by Glenn Erickson Apr 01, 2023

Daniel Petrie and Ellen Burstyn’s excellent film elevates a genre we normally disdain — the Ethereal Cereal do-you-believe Spiritual Awakening picture. Call this one intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, respectful and emotionally extra-effective. It pushes all the right buttons and finds a conclusion that doesn’t make us roll our eyes. Burstyn’s commitment, Petrie’s direction and the input of great actors take us all the way: Sam Shepard, Eva Le Gallienne, Richard Farnsworth, Lois Smith, Roberts Blossom. The minimal visual effects are a class act, too.

Region Free Blu-ray
Viavision [Imprint] #203
1980 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 103 min. / Street Date February 22, 2023 / available through [Imprint] / Au 34.95
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Sam Shepard, Eva Le Gallienne, Richard Farnsworth, Lois Smith, Roberts Blossom, Clifford David, Pamela Payton-Wright, Jeffrey DeMunn, Madeleine Thornton-Sherwood, Richard Hamilton, Carlin Glynn, Lane Smith, Ebbe Roe Smith, John Tillinger.
Cinematography: Mario Tosi
Production Designer: Paul Sylbert
Art Director: Edwin O’Donovan
Film Editor: Rita Roland
Original Music: Maurice Jarre
Visual Effects: Richard Greenberg, Robert Greenberg, Tony Silver
Written by Lewis John Carlino
Produced by Renée Missel, Howard Rosenman
Directed by
Daniel Petrie

This show had us worried going in. It takes on a subject almost guaranteed to divide audiences — faith healing — and proceeds to make it into a contemplative, meditative time-out. Trying to maintain a rational outlook isn’t easy these days, what with thousands of movements out there insisting on a belief in everything from astral projection to flying saucers. Even more troubling is the knowledge that fringe religion, splinter belief systems and conspiracy theories have metastasized into an ever-shifting blob of Alternate Political Belief. I have relatives that think that science and medicine are a fraud, and I know they don’t have giant bean pods in their basements . . .

Having been made a bit before the Internet explosion of anti-news, anti-science & anti-rationality, Resurrection looks at the notion of spiritual healing with no agenda beyond benign wish fulfillment. Instead of a revivalist carny gimmicks, this storyline just says ‘what if?’,  avoiding cynical attitudes, malevolent characters, and cheap thriller ironies. It’s not a horror movie, and its only agenda is the promotion of goodwill toward others. There are some homilies attached, and a few dialogue lines meant to be ‘words to live by.’  But also a strong sense of sincerity, especially through star Ellen Burstyn. She clearly believes in the show as more than an opportunity to chase an Academy Award.

In her new interview on [Imprint’s] disc, Ms. Burstyn openly states that she believes that healers exist. As she’s not selling anything, we can let that ride — I haven’t seen what she’s seen. She also says that the producers initially approached her with a script about a man who appears to be Christ returned for the Second coming. She responded by suggesting a different storyline that became the final film Resurrection.


Working-class Californians Joe and Edna Mae McCauley (Jeffrey DeMunn & Ellen Burstyn) suffer a catastrophic accident that leaves Edna a widow with paralyzed legs. Her elderly father John Harper (Roberts Blossom) takes her back to her farm roots in Kansas, where she reconnects with her extended family, friendly salt-of-the-Earth types that include Grandma Pearl (Eva La Gallienne) and cousin Kathy (Lois Smith). Edna reveals to Grandma Pearl that, while possibly clinically dead, she had an out-of-body experience, a glimpse of the afterlife. To Edna’s surprise, Grandma says she’s already familiar with the phenomenon.

Living in the bunkhouse on her father’s farm, Edna regains the use of her legs, something her doctors didn’t expect. Much more alarmingly, she soon demonstrates what appear to be genuine healing powers. Family and locals gather to see her rid people of various untreatable ailments. Her success rate is 70% — even she can tell that ‘some people are only sick because they need the attention.’ Edna keeps her work local and simple, with no interest in commercial exploitation. The one objection comes from a fundamentalist preacher, irate that she doesn’t attribute her ability to God, or Jesus.

Edna insists that she knows nothing of the power’s source, only that it comes from a feeling of love. She initially turns down an offer from a scientific group that wants to study the phenomenon. Edna also takes a lover, which presents an unusual problem: Cal (Sam Shepard) is a rebel against his Bible-thumping evangelist father, a ‘fire breather.’ When Cal realizes that Edna’s powers are real,  his Bible background reasserts itself. He becomes convinced that Edna is an agent of the Devil.


The miracle here is that Resurrection turns the pitfalls of ‘paranormal speculation’ into a humanistic fantasy. It takes Edna’s healing power seriously, but doesn’t insist that we Believe . . . it’s still a fictional story.  *  It does not lean in the direction of a horror story, or a Reality Show selling us a bill of goods. A movie about a spiritualists real or fake is a terrific acting opportunity, especially if the crooked character repents in the last reel — think Lon Chaney’s silent-movie career breakthrough The Miracle Man. Frank Capra helped Barbara Stanwyck become a star with his The Miracle Woman, an excellent picture made before Capra’s conversion to ‘important’ moviemaking. Cynical darkness descended on the whole subject with Tyrone Power’s chilling Nightmare Alley.

