Sunday, June 03, 2012


Young punk Keir Dullea gets out of prison and his buddy (Don Joslyn) takes him to see a guy (Don Murray); it seems like they're planning a heist, but Murray is actually a Catholic priest and teacher who feels his mission is to tend to street people and the down-and-out who already have two strikes against them.  Instead of going to a parent/teacher conference meeting, Murray spends the night at a seedy jazz club tending to members of his flock, which gets him in trouble with his superiors. After Dullea gets involved in a fistfight, Murray finds a high-powered lawyer (Larry Gates) to represent the boy; he also gets Dullea a job at a food-packing plant, though the boss' brother resents Dullea's presence.  Dullea also strikes up a relationship with a rich girl, but things go south quickly when Dullea is accused (wrongfully) of stealing from his place of work and is fired; Dullea and Joslyn pull a robbery at the plant and accidentally kill the brother. Murray and Gates, who are trying to build a halfway house for young wayward men, keep fighting for Dullea, but ultimately they cannot stop the state from executing him. In the last scene, just before the halfway house is set to open, Joslyn, in a fit of rage over Dullea's death, breaks in, trashes a room, and passes out before Murray gently puts him to bed.

Based on the true story of Father Charles Dismas Clark who actually did start such a halfway house in St. Louis called Dismas House (named after one of the thieves who was promised heaven when he was crucified with Christ) which is still in operation. Though the film is meant to be inspirational, it doesn't avoid the grimness of its subject, nor does it make Clark into a saint; as is pointed out by other characters, not all of his moves, well intentioned as he is, are kosher (so to speak). The handsome and stalwart Murray (pictured to the left of Dullea) is good, especially in a climactic scene where he tries to talk Dullea into giving himself up while the police are trying to smoke him out of an abandoned slum building. I especially liked Larry Gates, best known for a long-running role on The Guiding Light, who made his character's concern with and for the priest seem real. The opening sequence, before we know what's going on, feels like the tense prelude to a gay 3-way. The look of the film alternates between artsiness and cinema vérité and generally works nicely to accentuate the mood.   [TCM]

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