The Hollywood Cross

Film makers sometimes provide their viewers with ideas, images, and thoughts that aren’t part of the intended game plan. This blog series will explore how Hollywood has espoused Christian doctrine–unintentionally. Of course, there are many films that have done so purposefully. But I’m looking for bigger game, instances when the heart wins out over the head, or the Holy Spirit illuminates a secular screen play.

And I begin with an easy layup: Angels in the Outfield. The film depicts a trash-mouth baseball coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the early fifties. His team is sliding from worst to infra-worst, in part because the skipper does nothing but scream obscenities at his players. One night, alone on the diamond, the coach is visited by the voice of an angel. The angel offers a deal: If the coach will curb his tongue and make an effort to be human, the Pirates may win some games.

Reluctant and cynical, the coach agrees.

The Pirates win and win big. Everyone is flabbergasted, especially the cynical sportswriters. And the coach keeps his word. He stifles his guttural urges to scream at a bad call or cuss out an infielder who muffs a grounder.

An eight-year-old orphan girl enters the picture. Supervised buy two nuns, she and other orphans arrive at the ballpark to watch a game. The girl sees angels behind every Pirate player and tells the sisters, who think she’s having a heat stroke. What the sisters don’t know is the little girl has been praying for the Pirates, especially for the foul-mouthed coach.

Eventually, in an obligatory courtroom standoff between the black-hearted, anti-angel psychiatrist and three pro angel clergymen to determine if the celestial beings exist, the judge throws up his hands and calls a no decision.

Of course, the Pirates win the pennant, but not after some back sliding by the coach. He also gets a girlfriend in the bargain and everyone’s happy.

What the film makers didn’t realize, I suspect, is how their movie makes the eighth beatitude palpable. The girl is pure in heart. As an orphan, too old for parents looking to adopt, (they usually want a baby) she has humbly acquiesced to her fate and grown close to Jesus in prayer. Only she can see the angels.

Paul Douglas is the coach and Janet Leigh his girlfriend and we never see the angels (Our hearts aren’t pure.) But they do their job. They prove scripture is correct. Only the pure in heart shall see God.

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