Sometimes, someone finds out I do this blog and offers suggestions on films I should check out. Most of the time these people suggest films that are actually pretty decent just have a poor execution, whether that be poor direction, wooden acting or paper thin plot. None of those things automatically make a bad movie just a movie that could be improved. Sometimes these people mistake low budget for crappy and I have stated before that some of the most enjoyable films (I almost wrote ‘best’ and we all know quality of excellence is not a characteristic of what I talk about) I have ever seen were shot only on weekends over the course of years and the cast and crew paid in food and experience. Sometimes the suggestions are abysmal beyond redemption, i.e. Southland Tales, and the subtitle at the top of the page is “Saying Great Things About Terrible Movies”. And sometimes I am handed not just a single suggestion of schlock but someone’s entire catalogue of god awful movies. We struck gold tonight with Ron Ormond.
Ron Ormond was born Vittorio Di Naro, anglicized to Vic Narro. He took his surname from his friend the magician and hypnotist Ormond McGill. Ormond married the vaudeville singer and dancer June Carr (1912-2006) six weeks after he met her when they were performing on stage in 1935. Ormond was performing as a magician calling himself "Rahn Ormond" and was acting as the master of ceremonies of the show leaving town as June watched the last performance. She said to her friend sitting next to her, "See that guy, I'm going to marry him." They remained married until his death. They became partners in film production and had two sons, the first son Victor died of pneumonia and their second son Tim appeared in several of their films. June Ormond's father actor, former nightclub owner, and burlesque comic Cliff Taylor also appeared in many of the Ormond's films.
Ormond's first film was as an uncredited technical director on The Shanghai Cobra (1945). Ormond formed Western Adventure Productions, Inc in 1948 and formed a partnership with Lash LaRue writing and producing and eventually directing his films. Ormond's first credit was Dead Man's Gold in that year. Ormond made his directing debut in King of the Bullwhip with La Rue in 1950. Ormond also wrote a series of Westerns starring former Hopalong Cassidy sidekicks James Ellison and Russell Hayden and filmed vaudeville acts for a film released by Robert L. Lippert. Western Adventure also acquired re-issue rights to a number of Hal Roach's Laurel and Hardy comedies, and distributed them along with their own productions.
As B picture Westerns became replaced with Western television series, Ormond moved into other exploitation genres with films such as Mesa of Lost Women, Untamed Mistress, Teenage Bride aka Please Don't Touch Me and country and western films such as White Lightning Road and 40 Acre Feud.
During the 1950s Ormond spent eight months with Ormond McGill in Asia writing the book Religious Mysteries of the Orient/Into the Strange Unknown that centered Western attention on Psychic surgery. Other books by McGill and Ormond include The Master Method of Hypnosis, The Art of Meditation, and The Magical Pendulum of the Orient. Ormond also produced roller derby on television for Leo Seltzer for a year with his son Tim as one of the players in the children's version of the sport. Tim loved it, Ron, not so much.
At the time Roller Derby was big business, at least for Leo Seltzer who was a big land owner in San Fernando Valley, he owned orange groves and lived in a gated home. Ormond managed the Derby which held weekly skate offs at the Olympic auditorium in downtown LA. The skaters who had kids and young Tim skated in a kid's league, which was not the type of hard contact contest which the adults engaged in, but was mainly for the fans before the main match. Ormond ended up leaving the Derby after telling Seltzer, "I can't work for you and still remain your friend, and I consider you a good friend." This ended that segment of Ormond's life.
After making more exploitation films such as The Monster and the Stripper and The Girl from Tobacco Row, Ormond's survival of a plane crash led him to a conversion to Christianity. Ormond's productions after that include 39 Stripes, produced for Ed Martin Hope Aglow Ministries, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Burning Hell and Believer's Heaven (for Estus Pirkle), The Grim Reaper produced by June Ormond, aka June Carr, as well as Surrender at Navajo Canyon for Pete Rice, and a travelogue for Dr. John Rice. The Second Coming was next on the agenda, but cancer took Ormond's life before production. The script was written by Tim Ormond, and produced by he and June Ormond. The film is dedicated to the memory of Ron Ormond and John Rice.
Since half of these movies are associated with Estus Pirkle I should say something on him as well. Estus Washington Pirkle (March 12, 1930 – March 3, 2005) was a Baptist minister from New Albany, Mississippi. In addition to his preaching, Pirkle was known for creating and starring in his own Christian films as well as writing numerous books. His movies were directed by Ron Ormond and produced by the Ormond Organization of Nashville, Tennessee.
