Alfred Hitchcock and the Book of Mormon

SC Taysom continues his guest stint at BCC. Earlier posts here and here.

Things Mormon have a habit of popping up in unexpected places. My favorite example of this comes from Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot (1976). During a funeral scene in the film, a clergyman quotes a passage of scripture that sounded very familiar to me the first time I heard it . The passage is never identified, but if you listen closely it is clearly  2 Nephi 9:20-27. No one seems to know how Hitchcock stumbled upon this passage, or why he chose to use it. Some speculate that it may be connected to Bruce Dern, who starred in Family Plot and whose grandfather was governor of Utah. Have any of you spotted Mormon references surfacing in strange places? What are your favorites?

Comments

  1. I was on my mission in Korea when the two popes died so close together (I don’t remember the first, but the second was John Paul I). Out of curiosity, we went to one of the masses the local Catholic cathedral had for the first pope. The choir was singing “Oh, My Father.”

  2. D. Fletcher says:

    In the scene from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese, when Ellen Burstyn is hurriedly packing in her motel room (filmed on location in Arizona), she opens a drawer and clearly visible is a Bible and a Book of Mormon, the one with the blue curtains cover and the statue of Moroni.

  3. Of course, there was the original “Battle Star Galactica” which had a “Council of the Twelve,” “sealings” for marriages, and, my favorite: an episode where the principle characters met what they called angels and one of the angels said: “As you are, we once were. As we are, you may become.”

  4. SC Taysom says:

    Very interesting sightings. Battlestar also had the planet Kobol.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I attended a terrific presentation on this subject at last year’s Sunstone Symposium by R. John Williams entitle “Hitchcock’s Mormon Plot.” Anyone interested in this subject should get the tape.

    And I remember seeing that BG episode upon first airing.

  6. Nick Literski says:

    I heard that session at the Seattle Sunstone gathering last year, Kevin. Were you there, or did I get a repeat of what had already been done in SLC? It was a great presentation!

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw it in SLC. I agree it was great; I highly recommend the tape.

  8. SC Taysom says:

    Wow. Thanks for the tip Kevin. Did RJW find out why Hitchcock used the Book of Mormon?

  9. And I remember seeing that BG episode upon first airing.

    Me too. Careful, we are giving away our age.

  10. I’ve seen a few LDS themes in The Simpsons when a character goes to church. I can’t remember any particulars. I probably saw the same Battlestar Galactica you’re talking about and don’t remember that at all. (Of course, I was seven.) Apparently, one of the creators of South Park got dumped by a girl who’s LDS and uses this to get back at her.

    My favorite reference is to “the two Mormon brothers” in Ocean’s Eleven and one of them tries to convince another in the gang to retire in Provo.

  11. My favorite is a missionary image: two white guys in white shirts and ties ride their bikes through the marketplace background in “George of the Jungle.” Who else could they be?

  12. capt jack says:

    South Park is loaded with Mormon references. Joseph Smith as a super-hero, along with Budha, Mohammed, and Jesus. The same episode has Cartman and Kyle going door-to-door preaching the cult of David Blaine. The have black pants, white shirts, and nametags that read “Elder Cartman” and “Elder Kyle”.

  13. Matt W. says:

    I have to open this with the fact that I have a 4 year old who is in her Scooby Doo phase. Anyway, in the second scooby movie, there is a funny missionary scene with the missionaries being trapped in a cage located under the door. I laughed out loud at it, I am ashamed to admit..

  14. On my mission in Sicily, a new evangelical church was having its grand opening. They distributed fliers around town. The flier showed a collage of fiery scriptures. (Repent or go to hell stuff.) Unbelievably, many of them were from the Book of Mormon! I kept a copy.

  15. I loved the missionary depiction in the British movie Millions, where this huge bag of money falls off a train, a little boy wants to give it to a good cause, finds out missionaries pay their way and stuffs money into their door, which then is spent on an expensive foot spa, for the missionaries claimed the money was an answer to prayer for “comfort.” Classic.

  16. There is an old movie called ‘BMX Bandits’ that was Nicole Kidman’s first not-for-TV film. It took place in Australia. As the BMX riders are being chased by the two unknown bad guys, one suggests that they could be Mormons trying to convert them.

