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Welcome to the second week of Saturday’s Warrior September. This week we continue recapping the 1989 film version of the musical. When we last left our heroes at the end of the “Dear John” production number Julie had moved on leaving Elder Kessler in a funk. Where do we go from here? Let’s find out.
We start the second half of our recap in a city park. We see Elders Kessler and Green lamenting their lack of missionary success. They’ve been rejected and have nothing to show for their work. Wally Kessler says he has suffered the biggest rejection of all and begins to sob on a park bench. Long-suffering Elder Green has had it. He smacks him and tells him to shape up and get back to work so they can show that “two timing wench” what he is made of. Language, Howard! Elder Green commits to finding a baptism even if they have to fast 40 days.
“There are people who are searching even in this very park. We just need imagination and courage,” Elder Green says.
He gets up on a bench makes, barnyard sounds and begins to sermonize. He channels the sounds of Idaho to bring a message of salvation. Some people think he’s crazy. What follows is a series of awkward interactions and “golden questions” to park goers. Wally again wonders how he can go on without Julie, and Elder green again says to get it together. He grabs him by the tie and pulls him along. They have been ignored by almost everyone in the park and yet ignore thoughtful Tod.
The scene shifts to Tod on his bench. He sings about where his life is going in “Paper Dream.” He feels like a “cipher on the wall with nowhere to go at all.” He has been drawing who he wants to be on his paper but somehow lacks the knowledge and ability to become the man he draws.
Back in the girls’ room at the Flinders’ house Julie rhapsodizes about the wonder that is Peter. She never knew love until now and wants to be a good wife for him. Which apparently involves keeping house. He can help keep house too, but she seems unaware of this. It is up to her now to make herself worthy of Peter. Julie takes up “Paper Dream.” Maybe, though, she realizes that Peter is not the one. Does she hear the spiritual echoes of Tod’s song? We see their visuals superimposed over each other, and as they reach their hands appear to touch.
In the Flinders’ living room Ernie is wheeling Pam around while Benjy and Jimmy have a confrontation. Benjy had gotten in Jimmy’s stuff and apparently found something inappropriate. Jimmy was upset with him. Benjy, however, is tired of the big brother good guy aura that has benefited him for so long. Benjy is committed that he will stand up and do what is right even when Jimmy won’t. They tussle and Jimmy pushes Benjy to the ground. Jimmy runs out although Pam tries to catch his hand to get him to stay. Benjy thinks they should just let him go, but Alice reminds them he is family and they are all he’s got. They can’t fail. They have to help him. Benjy asks what they can do. Pam says they just have to love him.
Jimmy is back with Mack and the crew. Some girls caress his shoulder and ask him if he is coming out with them. They are going to have a “hell of a time.” A full production number ensues as they sing about the “Summer of Fair Weather.” They sing about going out and having fun all while loving him like a brother, burning bridges and building a world without fences. They basically propose becoming his alternate family.
Jimmy arrives home and is surprised with a rousing chorus of “He’s a jolly good fellow,” and a surprise birthday party. He is angry and storms off as he says “Whatever it is you are trying to do it’s not going to work!” Dad grabs him and appeals to his sense of common courtesy. His siblings have been working on the party for three weeks. Jimmy relents and the siblings one by one give him presents. He continues to protest—it is Pam’s birthday as much as his—but the siblings barrel on.
Shelley gives him her beloved stuffed monkey. Ernie promises to give him a spit shine a week for a whole year. Alice promises breakfast in bed for a whole week. “Cuisine from 7 different countries including Texas.” Having lived in Texas. It is like a whole other country. Benjy fixed the clutch of “the old 59” and hands Jimmy the keys. Julie made him a shirt after 1 sewing lesson (It’s not a good shirt). Pam is last and asks Jimmy to kneel before her. She puts on a crown and everyone calls her the queen. She puts a foil crown on his head and gives him a CTR shield and a sword. She “knights” him. And asks him to rise as a warrior. She also tells him they are going to see Camelot.
