The Cross and the Switchblade
This is too good a game to pass up, and Murray knows it. The ending reveals the whole structure by definition, this is the first half of Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York. Sub-definitions include Days of Wine and Roses and The Man with the Golden Arm for the clinging junkie girlfriend of the Mau-Maus’ leader. The singer at the Big Youth Rally is directly from Paths of Glory, but she leaves the stage weeping. The great precedent for the treatment of the minister is Koster’s A Man Called Peter (and doubtless Kershner’s Hoodlum Priest).
The ugly reality of gangs is confronted in the rally scene, where the conversion takes place. Murray arrives at it by degrees, the first rumble starts out like the fighting apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey and quickly changes its character as filmed, these are children playing in the park, in the street and alleys and on the fire escapes, it suggests nothing so much as Crichton’s Hue and Cry, except Truffaut’s Small Change, even though they’re armed with knives, baseball bats and machetes, and afterward there is a brief shot of the wounded. In the next scene, one of them falls off a fire escape (he later dies). The rival Bishops attack the mourners at his graveside strewn with fallen leaves, the bloodiness is increased. This leads to the final rumble set for the rally, where the gangs are met by a real tent revival that speaks right to them.
Exceptional cinematography and direction are the rule, there is plenty of humor (“I don’t remember what he said, God loves me, crap like that”) to go with the fine and revealing performances, and so you have “the true story of a country preacher who founded his church in the ghetto to reach lonely mixed-up kids in gangs.”