  17. Got to mention the movie ‘Fletch’ with Chevy Chase! Fletch goes to Provo.
    Here is a website for mormon references in the movies.

    http://www.ldsfilm.com/lds_chars.html

  18. Bruce H. says:

    This Wikipedia page cites Robert Heinlein’s Sixth Column. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrayals_of_Mormons_in_popular_media

    Another mention, possibly in Stranger in a Strange Land, is of a polygamous family, members of a schismatic group. I also remember in one of his earlier works a shipwrecked group pooling all their paper goods, including printed books, to keep a journal on. One of the books was a BoM.

  19. Elouise says:

    Matt, you and the rest of the BCC-ers probably know this, but in case not, one of the original animators of “The Simpsons” was John Pearson, son of Mormon poet-playwright Carol Lynn Pearson.
    Apropos of the series: Johnny grew up having people rush up to him and ask, “Are you Carol Lynn Pearson’s son?” But finally the day came at a huge family reunion when several small rugrats (and Simpsons buffs) raced up to Carol Lynn and asked, “Are you really Johnny Pearson’s mother?”

  20. When I first read C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader I thought the reference to Eustace’s parents’ “special underwear” was a reference to Mormonism, but I don’t really think so anymore. Nevertheless, I thought of it when I read this post. Lots of good comments, by the way.

  21. My favorite reference was in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When Spock and Captain Kirk were in 1980s San Fransisco in order to save the earth, in order to explain Spock’s oddball behavior, Kirk told a marine biologist that Spock “did too much LDS at Berkley in the ’60s.” No one else (other than our family) in the movie theater in Groton, Connecticut, other than us got the joke.

  22. SC Taysom says:

    It’s fun to read all of these great responses. Andrew, I went to see that Star Trek movie with another member of the church in a movie theater in Sacramento. When they said the LDS line, we both looked at each other and shook our heads. Aftwerward we basically came to the conclusion that we had misheard and that Kirk really had said LSD. I guess we were right after all.

  23. I mentioned this on a different site. It is not in a movie, but it was in an unexpected place and VERY positive – definitely my favorite references in a “popular” medium:

    Tom Clancy used the Wash., D.C. temple in “Clear and Present Danger” as the focal point of a moving tribute to timeless monuments and the power of religious conviction. I remember being astonished when I read it. It did not make it into the movie.

    A few years later, I read his “Without Remorse”. (The only one of his books that I would not recommend to someone who objects to R-rated books. The central plot line is truly disturbing – and very realistic.) One of the secondary plot lines is the story of a Mormon POW in Vietnam who discovers the depth of his faith after being broken by an interrogator and hearing “All is well” from “Come, Come, Ye Saints” tapped out in Morse Code by a fellow Mormon POW in the adjacent cell. It is incredibly poignant, especially juxtaposed against the main character’s descent into becoming someone who could kill “without remorse.”

  24. One word: Fletch.

  25. Norbert says:

    I read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and she mentions that William H. Seward had a mantlepiece built by our very own Brigham Young. Cool!

  26. Ardis Parshall says:

    In Robert Heinlein’s “The Menace from Earth,” the route from one Moon location to another involves passing by Luna City’s Mormon temple. In fact, the Mormon references in Heinlein are so prevalent that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Salt Lake City, the Mormon Battalion, and other Mormon terms appear in the Heinlein Society’s online Concordance.

  27. I recall another reference by Heinlein in his novella “If This Goes On–,” where the Mormons assist The Cabal in their efforts to overthrow the religious theocracy headed by a Prophet. I haven’t read the book in years, but I think their assistance was mostly limited to looking the other way and not turning them in.

  28. In an episode of Fraiser he hires a new agent to negotiate his contract and, although it doesn’t say until the end, this guy is super nice and says things like: “I made this in my workshop behind my garage”, “Sorry I’m late, I was helping with the Scouts”, and the clincher: “I used to sing tenor in a choir back in Salt Lake City.” It was hilarious, the whole point was that he was too nice to be a cutthroat contract negotiator.

