The first Mormon movie

It would be ever-so-easy to make fun of the first Mormon movie made by Mormons. Even the title,"Corianton: A Story of Unholy Love," could lead to smirks. And the dialogue, delivered in over-the-top theatrical exuberance, could be described by unkind folk as more Monty Pythonian than Shakespearian.

But I won't make fun of this movie. I won't.

On Saturday, Feb. 27, the Association for Mormon Letters held its annual meeting at Utah Valley University. The center of this year's meeting was a screening of the 1931 epic film that fictionalized the Book of Mormon story of Corianton, the rebellious son of the prophet Alma.

A 16 mm print of the film was donated to BYU (Orson Scott Card's grandfather was the producer of the film) and digitally restored last year. It was screened once last September. Only about 50 people came to watch it again -- an appropriately low number of people considering that the film was a huge box office flop in its first very limited run 79 years ago.

Before the screening, three scholars spoke about the historical background of the film. Ardis Parshall traced the story's development from short story to play to talking picture. Lisa Tait looked at cultural context. James V. D'Arc, curator at BYU's Motion Picture Archive, introduced the screening.

The original short story was serialized in a church magazine in 1889. The author, whose pseudonym was Horatio, was later revealed to be Elder B.H. Roberts of the Quorum of the Seventy. Orestes Utah Bean (his real name) wrote a play based on Roberts' popular story with a little bit of another short story by Julia Macdonald mixed in for good measure. Bean teamed up with Lester Park, who produced the film.

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