Saturday, August 10, 2013

Movie Review: Andy Griffith in "Angel in My Pocket"

Many of us love Andy Griffith, and most know him from the television fame via his enduring show, "The Andy Griffith Show." In its eight-and-a-half year run, from 1960 to 1968, the show embedded itself into America's psyche and cemented itself into our pop culture forever.

But by 1968, Andy had grown restless with the confines of TV. He had already attained stardom with a hit Broadway show, two movies, and a stand up act which was recorded and sold 900,000 thousand copies ("What it was, was football"). Griffith was multi-talented and wanted to move on, and also leave Mayberry while it was still fresh and on top.

Once Mayberry was behind us though, America found it hard to adopt any new persona for Mr Griffith. They still wanted the gentle, humorous, and wise man they'd thought they knew in the fictional Mayberry. Griffith signed a five-year movie contract and hired the same writers and some of the same actors to write and star in his next project after the end of the Griffith TV show: the movie "Angel in My Pocket."

A homespun minister (Andy Griffith) and his family, pregnant wife Lee Merriwether, and Jerry Van D-yke as the ne’er-do-well brother-in-law who’s a lush, move to a small town where he tries to win the support and trust of his new congregation. The town is in Kansas and the winning has to be done because the two sets of founding families have been feuding for 60 years. This terrible cycle of blame shifting, nit-picking and anger has paralyzed the town. The school is falling apart, and the church and pastorium is a wreck. No one can make a decision, or even a comment, without a fight erupting.

Griffith is a freshly graduated ordained minister called to his first church, “Church of the Redeemer” in this town in Kansas well known for pastor turnover- 7 ministers in 10 years. Of course, no one apprises Griffith of this fact, and he loads his wife, kids, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and dog off to Wood Falls.

Where Mayberry showed the best of small-town life, “Angel” is a movie that exaggerates the worst of small town life: gossip, misunderstanding, entrenched views, selfishness, pettiness, church politics, but does it all with humor and not mean-ness as the increasingly exasperated Griffith tries to win his congregation.

One his first Sunday, Griffith nervously paces in the kitchen while the caretaker is mingling with the incoming congregation. Two old biddies ask the caretaker "What's he like?" The caretaker thoughtfully strokes his chin and then replies, "He is the button on the cap of kindness." The biddies nod warmly, and turn to ascend the front steps. One leans into the other and says bitterly, "What does he know, anyway."

I enjoyed another scene with the two old biddies coming across the pastor in the next town. He had entered a burlesque house because he'd heard that the place didn't use their organ any more, and he was going to wheedle the manager into donating it. The ladies hustle back to town to tell the Church Board, and later as Griffith tries to explain what he was doing there, the biddies shout, "We saw you! So there!"

The scene with Griffith’s mother in law and an old biddie talking at a social were priceless. “My husband used to say, 'Racine, you are just the meanest and crabbiest woman on earth.' [pause] May he rest in peace.” LOL.

After his first sermon, a young couple shook his hand as they left. The husband exclaimed in praise, "I loved the sermon, pastor!" "You did?!" asks Griffith happily. "Yup! Nice and short!"

There are lots of small, telling moments like that, with the children in the front pew listening to the first sermon, a chat the Pastor has in the car with the caretaker, and a really sensitive and sad scene in the cemetery as he discovers two middle aged lovers, each from the opposing founding family, meeting there twice a week for 25 years. They have been too afraid to face the family ire if they marry. "Pastor, they run this town."

It’s old fashioned and corny, written by the same folks as the team that wrote Mayberry. “Howard Sprague” and also “Clara” from Mayberry are in it, and Grandma from The Waltons is too.

There is nothing objectionable in the movie whatsoever. No insinuations of lewdness, clothing is appropriate, no profanity (except once when the increasingly exasperated pastor thundered "Damnation!" but was called to task by his wife).

Wikipedia notes something about the denomination: "The movie never identifies the denomination to which the "Church of the Redeemer" is supposed to belong. The presence of a Bishop, the vestments that Sam Whitehead wears, Sam's prefacing of his sermon with collect and the fact that his title is "pastor" suggest that the denomination is one of the groups which formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" but one is not sure. I'm OK with 'Redeemer'. :)

Theologically it is 95% solid and nothing objectionable. As a matter of fact, the day Griffith arrived he saw a full out brawl on the street- the two sides were fighting in advance of election day. His wife says, “Are you sure you want to take this post? And Griffith replies “If everybody was saved there wouldn’t be anything for a preacher to do.” You rarely if ever hear of anyone in any media then or now, say "they need to be saved".