  29. Shar Golding says:

    Has anyone been watching Big Love on HBO? Very interesting.

  30. Fenevad says:

    #10: Almost right about South Park: there’s no “getting back” bit in the story (about three quarters of the way down in the article, which does have some rather crass language), but other than that you’re basically right.

  31. Couple of things:

    1) When I was a kid I read Piers Anthony’s Tarot series. A priest was sent to a planet to decide whose god controlled it. He visited various faiths, including a Mormon. It was a pretty good presentation of the basics of our faith.

    2) I listen to Glenn Beck, and he is always quoting Church teachings, etc. Recently he has been focusing on service, and reiterates “When you are in the service of your fellow man, …”

  32. Several New Age angelologies in the last several decades have included Moroni as one of the special angels that visit people. This plays off older spiritualistic treatments of early Mormonism (some said Moroni was a demon, others said he was a spirit of a dead man.)

  33. SC Taysom says:

    Sam,
    I must have missed the spiritualistic writings about Moroni. Do you have any references handy?

  34. John Williams says:

    The late Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004, supposedly read from the Book of Mormon, I think during his college days or something.

  35. None of you are going to know what I am talking about unless you are a tremendous nerd, but in the postapocalyptic setting for the game “Car Wars”, the Rocky Mountain states area has seceded from the U.S. and formed Deseret. Also, the largest biker gang is the “Gadianton Robbers”.

    That knowledge will do you no good.

  36. Rick Jepson says:

    One of my all-time favorites is in “Hustle and Flow” when a skinny little white guy knocks on the door of the pimp’s house–when he opens it he says something like, “Man, you Mormons are getting brave” or something to that effects.

  37. SCT: email me, and I’ll try to track them down. A side project from a review of Albanese’s new book became some research notes on the metaphysics of early mormonism. i believe i have them in there.

  38. Rick Jepson says:

    effects – “s” = effect.

    It’s late at night.

  39. MikeInWeHo says:

    In Paul Verhoeven’s film “Starship Troopers” there is a brief reference to a Mormon colony on another planet, and a glimpse of their temple with the Moroni statue. Unfortunately, said colony is destroyed by an attack of giant bugs.

  40. Rick, reminds me of when I was a greenie and we tracked out a brother in the ghetto. Everyone was stoned on crack. And my companion, a naive soul from small town Utah, didn’t realize that it was what it was. So we taught a first discussion to these rather high folks. LOL. Freaked me out a bit.

    Mike, it’s in the book as well.

  41. jjohnsen says:

    Apparently, one of the creators of South Park got dumped by a girl who’s LDS and uses this to get back at her.

    Actually, the two creators have said more than once they have Mormon characters and Mormons themes in the show occasionally because of how much they admired the LDS friends they had while growing up in Colorado.

    Hence the episode where everyone goes to hell. Someone asks which religion was true if there were all in hell? The devil answers “The Mormons, yes, the Mormons were the correct choice”. Even the episode that makes fun of things like polygamy and peepstones shows the lone LDS family in South Park to be the happiest and most well-adjusted of the residents.

  42. John Mansfield says:

    In The Seven-Per-Cent Solution movie, Sherlock Holmes visits Freud for help with his cocaine addiction. In quickly, and rather frenetically, deduces that Freud is a Jew, because he has a New Testament, a Koran, and a Book of Mormon on his bookshelf, but his Torah is arranged differently indicating some personal connection.

  43. Mondo Cool says:

    Steven (#30):
    You did know that Glenn Beck is a convert, no?

  44. SC Taysom says:

    Interesting John. The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887), has a significant Mormon plot element. The second half of the story takes place in Salt Lake City.

  45. Velikye Kniaz says:

    RE: #33 (Comment by John Williams)

    I have also read that Pat Tillman was interested in Religion and had indeed read the Book of Mormon. Whether or not he actually read it from cover to cover or merely flipped through it is not known. But his brother, in response to various religious individuals writing spiritually comforting thoughts about Pat’s tragic death, responded almost vehemently to them by stating that Pat was an atheist and never liked ‘organized religion’. The implication being that Pat himself would also respond, were he here to do so, with equal vehemence. Without any testimony from a close friend who may have been privy to Pat’s personal thoughts on the matter close to the time of his death, we will have to assume that the Book of Mormon, if he read it, left no impression on him at all.

