Every once in a while, you find a film from youth that is full of great scenes with great actors who most people didn’t know at the time, but today has the makings of a classic.
“Heaven Help Us” follows a group of Catholic School boys through pranks, dates and other shenanigans under the supervision of the Brothers order who provide instruction. Absolutely amazing scenes making fun of life in a religious school abound here. Just a few:
The ‘clicker’ that tells everyone when to kneel and stand winds up in the hands of a student.
One altar boy with hyperactive “glands” assists communion on girl’s tongues until he faints.
A pre-dance lecture about the fires of hell before slow dancing.
Boys in line for confession plan their negotiations to get the minimal amount of penance.
Don’t miss the lecture poolside about how the boys will have to fight Communists so the Brothers will survive.
There’s a lot more. The main spine of the film involves a boy who is a new student (Andrew McCarthy) at the school and a Brother (John Heard) who is new to the school as a teacher. The boy falls in love with the girl down the street and the Brother tries to “fit in” with the social structure of the brotherhood, told not to rock the boat, and eventually he is relied upon and rewarded for supporting the social caste. Interesting scene when that happens.
Donald Sutherland is the Headmaster, and he is having a bit of fun here. But he does a fine bit of acting, always in charge, but communicating through his eyes and face that he sees some of his younger self in John Heard’s character. Heard has the easiest role – the Brother who is everyone’s friend.
The heavy in the film is Brother Constance, played by Jay Patterson, and he has everything but the twirled mustache. He’s the disciplinarian that everyone fears (every Catholic school had one) and his iron fist is tolerated until the climax.
The real jewel in this film is Mary Stuart Masterson, who plays the girl who runs the soda shop near the school. Kids hide here to smoke and hang out. She and McCarthy are exceptional together, although the “star crossed lovers” theme is a bit overdone. Director Dinner’s work here is more TV than film.
Kevin Dillon makes his film debut here, and went from here to “Platoon” and “The Doors”. He’s serviceable, funny, but that’s about it.
It’s box office was around $6 million, placing it behind “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Transylvania 6-500”, so we’re not talking hit here. It found a niche audience on home video, but this is definitely one of those “Another takes” for which most people never had the first take.
But it’s worth it. It’s bawdy, but not Animal House. It has a 1960s innocence and a good vs. evil vibe. And it’s a nice look at the social caste of the Brotherhood. The pecking order of who gets the most bread is a nice touch.
“Heaven Help Us” was titled “Catholic Boys” right up until it was released, and it was changed to make it more marketable. I think it would’ve done better with its original title. At least it tells you something about the film – the current title says nothing.
But it’s a great little film, and it’s worth Another Take.
The Highlight Reel
You can’t miss Wallace Shawn’s turn as the Brother who warns kids at the high school dance how the fires of hell await them if they dance too closely. Inconceivable!
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