The Hoodlum Priest

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The Hoodlum Priest
Hoodlum Priest.jpg
DVD Cover
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Produced by Walter Wood
Written by Joseph Landon
Don Deer
Starring Don Murray
Music by Richard Markowitz
Cinematography Haskell Wexler
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • March 26, 1961 (1961-03-26)
Running time
101 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Hoodlum Priest is a 1961 film by Irvin Kershner, based on the life of Father Charles Clark of St. Louis, who ministered to street gangs. It was entered into the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.[1][2] The movie stars Don Murray who also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Don Deer.


Father Charles Dismas Clark, a Jesuit priest in St. Louis, dedicates his life to the rehabilitation of delinquents and ex-convicts. By meeting them on their own terms and talking their language, he wins their confidence and their trust. He is primarily concerned with a young thief, Billy Lee Jackson, recently released from the Missouri State Penitentiary. Father Clark helps clear the boy of some trumped-up charges and then gets him an honest job with a produce market. Billy's rehabilitation is further encouraged by Ellen Henley, a young socialite with whom he falls in love. Meanwhile, aided by Louis Rosen, a successful criminal lawyer, Father Clark raises enough funds to open Halfway House, a shelter for ex-convicts readjusting to civilian life. All goes well until Billy's employer fires him for a theft he did not commit. Embittered, he and a friend, Pio, attempt to rob the produce market. They are caught by one of the owners, and he attacks Billy with a crowbar. The panic-stricken boy grabs a gun and kills him. The police chase Billy to an abandoned house, and he hides there until Father Clark persuades him to surrender. Tried and convicted of murder, he is sentenced to death. Before Billy dies in the gas chamber, Father Clark reassures him by telling him of Dismas, the thief who died on the cross, and of how Christ promised him eternal life. After the execution, Father Clark returns to Halfway House and finds his first client, Pio, drunk and repentant.[3]



A.H. Weiler of the New York Times said: "An unrelievedly grim, serious and action-filled case against an uncompromising attitude toward former convicts and capital punishment, it evolves, through an unpretentious, documentary treatment, as tough and persuasive, if disquieting, drama. ... There is no doubt, however, as to the film's sharp, authentic pictorial look, since it was photographed largely in St. Louis, whose lower depths rise strikingly before an audience. Its cheap saloons, alleys and slums, photographed in newsreel detail by Haskell Wexler, lend polish and support to the fast pace maintained by the director, Irvin Kershner, whose experience stems largely from television."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hoodlum Priest". Retrieved 2009-02-21. 
  2. ^ New York Times
  3. ^ TCM Synopsis
  4. ^ A.H. Weiler, "Don Murray Portrays 'The Hoodlum Priest': Story of Father Clark in St. Louis Is Told Actor Was Co-Author and a Co-Producer" Apr. 3, 1961

External links[edit]