In his first sermon he closed with a prayer to Jesus Christ, urging the congregation “to do all we can to magnify God through Jesus Christ the Son”. So that was good. There was one scene of infant baptism. And that one swear. The hymns the choir sang are familiar and solid. (Holy Holy Holy and In The Garden). The movie overall tried to show how to walk with Jesus in church and out.

Many things happen, and eventually Griffith’s genial charm, persistence, and bold stance for the Lord breaks the stymie.

It’s a family film like Yours, Mine and Ours. Unfortunately I don’t think the movie Angel in my Pocket has been released on video or DVD...and Hulu & Netflix don’t have it. I watched it on Youtube.

Interestingly Griffith was disappointed in "Angel" and canceled the contract with the movie studio. He never made the rest of the movies he'd planned. Griffith appeared in two TV shows that each lasted a year, The Headmaster and Mayberry RFD, and then spent the next decade working hard to show the public his range and himself in different characters. To that end, his work in the movie Go Ask Alice is noteworthy, he appeared in The Mod Squad, Doris Day Show, and Hawaii 5-0 among many others. His work in Murder in Texas got him nominated for a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy. You can catch Griffith's work bio here.

You might also enjoy Griffith pre-Mayberry:

A Face in the Crowd, another Griffith film but he plays a very different character, a dark megalomaniac.
1957, with Patricia Neal. It is an outstanding film that shows the depth and range of the very talented Griffith

No Time for Sergeants, (Griffith in the Army) 1958. With Don Knotts

Trivia: At age 70, he returned to music after the successful run of the tv show Matlock, and his album of Gospel songs won him a Grammy, as well as the fulfillment of a long-time dream, to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.


6 comments:

  1. You're right about him going out on top. The highest ratings for The Andy Griffith Show came in its last season, 1967-68, when it was the #1 show on American television. Mayberry R.F.D. was really a continuation of the series, with Ken Berry replacing Andy. It ran for 3 years, ending in 1971 when CBS decided to purge its rural comedies in favour of "relevance." For more on The Headmaster, see http://www.tvobscurities.com/articles/headmaster/ and http://www.tvparty.com/newandy3.html. For more on The New Andy Griffith Show, see http://www.tvparty.com/newandy4.html.

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    1. thanks for all the good information, Jack. I looked for Onionhead all over the internet but didn't find it anywhere. It isn't supposed to be that great of a movie so after a while I gave up. Though it would have been nice to see Walter Matthau at that stage of his career.

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  2. I have to say I was pretty disappointed I spent my time watching part of this movie based on this review. Admittedly, If I had read the review more thoroughly and seen the part about the infant baptism, I doubt I would have even bothered with the movie. But I also feel there was not adequate information given on the burlesque scene. The review fails to mention that we would actually be subjected to a burlesque show for what felt like an eternity. Those two issues ruined what would have otherwise been a pretty decent family movie.

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    1. Your mileage may vary. So what movie do you recommend? What have you seen lately?

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    2. I would recommend this one:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_River_Within

      Cloud Ten pictures puts out a few decent movies and this one has a good message.

      Another good one I've seen fairly recently is:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0805190/

      Of course, If you're talking older movies like the one in the review....... I honestly can't think of any. I wasn't exposed to Christian entertainment until a few years ago so really all I've seen are newer movies.


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    3. Thanks Anonymous.

      Readers should be aware that the movie "Hidden Secrets" deals with discussion about and references to sexually immoral behaviors, unmarried sex, flirtation and temptation, sexual abstinence, abortion and homosexuality and has a homosexual character.

      The River Within deals with a youth finding his purpose in life. Movie shows overdose, and deals with unmarried sex and pregnancy, as well as relevance of and purpose of church.

      Neither movie is available on Netflix, unfortunately.

      I'd be personally interested to see River Within more than Hidden Secrets, but as far as I can see, both movies deal with similar issues of Christian living as Angel in My Pocket, just different sins. :)

      I was disappointed that River Within isn't available to stream

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