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This thoroughly enjoyable film, set in the 1950's in Texas, is a touching look (based on Alyene Porter's book of the same name) into one year in the life of a pastor's family. If you have ever wondered what these homeland missionaries are really all about, this movie will give you an appreciation for the challenge of this kind of life. Alyene describes her home as "a place where love lived", a description of her life as a pastor's kid portrayed here with care.
Edwin Porter (Robert Pine), a Methodist minister for over seventy years, is sent (by his bishop) to a little church in the little town of Sterling, TX. The church is in financial trouble, and Porter is called there to try to save it. The move is sudden, and is complicated by the fact that Porter's wife (Georgia Engel) and eight(!) children (highlighted by Gennie James as Alyene) are all very comfortable in the large, successful church they have been serving in Dallas. The story of their arrival in Sterling, meeting the church matriarch Missy B (played with charm by Immogene Coca), the banker Jack Murphy (Jerry Haynes) and the challenge at hand is warm, funny, and inspirational.
Special treats include the revivalist Billy Kilgore (Peter Gerety) and his soloist Claudie Walker (Laird Stuart), the shopkeeper Mr. Granger (Rodger Boyce), and the town drunk John White (Dean Stockwell) whose life will hold surprises for all. Each of the children becomes a well-developed character, from Hugh (Dallas Benton), the wise older brother already in seminary at S.M.U., to little Paul (Joshua Butts), who steals several scenes. We learn each of their life-paths at the end of the film. I left the film feeling as if I knew these people well.
The quality casting, depth, and authenticity of the film is truly unusual for a small production, and stands out as one of my favorite films ever.
"Papa was a Preacher" is currently out-of-print, but if you can find it, you will be rewarded.
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