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Mormon movies in the New Yorker

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I was a little surprised to find these two entries back to back (alphabetically) in the Dec. 19th issue of the New Yorker. I never thought about Mormon vampire hypnotist missionaries. And the image of square-dancing Mormons - how does that work with polygamous families?



TRAPPED BY THE MORMONS
This silent film tells the cautionary tale of Nora (Emily Riehl-Bedford), a dutiful young Englishwoman who jilts her officer fiancé for Isoldi Keane (Johnny Kat), a Mormon proselytizer who is also a hypnotist and a vampire. The film is a conceptual gag (the director Ian Allen based it on a 1922 silent film of the same title and substance); if it occasionally falls flat, it nonetheless plays for high artistic stakes—for who has not at some time been possessed by love, religion, or some other passionate delusion? Allen and his D.C.-based theatre company, Cherry Red, prove that the silent cinema derives its deepest inspiration from the dance: the startling gesture repertoire with which Allen invests his performers makes even a faked resurrection seem true to life.—R.B. (Pioneer Theatre.)



WAGON MASTER
“ ‘Hell’ ain’t cussin’, it’s geography!” So explains Sandy (Harry Carey, Jr.), one of a pair of wisecracking young horse traders who are hired to lead a wagon train of Mormons westbound across the diabolically hot and hostile plains. John Ford made his most elemental Western without the mythic power of a John Wayne, setting up an inevitable clash between the pious pilgrims and a fleeing band of killers—yet the result is serene, even joyous. With its singing cowboys, square-dancing Mormons, and the trancelike drumming of Navajos (whom Ford views with admiration), this is the closest thing to a musical that Ford ever made. The rock cliffs of the valley remind wagon master Travis (Ben Johnson) of a cathedral; with the whooping ram’s-horn call of the earthy Sister Ledeyard (Jane Darwell), Ford fills that cathedral with a primal, exultant folk Mass. Released in 1950.—R.B. (Pioneer Theatre; Dec. 18.)
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