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FOR PETE'S SAKE! (1968).

Long before the emergence of home video and religious cable networks, Christian propaganda films were usually only available through church screenings and had limited theatrical play. Such was the case with this classic dollop of Christploitation, courtesy of Billy Graham Ministries and writer-director James F. Collier (TWO A PENNY, TIME TO RUN), which mixes a triple helping of soapy melodrama with a leaden infomercial about Billy G's nearly magical powers... Our story revolves around a typical suburban family that consists of father Pete (Robert Sampson, two decades before playing RE-ANIMATOR's Dean Halsey), mother Marge (BAD RONALD's Pippa Scott) and their young son, who spend their Sunday afternoon at the Billy Graham Crusade and, only one hour later, find themselves overwhelmed with a newfound devotion to Christ. Pete is a short-fused, "meat-and-potatoes" gas station attendant (ahh, the good ol' fictional days, when a 40-year-old gas-pump jockey could support a family of three and a spacious home), and though he's trying his best to embrace Jesus, it's hard not to get pissed when everyone he knows isn't instantly converted by his whiny proselytizing. The unfocused screenplay rambles in every conceivable direction: Pete has a feud with his obnoxious next-door neighbor; rowdy teenagers horse around on motorcycles and search for cheap kicks, but end up riding tandem with Christ; Marge suddenly needs emergency surgery, which ultimately tests Pete's faith in God; plus there's copious footage of an actual Billy Graham revival at an outdoor stadium (zzzzzz...). The thrust of the film is that it's perfectly OK to be an obnoxious bastard, just as long as you're pushing your personal religious beliefs onto others. For example, promise your cynical boss a sumptuous dinner, but only if he'll join you for one of Billy's Crusades. Or abruptly drop in at people's workplaces in order to preach, so they can't tell you to get the fuck out. Frankly, "Born Again" Pete and Marge act like creepy, obsessed, religious junkies. Unlike so many of today's Christian films, the actors aren't half bad. Both Sampson and Scott have a few credible dramatic moments; the always-welcome Al Freeman Jr. (DUTCHMAN) delivers the most genuine performance as Harvey, a cool, black co-worker who refers to Pete as his "Christian brother"; Sam Groom (who'd later star on the syndicated, early-'70s TV-series POLICE SURGEON) is a handsome new Reverend who sticks his nose into everyone's business and gets down with teens by joining them for a wild motorcycle ride; plus look for Terry [Teri] Garr as a biker chick who's slowly sold on J.C. Despite solid thesping and professional tech values, the end result is about as deep as an episode of DAVEY AND GOLIATH -- but not half as entertaining.

© 2010 by Steven Puchalski.