Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
One day after a combined youth activity I noticed my mother, who was in the Young Womens Presidency at the time, seemed annoyed. My mother was consistently the epitome of cheer and kindness so I asked her what was wrong.
“I didn’t want to show that movie for our activity tonight. It gives kids the wrong idea. I think it teaches false doctrine!”
She was talking about Saturday’s Warrior. In an unscientific Facebook poll I learned many people felt the same way about it. Words like tacky, rubbish, and cheesy were used with great freedom. Others were horrified about doctrinal issues raised by the plot and dialogue and were grateful that church films have dramatically improved in quality over time.
But there were others who embraced it and still had fond feelings. A friend in my current ward even had this to say:
“We were starving for church-related entertainment back then; remember, it was this or watching Cipher In the Snow again. Thus, my verdict: I know every lyric, I love every bit of it (false doctrine notwithstanding) and I have even had a lead role in a production of it.”
A few other people who responded in like manner either had a role in a production at some point or new someone who did. Love it or hate it, let’s take a look at this musical.
Saturday’s Warrior was originally produced in 1973 as a stage musical for a class project in California. It was written by Douglas Stewart and Lex de Azevedo. In 1974 it was performed at Brigham Young University, and later that same year a full staged production took place in Los Angeles. It took until 1989 for Bob Williams to produce a movie version of the musical shot on a stage with theatrical-type backgrounds and props (think the film version of Hamilton, but without the quality). It was remade into a more movie-style musical in 2016. Some have opined that it remains the most popular “church movie” that wasn’t produced by the church.
Latter-day Saint Video Vault will be taking a look at this classic in three parts. Parts one and two will be a recap of the original musical. Part three will take a look at the 2016 film and wrap it all up. We hope you will enjoy “Saturday’s Warrior September” here at the Vault.
Saturday’s Warrior tells the story of 8 children born into the same family. Themes include the pre-mortal live, the purpose of earth life and fore-ordination. It deals with abortion, overpopulation and living up to your spiritual potential. What could go wrong? As with every column, I will attempt to give it a fair shake (despite my mother’s opinions) or at least make my biases known.
The musical begins with a Star Wars-style intro-crawl:
In 1973 a stage play humbly debuted as a college drama project. Throughout the intervening years its spirit has captivated millions with an influence as profound as it is immeasurable: Hearts softened. Priorities reoriented. Children welcomed. The magic continues…
The epic tale begins. We hear grand music and see the world. We fly through the clouds, see the title card and hear the lyrics of the title/finale anthem: “Saturday’s Warrior.” The song speaks to chosen children coming to the earth at this specific time to “win the battle raging in the hearts of men.” We see scenes of children playing, learning, and growing with parents. Before these kids become warriors “they must learn why they’re here and who they really are / They must learn why they’re here and who they are.”
The song slows and we see a pastel-draped character dancing in the clouds. There are stars and lots of fog as other pastel-clad spirits walk through the pre-mortal life and hear the murmuring of a loud crowd. We meet Tod, a spirit about to be born on earth. Julie is his spirit girlfriend and is worried that Todd will be too attractive and Julie will not. She is worried they will not be together and all he wants is to have a “wild fling.” He consoles her. They have made promises to each other and somehow, somewhere they’ll find a new way of living—sorry. That’s West Side Story. But seriously, he assures her they will recognize each other and be together again. He begins a duet with Julie that speaks of their eternal love in “Circle of our Love,” because “The circle of [their] love extends beyond the reach of time /Beyond the span of days and years, it goes forever / It extends beyond the reach of time.”
Their song is interrupted as Tod is on “Final Approach” for his birth. There is an air traffic controller of sorts who is named the “Matron” in the credits. She is frantic and tells him If he misses this slot he will be born in Siberia. Because that’s how it works. You could be sent somewhere “wrong.” Julie and Todd come together to finish their song and embrace one final time. Todd climbs up on a white platform, and with a flash of thunder and swirling stars he disappears.
