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RESURRECTION

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Deseret News review was published on Sept. 26, 1980, for the PG-rated film “Resurrection,” a movie I really liked but which the studio (Universal Pictures) virtually threw away with little publicity. “Resurrection” was released on VHS in 2000 and this DVD came out in 2009. But as it’s on the Universal Vault label, a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R product, it remains priced at $20, and DVD-Rs are not available for rent. Anyway, here’s my pitch — in the form of my original review — for a movie I feel has been sadly overlooked.

 “Resurrection” is the work of several multi-talented people, the result of an unusual amount of care and research and the product of a confused modern age.

As a movie, it is also somewhat confused, but thanks to uniformly superb performances throughout, it is also well worth seeing.

Ellen Burstyn is an extremely talented actress and she sets the pace for everyone else in this film – and everyone else keeps up very well.

Edna McCauley (Burstyn) has a full life with her loving husband, and she is devastated when she loses him and the use of her legs in an auto accident.

In the hospital emergency room, she dies for a few brief moments, experiencing a long tunnel with a bright light at the far end, and she sees a number of people beckoning her in a warm, friendly manner.

Ellen Burstyn performs a healing in 'Resurrection.'

When she leaves her Los Angeles home to move back to rural Kansas with her hard, distant father (Roberts Blossom) and her kindly, loving grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne), she discovers she has the power to heal others by touching them.

Any resemblance to a predictable tent-evangelist picture ends there, however. Having no religious background, she neither accepts nor rejects the idea that divine intervention may have given her this power. She merely resolves to accept it and use it to help others.

But some of the people around her cannot accept the contradiction of Edna’s life — a healer whose private life is that of a modern, freethinking city girl.

It especially bothers Calvin Carpenter (Sam Shepard), the rebellious son of a local fire-and-brimstone self-styled preacher, who begins to feel that if Edna cannot bow to God then her power must come from the devil. They become lovers while Cal still considers the power a psychological effort, but once he becomes convinced it’s real, he begins to crack.

Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino seems as confused about the source of such power as does Edna. He vacillates from a rich vision of journeying to the afterlife to blunt parapsychological phenomenon research, though there seems to be a constant underlying religious base.

However, director Daniel Petrie, who has given us some of television’s finest dramas (“Eleanor and Franklin,” “The White House Years,” “Sybil”), is more sure of himself and he allows his actors a lot of room to grow into their characters.

Burstyn is magnificent in the difficult lead and Shepard, best known as a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, is equally stirring in an extremely complex role, living up to the promise he demonstrated in “Days of Heaven.”

The twist ending to “Resurrection” is touching and neatly done, though it may be considered too soapy by some. The aging makeup for Burstyn is not too successful and there’s no sense of the amount of time that is supposed to have passed, but, again, the acting saves the moment.

It’s an actor’s picture, thanks to a talented director who knows how to guide his performers — and to performers who know how to rise above their material.

And there are some scenes that may stay with the audience a long time, such as one in which Edna, under the observation of scientists, heals a woman who suffers from a disfiguring disease that twists limbs and muscles. This scene alone is worth the price of a ticket.

A warning, though, that some might be offended by the sex scenes, as well as the very contradictions that bother other characters in the film. If you can get past that you’re in for a memorable film experience.