Monday, October 27, 2014

One Foot in Heaven

Some months back, I recommended the sentimental film Spencer's Mountain. An earlier film that evokes many of the same feelings is One Foot in Heaven, which is coming up tonight at midnight on TCM.

Martha Scott plays Hope Morris, a young Canadian woman living with her parents in one of those fashionable upper-middle class houses that you had at the turn of the last century. She's still living with her parents because she's waiting for her boyfriend, William Spence (Fredric March) to finish his medical education so the two o them can get married and go off to start a practice somewhere. Well, they're about to start a new life together, but not the one they expected. William stops by the Morris house telling her and her parents that he walked into a church and got "the calling". That of course means a life in religious ministry and not medicine. William is going to become a Methodist minister, at a time when the Methodists were still apparetnly fairly conservative -- at least, it seems more conservative than William Lundigan's minister in I'd Climb the Highest Mountain. Still, Hope loves William, and marries him, not knowing what the future is going to hold.

That immediate future holds a post in a small town. Money is a constant issue, as Methodist ministers aren't paid much, and the parsimonious parishioners seem generally unwilling to help out the minister's family more than they're obligated to. On top of all that, a minister's family is expected to be the leaders in practicing a life of virtue. This isn't always easy for the minister himself or his wife, but they chose the life. Imagine what it must be like for their two children, who didn't get a choice as to what sort of life they were born into.

Rev. Spence rises up the ladder, eventually getting a post in a bigger city where the parishioners want to build a fabulous cathedral. But they want to do it their way, and not the way the minister wants. To be fair, though, Rev. Spence has shown himself to be a bit more forward-thinking than many of his parishioners. And if the minister doesn't conform to their tastes, then they're not above doing some rather un-Christian things to try to get the Spences to change, even going so far as to exploit his children. But this being a happy Hollywood movie, we know the Rev. Spence is going to come out right in the end.

As I said at the beginning of the post, One Foot in Heaven is one of those sentimental and nostalgic movies, looking at a way of life that really doesn't exist any longer. I mean, there's a scene in which the Methodists learn that motion pictures aren't so bad after all! And the controversy in the final segment is one that could be solved nowadays with a couple of phone calls. Never mind the severely declining enrollment of mainline Protestant churches. (I've always found humorous the scene at the end of The Bishop's Wife in which David Niven's bishop wants it made certain that a copy of his Christmas sermon makes it to the local paoper for publication.) I have to admit that going into it, One Foot in Heaven wasn't quite the sort of movie I thought I'd really enjoy. But the movie is well made, with March delivering a very professional performance as always. The rest of the cast is good enough too. There are a few blunt parts that are basically in the movie to show us how much more kind and tolerant Rev. Spence is compared to the his parishioners, but those don't really bring the movie down.

One Foot in Heaven does not seem to be available on DVD, which is a shame.

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