Lewis John Carlino’s screenplay transcends the expected clichés — remember the “I’m going to move that Toe” sequence from John Ford’s Wings of Eagles?  We’re moved by Ellen Burstyn’s inspired performance, and remain connected because Edna Mae is so obviously sincere. She spends no time feeling sorry for herself. She wills her legs to function, indeed starting by wiggling one toe. Her healing power is discovered when she feels inspired to stop a hemophiliac reaction in a niece, simply by hugging the little girl. She then stops serious bleeding when the drunken Cal is stabbed, or so everyone is convinced. It’s gratifying to see Resurrection pull these scenes off without resorting to arm-twisting emotionalism. Even Edna doesn’t know why her hands heal, and she stays rational and ego-neutral through the whole process. She does not get carried away by delusions of grandeur, like Jean Simmons’ Sister Sharon Falconer in Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry.


Daniel Petrie’s busy career shows him to be a ‘working’ director with strong roots in ’50s television. He applied himself to whatever came along, projects both worthy (A Raisin in the Sun) and fairly hopeless (The Neptune Factor). Resurrection is a home run; Petrie guided two of its actresses to Oscar nominations. Ellen Burstyn’s commitment extended to influencing some of the casting. Famous stage actress Eva La Gallienne is outstanding as the Kansas farm Grandma. Her every line reading is spot-on perfect — we trust this woman. Lois Smith has been a favorite ever since East of Eden, and she here injects just the right degree of open-hearted astonishment when witnessing Edna’s good works.

The Kansas locals that witness Edna’s feats are not presented as yahoos, or made to ‘validate’ the healing with overstated reactions. We hear thanks given to God, but the show doesn’t dwell on the notion of Divine Power at work. That’s maybe a little unrealistic — or at least it would be now, when any notable event is be quickly seized upon by opportunists of every stripe. Director Petrie even handles Sam Shepard’s conversion to religious maniac with restraint and clarity – Shepard is very good here. Cal has apparently been inculcated with his father’s fire & brimstone values, without even being aware of it. Resurrection avoids pretentiousness by limiting itself to suggestions of symbols — when Cal races down the road carrying a shotgun on his motorcycle, it’s braced across the handlebars in a formation that might suggest a cross. When Cal unsheathes the gun in motion by swinging it on one arm, was someone consciously evoking Ethan Edwards’ gesture in John Ford’s The Searchers?


Resurrection offers a visual representation of the immediate afterlife, that also doesn’t insult our intelligence. It subscribes to the ‘dark tunnel with a light at the end’ image for the transition to the next life, an notion sworn to by many. The impressionistic visuals were fashioned by the title sequence designers / optical effects experts Richard Greenberg and Robert Greenberg. Simple light & smoke tricks give us half-seen visions in which Edna thinks she can recognize loved ones. These visions occasionally return, and one of them becomes a premonition of a relative’s imminent death.

One problem with modern visual effects is that nobody goes for simple solutions, when a high-tech solution is available. Some of Hollywood’s most expensive special effects around this time gave us laughably foolish ‘visions’ of the afterlife, scenes that mar Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm and torpedo the already sinking The Black Hole. Terrence Malick’s low-tech vision of the immediate afterlife in Tree of Life is perhaps the most soothing; his characters ‘in transit’ wander and mingle on a pleasant tidewater beach.

Like the Malick film, Petrie’s Resurrection doesn’t strain to sell us a bill of goods. The subject is human feelings, not any particular ideology. True, Grandma Harper does offer a greeting card message, in charming Kansas cadence:

“If we could just love each other as much as we say we love him,
I suspect there wouldn’t be the bother in the world there is.”

The show generates a positive goodwill, and its message feels benign. It’s a far cry from Robert Wise’s absurd, sadistic Audrey Rose, that insists that reincarnation is a legally proven fact, and makes us watch a child in torment for no good reason whatsoever.

Edna Mae repeatedly places her healing talent in a category of ‘I don’t know.’  Carlino’s script does offer some possible clues. Did Edna acquire her skill while in that light tunnel, knock-knock-knocking on Heaven’s door?  What about the symbolism of the two-headed snake at the Last Chance Gas stop in the desert, the one run by Richard Farnsworth’s positive minded Mr. Esco?  Is the fantastic city of Machu Picchu a telling clue?  The film’s most impressive achievement is its satisfying finale. Stories of this kind almost always dissolve into cheap irony or a ‘gee whiz’ evasion: “What do YOU believe?” “Could it be true?”


Other random observations: all we see of Edna’s happy marriage in California is a good time in bed and excitement over a new car. Edna and Joe apparently migrated to take advantage of a good job. Back in Kansas, Edna realigns with her roots in what seems a less consumerist environment, where loving relatives and other decent folk gather at weekend cookouts. There is the fundamentalist fringe, and the tearaway wild boy Cal, warped by an intolerant upbringing. Edna has her own family problems with her father, which are beautifully integrated into the overall theme.