Finally, kids allude to the “biggest surprise” that only the parents can talk about—it’s another baby. Emily is going to join them! Jimmy is angry.
“Are you going to keep it?”
“They kept you!” the kids retort.
“There could be something wrong with that baby!”
“There’s something wrong with YOU!” Julie shouts.
“Why don’t you just drop a whole litter!” Jimmy shouts.
Angered by his words toward Carol, Bob lashes out and hits Jimmy. Carol collapses in tears.
We are back to the pre-existence. We see Emily, and she is told she can’t leave yet.
Jimmy is back with Mack and his friends. There was a big party, and Jimmy was in rare form. It thunders and rain threatens. The friends joke the rain will wash away his sins. His friends leave to avoid the rain but he stays behind to read a letter he received from Pam. Pam narrates the letter. Jimmy has left home and Pam is in the hospital. She relates some stories of family life and encourages to him find his own version of freedom—knowing who you are. She prays that he will know he is a child of God. Pam encourages to find answers line upon line.
Jimmy gets up to leave the park but Tod asks him to wait as he is sketching Jimmy. As Tod sketches they begin to talk. Todd asks about his family. Jimmy complains about it. Tod suggests he is trying to convince himself they are so horrible so he won’t miss them. Tod finishes the picture and hands it to Jimmy, who says it’s not him. Tod just says it isn’t him yet and explains that his style of art is to draw people the way they could be. I think he is a Presumptive Impressionist. Tod shows him a self-portrait.
“We are in the same boat. Neither one of knows where we are going.”
“Then why are you hanging around here,” Tod continues. “Not having your head on straight is not what I call freedom.”
“Freedom is knowing who you are, and once you know that the rest will straighten out for itself,” Jimmy replies using Pam’s words.
The words spark something within Tod, and he wants to know more. He tries to stop jimmy before he goes, and senses there is something more that Jimmy knows but isn’t sharing (Pssst. It’s THE RESTORED GOSPEL!)
Later, Jimmy is alone in the park and one of his friends comes back and says there is an important message—he needs to call home. He goes to a pay phone and dials. The rain starts and he reaches his family he drops the phone and sinks to the ground. Pam has died. We see Pam reuniting with Emily as the pre-mortal and post-mortal life seem to be mingled together. Emily wonders why didn’t Jimmy keep his promise. Pam speaks of Jimmy’s free agency and being distracted. They whisper for Jimmy to try and remember his promise.
We see Jimmy alone on a bench. The park is gone and he is surrounded by darkness. He sings “Brace Me Up”—a song of regret and contemplation. He needs someone to lift him up, fill his hunger, and take him as he is. During the song lights reveal his friends, his family on earth and Emily and Pam in the Pre/post-mortal existence. His family sings of their love for him and pleads “Don’t turn us away.”
We next see the Flinders at Pam’s graveside. The family stands to one side but Jimmy slowly appears through the woods. He is welcomed back by all and the dark light changes to a golden spotlight as the family embraces.
Back in the park, Elders Kessler and Green get up from prayer—this is apparently the 8th time they’ve prayed to dedicate the city for missionary work (that’s not how it works). They are hoping this time will stick. Elder Green is tired from all of his fasting. Finally, they notice Tod and go to speak to him. They introduce themselves and show their name tags. They give him some pamphlets and a copy of the Book of Mormon. He seems interested. We see a marathon montage of them teaching him the Gospel. They even show slides on Elder Green’s stomach. Tod surrenders his cigarettes and lighter and they grind them under their feet one by one. Elder Green helps him practice baptism and knocks him to the ground. They shake hands. Clearly he has been converted in one afternoon in the park. Todd smiles and we freeze frame on his smile.
The elders leave the park triumphantly. They note the joy in Tod’s eyes but also are sure that he is “Stake President material.” They sing a brief, “Humble Way” reprise that is truly humble and grateful
We cut to Julie in her room. Her parents come to talk to her as she is having doubts about the wedding. It’s three days away. Her father says doubts are normal but Julie says it is so much deeper. Bob says it’s her decision and he and Carol leave the room. Julie looks up, and fades out as we see Todd reading the book of Mormon. It cuts back and forth between them as they begin to sing “Feelings of Forever.” Todd finally knows he lived before he was born. Julie is confused and lacking direction. They both sing of where they were and where they are going. They are remembering lives they had and recognize “Feelings of forever come so very strong.” The song concludes as Todd reads Moroni’s Promise.
