, and the ability to pursue whatever he wanted, including plenty of cars, drugs, and women. A lot of men wished they could be Steve McQueen for just one day. But even with all of that worldly success, McQueen was unsatisfied and spiritually empty. There had to be more to life than fame and material success.
In his never-ending pursuit of the next thrill, McQueen signed up for flying lessons. His instructor just happened to be a born-again Christian who wasn’t timid about reading his Bible in public. McQueen’s curiosity led to conversation, which eventually led to McQueen accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior at Ventura Missionary Church in 1979. Six months later, the actor learned he had an aggressive form of cancer and died at the end of 1980 at the age of 50. Steve McQueen accepting Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone; now that’s REALLY cool!!!
A short time ago, I reviewed Greg Laurie’s book about actor Steve McQueen’s conversion to Jesus Christ. See here.
I usually catch the last five minutes of Laurie’s radio show every morning as I’m driving into work and lately he’s been pumping the movie follow-up to the book. “Steve McQueen: American Icon” will be playing in selected theaters across the country on Thursday, September 28th only. This is an evangelism tool with Laurie giving an invitation to accept Christ at the end of the film. See the official website here.
I enjoyed Laurie’s book about McQueen and I was even contemplating going to the theater to see the movie. But as one of his pitch points, Laurie mentioned that actor/director/producer, Mel Gibson, is interviewed during the film. Mel Gibson? Again? Laurie featured Gibson on his last TBN-televised Harvest crusade and there’s a quote
from Gibson recommending “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon” on the book’s dust jacket. But Mel Gibson is an ultra-traditionalist, “Tridentine” Roman Catholic, meaning he believes in salvation by sacramental grace and merit and he also believes the last six popes were imposters because of the changes adopted by the church at the Second Vatican Council. Mel Gibson is certainly not a supporter of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE. So why has he been rubbing shoulders with Laurie so much? Gibson might be a sedevacantist, but he’s also a busine$$man. Evangelicals strongly supported his film, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), and Gibson is pragmatically counting on their support for the sequel, “Resurrection,” which is slated for release in 2019.
Greg Laurie, a TBN regular, does preach the Gospel of grace, but he also troublingly embraces as Christians those who promote a false gospel. A lot. Many evangelical pastors and para-church leaders do the same thing. Is it that Laurie looks the other way and compromises the Gospel for the sake of money and numbers? He’s just following in the footsteps of his hero, Billy Graham. Laurie and Gibson are using each other for their own purposes in an ungodly, symbiotic dance.
No, I won’t be attending “Steve McQueen: American Icon.” Maybe instead I’ll watch McQueen’s 1968 classic action thriller, “Bullitt,” which I bought on Blu-ray several weeks ago. At least there’s no Gospel-compromising shenanigans going on in that movie!
Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Directed by Matthew Robinson
Media Gratiae, 2015, 102 minutes
As Christians, our focus should always be on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our trust should never be in the flesh. Men and women will always let us down. But every once in awhile, the Lord lifts up a servant who is so strong in their love of Jesus Christ that we praise the Lord for their example. Such a man was Welsh-English pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981).
I don’t remember exactly when the Lord introduced me to the ministry of Loyd-Jones, but I’ve enjoyed gradually learning about the doctor via a book here, an article there. He was perhaps the most notable English evangelical of the last century, although I’m sure he would have despised such a title. When many English evangelicals were dallying with ecumenism with Rome in the 1960s and 70s, Lloyd-Jones would have none of it and stood firmly on the Gospel of grace. The Lord blessed the doctor with a rapier intellect. That’s right, unbelieving friend, you needn’t check your brain at the church door. But Lloyd-Jones was also interested in seeing the Gospel permeate a person’s entire being, not just their intellect. He was a strong advocate in the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer, not in emotionalism or showy religious experience, but in knowing the actual presence of Holy God through the Word and prayer. Hence there was both logic and fire in the preaching and ministry of the doctor.
