Marjoe (1972)

marjoe poster 1972 movie
8.5 Overall Score

Interesting documentary that gets into the underbelly of a sub-set of religion

Could have even been more introspective

Movie Info

Movie Name: Marjoe

Studio: Cinema X

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s):  May 1972 (Cannes)/July 24, 1972 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

marjoe gortner child evangelist ordained

Do you feel the fires of Hell from taking money from poor people?

Faith comes in different forms, and for Marjoe Gortner, it took the form of revivalist preaching.  From a young age, Marjoe’s parents pushed him into religion and encouraged him to become one of the youngest ministers for the Pentecostal church circuit.  Now, Marjoe is reconsidering his beliefs and faith.  With a team of photographers, Marjoe will show the secrets behind the big revivals and how the church takes a person’s beliefs and uses them for profit.

Directed by Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, Marjoe is documentary expose film.  Originally released at Cannes, the documentary received an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

I actually was a little familiar with Marjoe Gortner, but as an actor, not a preacher.  The Food of the Gods was a favorite schlocky B-horror movie, and he also was one of the stars of the groan-worthy Starcrash.  Watching the documentary, Marjoe has a lot more layers than I gave him credit for.

marjoe gortner money preaching

Preaching can be profitable

The movie kind of breaks into two aspects.  The story explores the world of revivals and the cons used to dupe people out of their money.  Marjoe admits that he is part of the process, and that the goal isn’t necessarily religious redemption, but it is often filling the pockets of the preachers who live lavish lifestyles (and justify those lifestyles as “what God wants for them”).  Through their behavior and preaching, there is a herd mentality that creates a weird “I believe” factor that does help crippled people walk and others feel the power of God…even if it is temporary and even if it is created under artificial circumstances.

The second part of the documentary is a telling of Marjoe’s story.  From his youth, he was forced into the lifestyle and believed it.  Now that he’s no longer the cute kid, he’s lost a lot of the initial appeal of his preaching.  This, along with the societal changes of the late 1960s, created a crisis of faith in Marjoe that he is still reckoning with in the documentary.  Marjoe does question his culpability in the situation since he knowingly is still profiting off of people.  It is his income and he doesn’t believe in his job which is based on belief.  It creates a moral problem which is explored a bit near the end of the documentary.

marjoe gortner preaching

Give me those bills…do you want to be saved?

In a sense, the documentary is shot in guerilla fashion since the people being recorded are being recorded under false pretenses.  Marjoe at the beginning explains that the filmmakers will most likely “get a pass” since they are associated with him, but the film is an expose.  This does raise some questions about how the filmmakers handled the post-production and fallout.

Marjoe is an interesting watch and a story that feels rather unexplored.  Despite really diving deep into the false nature of some of the “prophets” of TV and revivals, it didn’t seem to hurt people like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Kenneth Copeland, or other televangelists who exploded in the 1970s and 1980s with TV revival shows.  People want to believe and be saved…and for a donation of crisp bills, they think they can.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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