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ALL THE KING'S HORSES (1977).

Serving up spectacularly lousy advice for struggling married couples, this Mark IV Pictures Christian soap opera directed by Donald W. Thompson (who also helmed their hilarious End Times quartet, beginning with A THIEF IN THE NIGHT) was inspired by Jack and Karen Persson, an Iowa couple saved by their BFF, Jesus Christ. Produced and co-written by Russell S. Doughton, Jr., who associate-produced THE BLOB before finding his true calling in unabashedly wholesome films marketed to undiscriminating Evangelical audiences, this low-budget feature's sole objective is to refute the unthinkable sin of divorce, since all of your problems (even physical abuse!) will vanish if you simply pray to The Big Dude Upstairs for your spouse's salvation... When sweet, church-going Sandy (Dee Wallace, a year after THE HILLS HAVE EYES) becomes smitten with Jack Benson (EIGHT IS ENOUGH hunk Grant Goodeve), we know it means trouble. He races motorcycles! He chews gum! His hair is tussled! Worst of all, he doesn't go to church! Nevertheless, this mismatched pair are soon sharing a first kiss as fireworks literally go off, Jack asks Sandy to marry him and she agrees -- with the stipulation that he "give his heart to Christ" first. Of course, he half-heartedly concedes to her demand in order to end their chaste dating montage and finally get into her holier-than-thou pants. Cut to several years later, and the Bensons' middle-class home, two prop kids and constant bickering. Tiresomely judgmental Sandy is incensed when Jack takes her to "a tavern" (horrors!) and refuses to "quit cussin'g, while he blows his top if dinner isn't on the table the instant he gets home and gives Sandy a black eye during one of his tantrums. The script piles one overly-melodramatic 'crisis' onto another -- Sandy is fleetingly tempted by a flirtatious co-worker, Jack accuses her of being a slut, their children cry themselves to sleep, and taking a few sleeping pills sends fragile Sandy straight into a hospital mental ward! Making matters even worse, when Sandy admits to no longer loving Jack, her mother (Anne Bellamy) and local pastors instead urge her to follow the Bible, be a docile wife and "submit to your husband." Gee, thanks, mom!... Voted Best Picture by the "Academy of Christian Cinemagraphic Arts" and with Wallace winning Best Actress, the future E.T.-mom earnestly plays this shallow caricature of Christian innocence -- Sandy's in her mid-twenties but still wears her hair in child-like pigtails; doesn't drink or watch godless Hollywood movies; and is a hair-trigger-jealous, humorless prude. No surprise, Goodeve's cocky douchebag is far more amusing. Plus like so many Christian-targeted films of that era, it squeezes in a live sermon, this time featuring a hokey musical-revival by (future megachurch founder) Rev. Lowell Lundstrom. Well shot by the versatile Robert Caramico (BLACKENSTEIN, SLUMBER PARTY '57), with production design by Ray Storey (art director of SPIDER BABY), it's a strident slog through marital dysfunction, armed with a simplistic, religious magical-thinking mindset.

© 2016 by Steven Puchalski.