Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Count Three And Pray (1955)

This is going to be a review-lite as I didn't expect to watch this when I stumbled across it. It went something like this: I couldn't sleep, turned on TCM and this one was just starting and I couldn't help but watch the whole thing.

Movie Poster - best graphic I could find

Luke Fargo (Van Heflin) returns from the Civil War to find an entire town against him. They are upset that he chose to fight for the North and most think it was just to be contrary and not because he felt he needed to fight for the cause. To make matters even harder on him, he returns telling people that he had a calling to become a preacher. Most of the town recalls him as a gambling, drinking, fighting, womanizer type of a man and they can't believe he has possibly changed. One of the most powerful men in town, Yancey Huggins (Raymond Burr) - the merchant, especially can't get over the fact that he went "blue-legged" (fought for the North) and is determined to bring the preacher down no matter what he has to do. If all of that isn't enough to contend with, when he moves into the parsonage he discovers he has a squatter to deal with. Lissy (Joanne Woodward) is a wild orphan that refuses to leave so Luke allows her to stay and tries to help get her pointed in the right direction. Of course, to the townspeople, the preacher who claims to be reformed appears to be living in sin with a young girl.

This movie is about the struggle of Luke, who is a confirmed sinner, to do right and turn the townspeople around so that he can help them do right too. I always love the theme of bad girl gone good or bad guy gone good. It is nice to think that love can transform a person, be it religious love or parental love or partner love, from caring only about themselves to being truly altruistic.

This is Joanne Woodward's film debut and she plays the part well. I have little patience for the wild shrew bratty type character so I did get a little tired of watching her throw temper tantrums, but that isn't her fault - she was an expert temper tantrum thrower. Van Heflin was very believable as the sinner turned do-gooder. In fact, I am not sure I have ever noticed him before, but dang, he is a good actor! Some of the scenes where he is struggling internally are played brilliantly. You can see him shaking and grappling with his own thoughts and demons, while trying to maintain decorum. Really good acting there. Lastly, of the main characters, Raymond Burr plays a terrifying meanie in this one. He is most excellent at sitting in a chair and just looking menacing and intimidating.

The thing that totally ruined the movie for me was the ending. I have to talk about it, so unfortunately, I have to throw up a spoiler alert.

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I was shocked that in the end, out of nowhere, Luke and Lissy suddenly get married. There was no romance there. I mean, it was obvious that Lissy had a crush on Luke, but that looked like puppy dog love - just a childish crush. So ... tell me ... she comes back from the whorehouse all dolled up and that makes her a woman? I know someone tosses in a side-statement that she is actually 18, but I totally don't buy it. She acted like a bratty 14 or 15 year old. This man who went through the war and has a past and scars to heal doesn't need a bratty 18 year old as his wife. I mean, seriously, what the heck was going on with that? Was it a marriage of convenience because they had been "living in sin", but even so why not just move her somewhere else where she can interact with people her age and learn how to be a young woman? I was totally disgusted by that ending. It was way too Woody Allen and Soon-Yi for me. Gross.

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Aside from the absolutely dreadful ending (imho), this is a really good Western that kept my attention throughout. The script is really strong and moves at a good pace. Also, the redemption theme is always interesting to me and I love seeing how other people react to it. If you see this coming up on TCM, I suggest giving it a watch. If for no other reason than seeing Joanne Woodward play a young brat - that is amusing in itself. :-)


kda0121 said...

One of the few older westerns I haven't seen. It's funny, I always like Van Heflin once I start watching him, but I never seem to go out of my way to watch a "Van Heflin" movie. This one sounds like it is worth viewing.

AbbyNormal said...

Karl - look for it on TCM since it isn't on DVD unfortunately. I would love to hear your opinion of the ending because it was one of the few times I didn't agree with the "happy" ending. Yeah, Van Heflin isn't a traditional leading man, but dang can he act. I was really impressed and hope to see more of his work.