“The Burning Hell” is a 1974 film created by Pirkle as his interpretation of what the Bible has to say about Hell. It is available in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. The screenplay is by Ron Ormond. The companion movie “The Believer's Heaven” gives Pirkle's interpretation of what the Bible has to say about Heaven.
I would like to point out that I am not passing judgment, pun intended, on the faith behind the films, just the schlocky nature of the films themselves.
If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971)
The film is based on the teachings of Estus Pirkle and warns of the dangers facing the United States from Communist infiltrators. The film suggests that the only way to avoid such a fate is to turn to Christianity. It has attracted something of a cult following among secular fans because of its explicit depictions of torture and the heavy-handed nature of its evangelical message. The title paraphrases Jeremiah 12:5:
"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?"
The movie is perhaps best known for having been sampled by the sound collage band Negativland and by featuring a musical number which was used in Ed Wood's 1954 film Jail Bait. Pirkle's narrative includes a (real or speculative) experience in a communist totalitarian country where public loudspeakers issued proclamations such as "Christianity is stupid -- Communism is good" ad infinitum. Negativland lifted the phrases and played them repeatedly backed by industrial music and various other sound effects. A more complete version of Pirkle's narrative can be heard on Negativland's Helter Stupid.
The Burning Hell (1974)
Tim and Ken, two aging hippy-biker types, talk to the Reverend Pirkle about their new church, the one down the street that doesn't bother with that hell stuff because it brings people down. When the two realize that they are talking to a preacher (somehow having previously missed this fact even though they're sitting in his office INSIDE his church) they apologize and leave, but not before Tim has one last laugh at the pastor's antiquated teachings on hell. Tim immediately crashes his motorcycle and has his head ripped off. (Which we get to see!) The grief stricken Ken leaves Tim's headless corpse behind on the road and returns to the church just in time to catch a sermon by Reverend Pirkle detailing stories from the Bible in which various people are cast into the fiery pit of “The Burning Hell”. (Which we also get to see!) Afterwards the preacher sadly informs Ken that, like all those sinners from the Bible, Tim is also burning in hell this very moment. More depressed than ever, Ken attends another service in which the message is (you guessed it) all about hell. Throughout the sermon Ken is stared down and poked by a number of people who feel he needs to respond to the altar call. As the 20th verse of “Just As I Am” is sung, Ken is torn between his doubts and his desire to save his soul from eternal damnation.
The Grim Reaper (1976)
The Grim Reaper is a film mixed with family tragedy and the unfailing grace of God to redeem men. It is the tale of two sons. Also, the story of parents; a Christian mother and a lost father.
One of the boys and his dad are engrossed in the things of his world. The other son and his mom are enjoying Christ and the hope of eternal life. The wayward son is killed and his father begins a strange, winding quest for peace and hope. Traveling as far as the occult and materialism, he finally finds his way to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
This film is a moving portrait of modern family problems. An excellent home soul winning tool.
The Believer's Heaven (1977)
This film gives you the scriptural interpretation of what the Bible has to say about a literal heaven. The film seeks to portray the glories and beauty of heaven that await the believer. You will see the pearly gates, the walls of jasper, the saints going through the pearly gates, the tree of life, etc… You will see Enoch taken up to heaven, and Elijah going up in a chariot of fire. You will watch Abraham give up his life of comfort in Ur to become a nomad because he “looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” There are many more things. Preaching is by Estus W. Pirkle. “The Believer’s Heaven” is in English and Español.
39 Stripes (1979)
The true story of Ed Martin, former chain gang convict who converted to Christianity in prison in 1944 and formed the Hope Aglow Prison Ministries. Ron Ormond's dramatized version of Ed's life in prison follows him swinging on a hammer in a chain gang, remembering his life of squalor and petty crime, finding Jesus through the persistence of his future wife Alfreda, and helping other inmates find salvation through his preaching in the prison chapel. The 39 stripes refer to the Jewish tradition of flogging criminals just short of the fatal 40 lash mark.
- Ron Ormond – Wikipedia
- Estus Pirkle – Wikipedia
- If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? – IMDB
- If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? – Wikipedia
- The Burning Hell – IMDB
- The Burning Hell -- THE B-MOVIE CATECHISM
- The Grim Reaper – IMDB
- The Grim Reaper – Christian Film Database
- The Believer's Heaven – IMDB
- The Believer’s Heaven – Christian Film Database
- 39 Stripes – IMDB
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