Mar 17, 2015

A classic B movie for Jesus

A Cuban Communist proves that Fidel Castro is better than Jesus in the 1971 film: If the Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? He does it with this little empirical test:
Let's see if your Jesus will bring some candy now and produce a miracle. I don't see any candy. I don't taste any candy. There is no candy. Your Jesus didn't bring us any candy. The reason why? Your Jesus Christ can't do it. 
But I can tell you who can do it. We will pray to our glorious leader Fidel Castro and our glorious Fidel will bring us all of the candy we can eat.
It's a curious moment of reverse apologetics. This is actually an evangelical B-movie meant to bring people to belief in Jesus. Though Jesus doesn't show up with candy, the portrayal of the swarthy communist's case against Christ is intended by the film's creators to be a case for Christ.

This is one of the stranger examples of evangelical movie-making, even for the 1970s.

The film was based on a sermon by Estus W. Pirkle, a Mississippi Baptist who also produced the film. In the sermon, Prikle warned that Christians who were struggling against present challenges could little hope to overcome the coming persecution. Present challenges included "bosses who want you to work on Sunday," public schools, rock music, criticisms of preachers, "television entertainers on Sunday night and Wednesday night," and struggling marriages.

He expected the Communist take-over of America by 1972, and reported that there were more communists in the US at that time than there were in Russia before the revolution in 1919.

The film was directed by Ron Ormand, a B-movie director who made his name on exploitation films such as Mesa of Lost Women, The Monster and the Stripper (starring rockabilly singer Sleepy LaBeef as the titular monster), The Girl from Tobacco Row, and Untamed Mistress. The last title, the story of an attempt to rescue the kidnapped sex slave of a tribe of apes, reportedly earned $90,000 in three months of ticket sales in Texas in the 1950s.

After a plane crash in 1968, Ormand decided it was time to get right with God. He connected with Pirkle, who was interested in using film to spread the gospel. Pirkle was apparently thinking of having his sermons filmed; Ormand took that idea and ran with it. If the Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? was the result.

Called "the most confounding piece of homegrown budget-consciousness surrealism ever filmed" by exploitation film connoisseurs, If the Footman Tire You What Will Horses Do? was mostly shown at churches and revivals, followed by an altar call. It's not known how many people saw the film, but it was likely in circulation longer than than the movies distributed to the drive-in theaters at the time.

Ormand and Prickle collaborated on two follow-ups, The Burning Hell and The Believer's Heaven, before their movie-making relationship ended in a falling-out. There work is not often noted as significant for evangelicalism, but B-movie lovers sometimes point their collaborations as a special type of overtly religious exploitation film.

Ormand died in 1981, Pirkle in 2005.