Picks and Pans Review: Wise Blood

updated 04/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

'JESUS CALLED,' reads the epitaph on a headstone adorned with a sculpted telephone, its receiver off the hook. It is just such delightfully offbeat touches that make this John Huston film a wonder. Based on the 1952 novel by Flannery O'Connor, it chronicles an Army vet (Brad Dourif) who returns to find his hometown in the Deep South all but deserted. So he heads for the big city," Macon, Ga., aiming "to do things I ain't never done before," such as establishing a street-corner religion called the Church of Christ Without Christ. Director Huston satirizes religious hypocrisy, deploying Ned Beatty and the ubiquitous Harry Dean Stanton as unsavory evangelists. With eyes that could bore a hole in any soul, Dourif (the stuttering Billy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is marvelously intense in his central role. At times the sheer eccentricity of this movie obscures its message, but then the 73-year-old Huston—whose work includes The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Beat the Devil—-has never been one to stand by convention. (PG)

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