Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hoodlum Priest

Last spring I read a fascinating article in the Riverfront Times about The Hoodlum Priest, a movie I'd never  heard of.  This weekend they were showing the movie at the Webster University Film Series, so Hubby Tony and I decided to go.

Unless you're a fan of low-budget 1960s priest docudramas, I suspect you've never heard of The Hoodlum Priest either.  The movie's about Father Charles Clark, a Jesuit who worked to rehabilitate ex-convicts in St. Louis.  In 1959 he opened Dismas House, the first halfway house for former prisoners. (Dismas was the Good Thief crucified with Christ on Calvary, and the one who asked for Christ’s blessing.  Jesus told him "Today you will be with me in paradise." He's the patron saint of prisoners, reformed thieves, and prisoners on death row)

The movie, which was filmed in St. Louis and Jefferson City, tells the story of Fr. Clark's efforts to assist Billy Lee Jackson, a young thief recently released from the Missouri State Penitentiary.  With the priest's help, Billy gets a job and tries to stay out of trouble.  He begins a relationship with a young woman.  However, when he's fired from his job for a theft he didn't commit he decides to return and rob the company.  Things go wrong, and Billy accidentally murders someone.  He's tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.  The last scene of the movie shows Billy being prepared to enter the gas chamber and being executed.

 It was fun to recognize a few of the St. Louis streets, locations, and companies.  Although the film was a bit melodramatic, some of Fr. Clark's speeches about the shortcomings of the U.S. penal system and his condemnation of capital punishment still sound relevant today.

1 comment:

  1. ooh...very interesting!

    You never hear the word 'hoodlum' these days, do you!