Worthy social problem drama
F. J. Harvey | Birmingham England | 11/24/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Hoodlum Priest is based on the life and work of an actual Jesuit priest ,Father Clark, who was heavily involved in the provision of support to newly released former convicts in St Louis.The movie was co-scripted by its star Don Murray under the pseudonym Don Deer.The other scriptwriter was Joseph Landon .
The movie focuses on Father Clark's relationship with one particular man ,Billy (Keir Dullea-giving a striking and memorable performance on his movie debut).Billy is released from prison and with the help of the priest begins his adjustment to life on the outside very well .He secures a place to live ,gets a job and acquires a steady ,respectable girlfriend (Cindi Wood).Then things begin to go wrong -he is unjustly fired from his job ,decides to exact revenge by burglarising the place and ,when the robbery is interrupted, kills a man .Billy is put on trial for murder and his life hangs in the balance.
The movie was shot in 1961 but feels like an older movie in some ways ;it is easy to imagine the movie being made 2 decades earlier with Pat O'Brien as the priest and somebody like John Garfield in the Dullea role .The movie is well shot in crisp monochrome and the direction by Irvin Kerschner is restrained and semi-documentary in feel.The peformances are sincere and earnest .The one big bugbear I have with the movie is its script which is an odd mixture of the pious and the profane and inclined to moralise .It is a "message movie"about the need for aftercare for ex-convicts in order to make it easier for them to readjust to life in "normal society" .A worthy sentiment but here the story stops and starts too much as the script keeps making the point in a preachy way.
The movie is sincere and well intentioned and is not to be lightly brushed aside but it needed a sharper script to make its point without sermonising ."