Next, Julie paces at the airport. She is waiting for Wally’s flight. She knew that Peter wasn’t the one and that she botched things up so badly. Elder Green (Harold) runs into Julie in the waiting area. He is there because Elder Kessler said there was a big surprise. he also says he can see why Wally had such a hard time getting over you. That seems to make Julie happy despite his creepy delivery. Her happiness is interrupted as the gate agent makes an announcement that Wally paid her to say. “I’m requested to make this special paid announcement. Just arriving now through Gate 7, returning in great humility and glory from a triumphant soul-saving mission please welcome back Elder Wally Kettler.”
“KESSLER!!” Wally shouts in exasperation.
He runs right past Julie to embrace Elder Green, but Elder Green nudges him back towards Julie.
“I’m just keeping my promise Wally,” Julie says as she raises her arm to the square.
Wally doesn’t believe it. He thought that “Dear John” was the end of him. He tries to hug her but he is pulled away by Elder Green. He’s not released yet! Just then Tod comes off the plane and his eyes meet Julie’s
“I know him from somewhere.” Julie says.
Wally is confused. He doesn’t see how and invites Julie to meet Tod Richards, his one and only baptism. Julie only has eyes for Tod. They reach hands and continue to be fascinated by each other. Wally is crushed again. He drops to his knees and grabs Julie’s leg. “Promise me you’ll fast and pray before you do anything drastic!” He tries to intervene in their soulmate reunion, but Elder Green says it’s all over and drags him away. “Maybe we can be roommates at BYU!”
Tod and Julie seem to be remembering what they’ve done before. Like they’ve known each other for a long time. We have a reprise of “Feelings of Forever/Circle of our Love.” They kiss, Todd picks her up, and their pre-existence dance is superimposed over their airport reunion.
Back in the pre-mortal realm the Matron’s necklace flashes and it’s finally Emily’s turn. She is encouraged to be courageous and remember who she is. Pam is also there and bids her farewell.
Down on Earth in the Flinders’ living room Carol is suddenly very uncomfortable. She wakes her napping husband with a bad contraction. Another one comes. Jimmy is back at home and goes and gets the car. All of a sudden she is having a baby in their living room. Kids trip and fall everywhere getting supplies. One child is told to call the doctor. The power goes out due to a bad storm. Lighting crashes and we hear Emily’s first cries. Children bring in candles to light the scene and we hear “Saturday’s Warrior” once again. We see Jimmy holding the baby. Fade to black
Surrounded by the darkness, a young boy in a white shirt raises a sword to the sky with both hands. And we hear the title theme once more. Roll credits.
There is a lot to unpack with Saturday’s Warrior. Doctrinal issues, abortion, family planning, child abuse, loss of a loved one, access to emergency medicine during a storm, spandex, big hair. Shall I go on? This version of the musical felt manufactured to me. The book of the musical was fair and dialogue, although forced at time, did advance the plot. I think a bit more time could have been spent on Jimmy’s fall from grace. Although we suspect drug use and perhaps some other behaviors it’s never really clear as to why he leaves home. The musical duets and solos also helped to help us understand the characters even though some of the metaphors came out of nowhere. “Sailing On” I’m looking at you. Most of the production numbers seemed artificial and placed solely to break the action instead of advance it. But who doesn’t like a solid 80’s dance break?
Please join us next week when I take a look at the 2016 remake and evaluate this musical’s place in the church film cinematic universe.
False Doctrine Alert
- Classic teaching of the Plan of Salvation has the pre-mortal life as being separate from spirit paradise or prison (post-earth existence). Never in my life have I read or been taught that these two places are together—but then we would lose those scenes of Emily and Pam together.