Marjoe (1972)

“You go into it like a business and you treat it like a business.”

A former child preacher (Marjoe Gortner) returns to the Revivalist circuit in order to expose the hypocrisy of money-grubbing evangelists.


This award-winning documentary-expose will inevitably cause you to cringe, for more reasons than one. While the blatant manipulation of Christians’ faith for profit is undeniably disturbing, we’re by now overly familiar with, for instance, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s corrupt Praise the Lord ministry, among other notorious religious scams. Even more upsetting is watching the attention-seeking Marjoe blithely conning the entire religious community into thinking he still believes what he preaches; while this smooth-talking young man eerily lacks any kind of an overt grudge against his parents for what they put him through (he laughs good-naturedly when discussing his hellish childhood), he ultimately shows himself to be a not much better specimen of humanity, perpetuating the lies he once believed himself.

Filmmakers Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith do an admirable job capturing the fervent zeal of the Revival congregationalists: their cameras are so close-up at times — circling and whirling with the heaven-sent parishioners — that it’s easy to believe you’re right there with them. Yet I shudder to think about the resentment these naive folks must have felt when seeing themselves up on the big screen, clearly being manipulated from every side. It’s this element which makes Marjoe so much more disturbing to watch than, for instance, either The Miracle Woman (1931) or Elmer Gantry (1960), two fictional films about the Revival racket; at least the extras in those movies were paid for their time, rather than being jilted out of both their money and their pride.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fascinating glimpse — through historical footage — of three-year-old Marjoe’s proselytizing power
  • A groundbreaking expose of the hypocrisy of Revivalism

Must See?
Yes. While disturbing and over-long, this Oscar-winning film remains must-see viewing.



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