I enjoyed this biography documentary package of Lloyd-Jones tremendously. The first DVD includes the finished documentary, “Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,” a biography of the doctor that relies mostly on the testimonies of family members, friends, and fellow-workers in the Gospel. The first DVD also includes three deleted sequences, one of which is the “1966 Evangelical Controversy,” in my estimation one of the most important segments in the entire package. The second DVD contains over three hours of additional interviews. The third DVD contains a segment on the dangers of church-growth pragmatism from John Snyder from his “Behold Our God” study series. Also, there’s a 128-page booklet with brief biographies of the contributors and interviewees and four sermons from the doctor.
Those who are unfamiliar with the ministry of Lloyd-Jones may want to begin with some short biographies (see here for an example) rather than this mountain of information, but I know as I continue to read his books and sermons, I’ll desire to return to this documentary package every now and then.
Praise the Lord for uncompromising preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones! May the Lord continue to raise up faithful proclaimers of the Gospel!
“Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones” is readily available from Amazon. See here.
Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon
By Greg Laurie with Marshall Terrill
American Icon Press, 2017, 302 pages
Okay, okay. Yes, I’m a big hypocrite! In the 5/27/17 edition of the Weekend Roundup, I posted a short criticism of Christians who make a big deal out of celebrity conversions. So why am I reviewing a book about a celebrity conversion? I usually catch the last five minutes of Greg Laurie’s radio show every day on my drive into work and as he peddled his biography of actor, Steve McQueen, daily for a couple of weeks, I found myself becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” I can’t say I was a huge fan of McQueen growing up, but I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Virgil Hilts in the 1963 film, “The Great Escape.” Neither am I a big fan of Greg Laurie but I’ll expound on that below.
This book traces the life of McQueen, from his very troubled childhood and young adulthood to his subsequent great success as an actor with all the “benefits” of life in the Hollywood fast lane, including wealth, fame, women, and easy access to drugs. McQueen’s popular, anti-hero persona elevated him to icon status in America as the “King of Cool” in the 1960s. Laurie writes that it was often said of the actor, “Every man wants to be like him, and every women wants to be with him.” But McQueen grew tired of the emptiness of the Tinseltown lifestyle and realized there had to be more to life than empty fame and fortune. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the witness of several people, he eventually accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1979 and died from cancer the following year.
This was a strange book to read. Laurie is clearly a HUGE fan of the “King of Cool.” It was a little bizarre reading a book written by an “evangelical” pastor that is so out-and-out…worldly. I don’t know how else to phrase it. Laurie is a Calvary Chapel pastor and periodically holds big evangelistic outreach events under his “Harvest” banner. He’s also a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and, just like the Crouches and their associates, is quite ecumenical in his approach. Ecumenist, Billy Graham, clearly another one of Laurie’s heroes, gets a lot of positive ink in this book (he visited McQueen during his last days and presented him with his personal Bible). Controversial actor/director/producer, Mel Gibson, a Catholic ultra-traditionalist, is also warmly saluted and Laurie even identifies him as a “man of faith.” Huh? There’s also the requisite multiple quotes from ecumenical muse, C. S. Lewis.
It seems from what I read in this book that Steve McQueen genuinely accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and I praise the Lord for that. Maybe some cool cat-wannabe or fading Baby Boomer* will pick up this book about the “King of Cool,” pondering why the 60s “icon” who appeared to “have it all” wanted to become one of those “crazy born-agains.” That was clearly Laurie’s motive in writing this book. McQueen told friends that he wanted to use his celebrity to lead others to Christ and I pray his desire comes true with this book. Unfortunately, Laurie’s ecumenical brand of big-tent “evangelicalism” is so squishy doctrinally, a devoted Catholic or other works-religionist could read about Mel Gibson being a “man of faith” and think, “I’m good.”
I don’t recommend anyone get their theology from Laurie or the rest of the TBN crowd and this book was the first and the last I’ll ever read from one of those guys. I thank the Lord for anyone who genuinely accepts Jesus Christ as Savior through a TBN-affiliated “ministry” (with God it’s possible), but I deeply hope they find a solid, Bible-preaching church immediately afterwards .
*Speaking of fading Baby Boomers, the very large print type used in this book was appreciated.