The ‘scientific’ sidebar story is kept short and sweet. The physicists obtain empirical evidence that Edna Mae can override known medicine and science. She bends a beam of laser light before their very eyes, which is essentially a ‘Super Power.’ We expect to see her flown to England, to cure Stephen Hawking — or whisked to a surgery, for a secret autopsy to reveal the source of her magic power. Nope, she’s back in Kansas soon enough. We aren’t privvy to the details, but Edna clearly decides to drop off the grid entirely,  to  am-scray  from the whole  ohgram-pray.

A woman healed by Edna is played by Madeleine Sherwood, a familiar actress from the Newman-Taylor Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the mother with the no-neck monster kids. Sherwood’s marvelously-played five-minute ‘cure’ is only one of several such scenes. The most radical healing, the one studied under clinical conditions, might as well be science fiction. Edna momentarily takes a sick woman’s severe affliction onto herself, a situation quite a bit like the finale of Ellen Burstyn’s earlier hit movie, when exorcist Father Karras tricks Pazuzu by ‘inviting him in.’

Were Ms. Burstyn less talented, or director Petrie less in control, Resurrection could easily be an eyesore instead of a positive, even inspiring fantasy. The human connection is there — Edna’s need for a parent’s love is a near-universal sentiment. But Edna Mae retains a humorous sense of proportion about her peculiar destiny. She jokes that she’s a ‘reverse Joan of Arc,’ condemned because she doesn’t claim to be a messenger from God.



The Viavision [Imprint] Region Free Blu-ray of Resurrection is a fine encoding of this handsome, unpretentious picture. Most of the Kansas-set movie was filmed in Texas, evoking a traditional heartland where every view includes a distant horizon. The presentation is said to have been remastered by Universal with a new 2K scan, which if true means that this disc is different from an existing domestic Universal Blu-ray from 2019.

[Imprint’s] extras include some unique items. Lee Gambin handles the audio commentary, relating a great many production facts along with actor bios and other factoids. Gambin’s wrapup discusses the film’s reception — its Oscar nominations — and quotes from several critics’ reviews.


Ellen Burstyn holds forth in an extended interview, giving her version of the genesis of the project. In her telling, she would seem to merit ‘story by’ credit. Ms. Burstyn works in stories from her personal life to help explain her own thoughts on forms of spirituality and especially healing, which she believes is real.

Kat Ellinger’s video essay puts forward the notion that Resurrection is an early example of a millennial wave of feminist thought she names as ‘The Divine Feminine,’ which goes beyond emancipation to see woman coming into their own as the gender of the future. Ms. Ellinger knows well how to present her arguments, linking them to the aspects of this movie that apply.

A trailer is included as well. Some online notifications list Viavision [Imprint] discs as Region B, but like all their discs I have reviewed do far, Resurrection is compatible with our U.S. Region A players.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Region Free Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
udio commentary by Lee Gambin
Interview The Choice of Love with Ellen Burstyn
Video essay Born to be Wild: Resurrection and the Rise of the Divine Feminine by Kat Ellinger
Theatrical Trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
March 28, 2023

*  Personally, I become suspicious when asked to take most anything ‘on faith’ — isn’t dealing with normal reality hard enough for people?   I re-copy here a footnote from a much older DVD Savant review of the movie The Entity, about the experience of a close college friend, who was my Best Man when I married.

“One of Savant’s friends at the UCLA film school was Clark Dugger, a student versed in fine points of camera technique. In 1972 or 1973 Clark was approached by UCLA’s Dr. Thelma Moss, the controversial head of the real Parapsychological department, the researcher who corresponds to ‘Dr. Cooley’ in The Entity. Clark accompanied Moss and her investigators on visits to people claiming haunting situations and/or psychic powers, and filmed what they found. He said that what he saw was frequently suspicious in nature, although he kept an open mind. Some of the people seemed sincere, it was just that the investigators never saw anything remotely convincing. No matter if the claim was levitation or bending spoons, etc., whenever the UCLA crew arrived the phenomena would not repeat itself. Some claimants did their best to convince the investigators that ‘the ghost’ was going great guns only a few minutes before, like the dancing, singing frog in the Chuck Jones cartoon. Dugger also helped Moss take the first photos of what came to be known as ‘Kirlian photography,’ which has also been thoroughly explained as non-paranormal.

“In the late 1970s much of what Clark filmed began to appear in those Sunn Classics- type bogus documentaries, the ones that took Chariots of the Gods as a template. Shots of Clark setting up a camera or just posing by a piece of equipment were misrepresented as high-tech scenes of classified research. In the stock footage used for The Entity Files (an extra on the old disc), the blonde-haired, smiling Clark can be seen at about the 18 minute mark, setting up a camera. The shot implies that he was documenting the ‘famous’ case referred to by Dr. Taff, but Clark never mentioned witnessing anything so dramatic.”

For his UCLA film school Project One, Clark made a film about a houseplant that witnesses a murder, and gives evidence during a trial. It was intended to be completely absurd. Clark was therefore rather perturbed when a feature film with the same concept was made just a couple of years later.”

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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