  46. Check out the novel The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. It is a compelling vision of the future in which widespead access to ultra-high technology (including super-advanced nanotechnology that allows the automated creation of most anything) has resulted in the virtual collapse of nation states with people gathering instead into several different semi-governmental tribes (or “claves”) based on commonly-held values and belief systems. The book mentions in passing that the Mormons are one of the more powerful claves, and that they are always trying to recruit new members. One of the book’s minor characters briefly considers joining them for protection, but decides that it would take too long and be too difficult to meet the membership requirements. There is another indicent toward the end of the book where the main character is travelling through a lawless area of China and sees two Mormon missionaries who have been murdered and hung out on display. Not a lot of discussion of the church, but interesting (and correct) in its depiction of Mormonism as a belief system strong enough to form the basis of a unified clave equivalent to a nation state. A very good story too.

  47. During my days tracking the streets of Silicon Valley, I stumbled on a product at the local Smart and Final that was using a picture of the Salt Lake temple on its cover. Interestingly, the company decided to utilize the old European, Gothic appearance of the temple to sell tea (the purveyor was some nondescript Swedish company). As if the idea of using one of the most ubiquitous icons from a religion whose tenets require tea abstinence weren’t enough, the picture delved deeper into irony by placing one of the Queen’s Royal Guardsman on the cover as well.

    Did we buy some tea? Absolutely…still in me scrap book.

  48. SC Taysom says:

    Marco,

    That tea bag is a fantastic find! Do you mind telling me how long ago that was? What a collector’s item.

  49. A couple of scattered references: In Friends, when Rachel is pregnant, she is trying to decide if she should tell a guy that she’s going out with that she’s not drinking because she’s a recovering alcoholic or because she’s a Mormon.

    In Law and Order: Criminal Intent, there’s an episode about a 17-year old who has aspirations to become a leader of a cult, and some of the evidence they use against him is that he checked out a copy of The Book of Mormon from the library. He also has read biographies of Joseph Smith (or was it Brigham Young?) and has plans to take some of his female followers with him to Utah.

  50. SC Taysom says:

    Your reference to Criminal Intent reminds me of another episode (called “The Saint”) that was clearly based on the Mark Hoffman case. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

    The episode “The Saint”, from the third season of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, was based on the Salamander Letter case. In the episode, authenticator James Bennett (played by Stephen Colbert) forges several documents in an attempt to ruin the Brother Jerome foundation, named for a religious figure being considered for canonization. To conceal his forgery, Bennett murders an elderly woman with an exploding, lye-filled balloon. One letter forged by Bennett states that Brother Jerome received instructions for using a special healing oil from “a goat who walks like a man does walk,” which implied that Brother Jerome communicated with the Devil. This is referred to in this episode as the “goat letter.” Detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) uncover Bennett’s crimes and confront him; Bennett reluctantly confesses and is arrested for murder.

  51. Rick Jepson says:

    Yeah, I loved the episode. Funny to think that Stephen Colbert has great acting chops and some real depth. He was awesome in it. I also thought he was great on Daily Show….but I think his own show is kind of a drag. Oh well.

    Also, speaking of Colbert, loved his recent bit on the show after he accidentally called Boyd K Packer the president of the LDS Church. Instead of apologizing on the show, he said that the church needed to fire Hinckley, put Packer in, and make it retro-active two weeks. He closed with something like “After all, if you people can baptize George Washington, you can make me right.” Hilarious.

  52. Some may see LDS hints sprouting in this clip:

  53. In the movie “Millions” a little boy knows about all the catholic saints and throughout the movie gets to meet a few. In the movie he meets some “latter day saints” and gets very excited to meet saints that are alive. The mormons in the movie are blond hair, blue eye, only wear church clothes and refuse to drive. It’s pretty funny!

  54. Dave Duke says:

    In the old b&w movie “Inherit the Wind” starring Fredrick Marsh and Spencer Tracy, the bible they use to swear in the witnesses during the trial is the RLDS Inspired Version. You can see it on the binding.

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