Hoodlum Priest, The (1961)

Hoodlum Priest, The (1961)

“You can’t change a man by punishing him; you just build his hatred.”

A Jesuit priest (Don Murray) dedicated to supporting ex-cons helps a recently released prisoner (Keir Dullea) get a job at a produce market; but will Billy Lee (Dullea) stay straight and marry his sweetheart (Cindi Wood) or return to a life of crime?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Do-Gooders
  • Don Murray Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Keir Dullea Films
  • Priests and Ministers

At the height of his stardom, actor Don Murray wrote, produced, and starred in this atmospherically shot narrative — directed by Irvin Kershner and filmed by DP Haskell Wexler — based on the life of Father Charles Dismas Clark, who approached Murray about making a movie in order to raise money for a half-way house in St. Louis. While Murray faced numerous challenges in getting his film made (he was over-budget within a day), the film eventually earned a profit and rave reviews from critics, yet mysteriously fell under the radar due to a complex array of factors (click here to read more). The Hoodlum Priest remains overly earnest but visually engaging, and Dullea is notable in his breakthrough role. Meanwhile, the film certainly has its heart in the right place — like I Want to Live! (1958), it makes a compelling case against the horrors of capital punishment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong performances by the leads

  • Fine location shooting in St. Louis
  • Haskell Wexler’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look.


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