Marjoe Gortner's unusual first name, Christian name if you will, was formed by combining Mary and Joseph which was fitting considering that from the age of four he was billed as the world's youngest evangelist. In this film, Marjoe confesses his sins from the point of view of a preacher who had left the calling and returned as an adult, only to leave once more with a documentary cum exposé as his farewell gesture. We see footage of him as a child, but he never looks as if he has the spirit of God in him, as his pushy parents would have liked you to believe - he simply looks well trained. And he was, as he tells of hours of tutoring by his mother which if he didn't get right he would be severely punished...
Although who punished Marjoe after his tell all conversations here, which basically reveal him and his fellow preachers as conmen and women, goes unrecorded. It's a strangely unsettling experience watching this film, with Gortner in his "private" moments captured for our conspiratorial edification, letting us judge the gullible faithful against the fakers and tricksters in the evangelism business; and it is a business, he points out, with every ministry actually standing for a gimmick to reel in the punters. On the other hand, Gortner often voices his desire to make it in showbiz (or at least another area of showbiz) and indeed he recorded an album and began a movie career soon after this Oscar-winning film was released.
So are we to believe this is a sincere denunciation? It certainly makes for absorbing viewing, with Gortner interviews intercut with the explosive prayer meetings. Here we are witness to the congregation, most of them ladies of a certain age, in the palm of the strutting Marjoe's hand as he roars his sermon, a mixture of hellbound threats and promises of salvation. It can be alarming to see the little old ladies shake and shiver to the floor, filled with the Holy Spirit or just carried away with the occasion. And it's not only Gortner on display, as the evening's celebrations often feature other preachers performing as well, with their motives called into doubt by the subject's aspersions - note the large, golden, bejewelled brooch on one woman minister as she asks her considerably poorer audience to give up their savings to line her pockets - sorry, as a gift to God.
Yes, the money, and the way Gortner tells it this is the focus of the business. The cash and cheques are collected in buckets at the front, after everyone has been suitably uplifted, and is supposed to go to good causes, but while a porportion of it will go to charity, quite a bundle of it goes straight to the preacher. Considering this is leaving the congregation down to their last dollar, one questions the ethics of appealing to people's better nature to get your hands on their precious money. And by the end, where Marjoe has sent up his profession by demonstrating faith healing on his pet dog, you wonder just how much of this documentary is a calling card to the entertainment world he so longs to be a part of. Not that you begrudge him his wishes, but it's interesting to note that Gortner was never more charismatic in his films than he was here, on stage, promising salvation and not believing a word of it.