Julie is joined by other pastel warriors who are the rest of her future family. The Flinders. Pam and Jimmy are to be twins and the oldest. Then there is Julie, Alice, Benjy, Ernie, and Shelly. Pam and Jimmy are nearing their own “final approach.” Benjy interviews them and asks what they fear most about earth life. Jimmy fears others will not stand his raw animal magnetism, and Pam is worried she will be a “sweet spirit.” She says even that will be okay if she can dance her way through life. The final Flinders, Emily, appears and is worried. Flinders child number 8, Emily is worried she will be forgotten and not born at all. They hesitate to mention the word abortion as a reason Emily won’t be born. Jimmy comforts her and promises they will all stick together. This of course brings on a song, “Pullin’ Together.” The siblings sing about the challenges of earth life that can be overcome by family. Jimmy even sings “What will happen if there comes a day when I lose my way / what will you do?” Emily says she would be willing to die for Jimmy but they will pull together and work it out.
The music fades and the beat changes. We see a pair of men strut towards the platform. They are Wally Kessler and Howard Green and are convinced they will be the best missionaries ever known. They sing about it in “Humble Way.” Their humble missionary march loudly sings of slicing the wicked asunder and righteous hari kari. Hari Kari is a different spelling of hara kiri—a Japanese ritual form of suicide by disembowelment. Is there a righteous form of that? I don’t think it’s in Preach My Gospel. (Okay, you got me. Preach My Gospel wasn’t a thing in 1989.) They are about to be sent to earth but the Matron switches them at the last minute. She has a sigh of relief because she sent kids to wrong mothers once—thankfully nurses switched them back. They laugh and laugh. You know because that’s how it works.
The Matron finds Jimmy and Pam and tells them to get ready. Pam says she is going to miss the pre-existence and feels sad and afraid. She asks Jimmy to promise they will always be close. They decide to have a secret thing and say when they sit next to each other and place their hands on each other’s legs that will be a sign of where they were before. Jim and Pam agree that it is scary, and Jimmy begins to sing of moving from the harbor of pre-mortal life to earth in “Sailing On,” while being accompanied by lyric dancers.
Wally Kessler appears again. False labor. The Matron sends him on his way and now its Jimmy and Pam’s turn. They calm Emily, who is still worried about her eventual birth, and head to the platform. They wave good bye and with a crash of thunder they are gone.
Cut to the real world. Wally Kessler is at the airport. He is in his missionary suit and name tag. Julie is his girlfriend and she does not want him to go on a mission. True to his pre-mortal personality he can’t wait to get into the mission field. He just wants her to be there when he comes back. He reads a note he had her sign promising she would be there to marry him when he returns as Julie recites it. She says she will be there when he “returns in glory.” Julie is offended that Wally questions her loyalty and sarcastically asks “Will I Wait for You?”–setting up a production number of the same name. The opening line of this song was shrieked by many of my siblings. Yes. Julie will wait for him like a “Burger waits for fries.” Julie is shoved out of the way as Elder Kessler takes the spotlight. Looks like a winning relationship to me.
Cut to a television studio. The Flinders—parents Bob and Carol with their 7 children—perform a musical number as The Riverdale Family of the year. They sing a novelty number called “Daddy’s Nose” while wearing Jimmy Durante-style prosthetics. The only thing notably different from their pre-mortal production numbers is Pam’s use of a wheelchair. Only 7 kids so little Emily is still not with them.
We cut to Jimmy hanging out with Mack and other friends who sarcastically comment on the “little” production number they did on TV. “Little!? Were there 10 or 20 of you?” They continue to make fun of his large family and how children are a “life sentence.”
“Are you guys through?” Jimmy finally says—exasperated.
“We are if your parents are!”
The friends talk about the world and limiting the number of those born into it to maximize the resources. Seems like perfect material for a frothy production number. Mack and company launch into “Zero Population.” The subtly named song speaks of the world bursting at the seams. We are doomed without controlling the population. “No more kids!” Jimmy tries to leave but he is pulled back. “No more kids” is the only answer to the world’s problems.
