Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

Brigham Young (1940 Movie)

Hollywood in 1940 was no hotbed of Mormonism — its only prominent member was actress Laraine Day — but the moguls loved sagas of underdog pioneers, and 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck found one in Brigham Young's leading of the LDS faithful from Illinois to Utah in the 1840s after the murder of the prophet Joseph Smith. Dean Jagger played Young as the stern protector of family values: "I'm not looking for an easy religion. I'm looking for one I can bring my family up decent in." When asked why he's stopping in Utah instead of going on to California, he says, "You know human nature. Take a crowd of people to a place of milk and honey, and in six months' time they won't be worth shooting."

Critics of the day thought the movie wasn't worth shooting either. Written by Louis Bromfield and Lamar Trotti and directed by Henry Hathaway, it pushed Young's zeal to the background to concentrate on the love story of two young settlers, played by Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, surely the all-time most glamorous pair of fake Mormons. (And no, Power does not take Gene Tierney, Alice Faye, Carole Landis, Lynn Bari and other Fox vixens as sister wives.) An actual LDS member, character actor Moroni Olsen, also had a small role. According to the book The Hollywood Hall of Shame, the film was a flop, even in Utah, but it had a lingering effect on the man who played the title role. In 1972 Jagger was baptized as a Latter-day Saint. A headline of the day read: " 'Brigham Young' Becomes a Mormon."