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Preacherman
(1971)
 

Director: Albert T. Viola                                   
Cast:
Ilene Kristen, Adam Hesse, Amos Huxley


This is another of  the kind of unknown movies that makes plunging into the unknown worthwhile. This rarity, re-released by Troma Video, is an irresistible cornball Southern comedy that may have been the father of later movies like Smokey and the Bandit. It was made for Southern drive-ins, and was supposedly a big hit at the time, but is now mostly forgotten today. It's held together and made totally likable by the wonderful performance of its lead actor.

It's also a sweet-natured movie. Sure, it shows bootlegging, nudity, gang-banging, redneck sheriffs, and fraud - but all of these things are presented in such a naive fashion, it becomes charming. And when the Preacherman flashes that big grin of his and extends his hand palm up - well, even I wanted to believe what he was saying. He may con you and your friends, but no one really gets hurt.

The Preacherman in question is Amos Huxley, which happens to be the name of the actor who plays him. Actually, "Amos Huxley" is a pseudonym for director Albert T. Viola. My research on him revealed that he never acted again after this movie (and the only other movie he directed was 1971's Cry of the Penguins), and he went on to work for Roger Corman at New World Pictures. It's a shame that he only made this one appearance in a movie, because he's so good here. Whether telling the church crowd during collection time, "I hear too much clanging! I want to hear the rustle of that green stuff!" or seducing the sheriff's daughter, he is simply one of the slickest con artists ever to appear in the movies, all the while fast-talking and having a permanent big-toothed smile on his face.

Preacherman introduces Amos during his conquest with the sheriff's daughter. The sheriff, already trying to find him after he conned churchgoers out of their collection money, finds him during the act and hauls him off. The Preacherman gets clobbered unconscious near the county line and is told to never come back. Luckily for him, a passing bootlegger sees him lying by the road, and takes him home to recuperate. There, he meets the man's daughter Mary Lou, who has "an unnatural hankerin' for men-folk" - explaining why we see five or six men fleeing her bedroom when her father arrives home. The bootlegger pleads for Amos to baptize Mary Lou and save her from her sinful ways. Practically rubbing his hands together in glee, Amos agrees to stay with 'em a while. He prepares her by reading various parts of Adam and Eve to her, and having her father help him call down "Angel Leroy", so Mary Lou will get the word as to what work the Lord wants her to do.  This requires having Mary Lou's father stay on the roof with a lantern all night calling for Angel Leroy  ("Leeeeeeeroooooooy? ........ Leeeeerooooy?...."), and preparing Mary Lou for Leroy by getting her drunk and lying in bed naked. Of course, Amos must stay with her all night to help her when Leroy comes. And of course, it may take many days to get Angel Leroy to visit.....

"Empty your pockets of the devil's money and be saved!" cries Amos to his congregation later in the movie, after convincing the bootlegger to open a church on the property where his still is. Empty your pockets, folks, and plunk down your money to rent this. Now, I admit there's not much more plot than what I've just told you. Just sit back and soak up the ol' Southern charm here. There's not just Amos, but a number of other colorful characters on view, including a  brother/sister duo who stop the show with an off key but charming gospel number and a guy who has his own kind of hankerin' for his chickens. There is also a great score - not just the gospel number previously described, but the title tune and other gospel songs. Though I usually don't want a sequel to a movie, this is one of the rare times that I wish they had made one. It would have been fun to have placed Amos Huxley in another environment (how about the big city?) However, keeping in mind belated sequels like The Return of Superfly, maybe it's just as well that this good-ol'-boy of a movie stays in the unknown doldrums.
 


UPDATE: Since writing the original review, I've been informed by a couple of people that there was a sequel, titled Preacherman Meets Widderwoman and released the following year. However, it's never been released on video. What are you waiting for, Troma Video?


UPDATE 2: A reader sent this along:

"In your review of the wacky 1971 southern comedy Preacherman, you expressed curiosity about the fate of director/co-writer/star Albert T. Viola.

"Viola taught at Ft. Worth Country Day School, where I was a student, in the late 1970's. Rumor has it that he hit on many of the female students regularly and that he got in serious trouble with the law for embezzling money from the school, so I'd say Preacherman's Amos Huxley may have a lot in common with Viola himself. He was reportedly quite a con man as well as a fabulous drama teacher.

"Since then, he's taught at other schools and has a connection at Princeton, where his wife used to be a staff member. Recently, Viola has co-authored a play, The Twin Towers Anthology, about the victims of the 9/11 attack. I know the other co-author, who is another of my former
teachers.

"For an up-to-date biography of Viola, check out these two links:

http://www.encoreplay.com/encoreplay/Author%20bio%20pages/violabio.html

http://www.pioneerdrama.com/playwrights/atv.html

"Here's a link to the cover of the soundtrack for the sequel, Preacherman Meets Widderwoman which includes some songs from the original movie as well:

http://www.italiansoundtracks.com/soundtracks/us/usapreacherman.html

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Also: When Nature Calls, Cannibal! The Musical, Baker County USA

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