We join the Flinders at home. Jimmy lethargically walks to a chair. Carol is excited that all the kids were home. Bob, the father (remember him from The Church Sports Official), is also there and the other kids fill the room. Shelley asks mom if she loves all the kids the same. She heard a story at school about parents who had to give a child away. The kids continue to argue about who should be given away. Julie enters but is sad. Wally has been away a whole week and Benjy is having none of it. He is eventually forced to apologize for his comments. The kids continue their “Sophie’s Choice” exercise and decide to keep Pam because Jimmy “isn’t even here when he is here.”
Jimmy doesn’t care. He says the answer is just not to have any more kids. They ask what’s wrong and he says he’s fine. Jimmy pushes Bob and Carol about having another kid, and Bob asks why this is his business.
“Well I’m part of the human race, aren’t I? So how many more are coming? 2? 20? 60?”
Carol cries and Jimmy storms out. Alice ushers the younger kids away. Bob wonders if this is normal teen age brain damage or have he and Carol done something wrong? Bob begins singing a parenting lament: “Didn’t we Love Him?” Jimmy joins in the song, and sings of how he was younger but has grown and changed. We see pictures of Jimmy growing up. The parents wonder what they did wrong, Jimmy wonders why they can’t love him as he is. Side note. I would wear Jimmy’s pastel color blocked shorts. Parental note: of course you loved Jimmy, but you can love your teens and they can have their jerk moments—just like parents can have jerk moments.
Pam joins Jimmy outside. She draws comfort from knowing she is a child of God, and asks if he really believes what he said. Jimmy responds in a big way and she suggests he should take all his drama and be an actor and portray a gallant knight. He blames her ridiculousness on a change of medication. Jimmy just wants freedom to find out things for himself and pursue his own goals. He complains that Pam’s perfect faith and positive outlook are unreal. He has lots of questions.
“You want all the answers at once. But they come bit by bit,” Pam says.
Pam begins to sing “Line Upon Line.” Information comes from God a bit at a time “like a summer shower giving us each hour his wisdom. / If we are patient, we will see how the pieces fit together in harmony.” Jimmy joins in and they place their hands on each other’s legs like they did in the pre-mortal life.
Cut to Julie’s room. Wally has been gone for 2 weeks but Julie is preparing to go on a date with a boy named Paul. Benjy and Ernie are offended in Wally’s behalf and they leave the room. Although her feelings for Wally are eternal she can hardly be expected to put herself in “cold storage” for 2 years. She sings about her date and decision to cut Wally off in “He’s Just a Friend (Dear John)” with her sisters. The song cuts back and forth between Julie and Wally as they write and respond to each other’s letters. Wally consistently asks if Julie still loves him, and Julie constantly tells him to work harder. Eventually the exchanges progress until Wally learns Julie has been engaged for 2 months. The girls sing “Dear John” while Wally laments his lost trust in women.
Well the lights have come up and concessions are open. Get yourself a snack and stretch your legs during this one-week intermission. I’ll see you next week with part 2 of this 1989 classic.
False Doctrine Alert
- Obviously there is more organization and thought to sending souls to earth than a harried person with a clip board. It’s portrayed as it is for humor, but I think the pre-existence is more of a cosmic travel agency.
- I hate to break it to Tod and Julie, but there is no “soulmate doctrine.” Many people can create satisfying and meaningful relationships with many other people. Life is not ruined if you can’t find “the one.” This was my mother’s most disliked part of the movie.
Thoughts, Musings & Trivia
- Zero Population growth was a popular theory for environmental improvement in 1970 and was still incirculation when the original play was penned in 1974. It had fallen out of favor by the late 90s, but was still probably very much in the zeitgeist at the time of the film.
- You may not tell from the film’s set or production values, but it was made with very little budget. According to a high school friend of mine half the furniture came from her house. Her father was the Art Director.
- Prior to becoming a movie, the musical toured the western US. It was even available as a score/script for Stakes to perform.