Trapped by the Mormons


    By Christopher Graham

    During a season of goblins and ghosts a film about a polygamist might not seem so frightening. But for H.B. Parkinson, who directed ?Trapped by the Mormons? over 80 years ago, thought it was a subject that could strike terror in audiences.

    This at least was the intent of the filmmaker who made the early anti-Mormon film ?Trapped by the Mormons.? This film will play today at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections as their first silent film.

    Silent films of this type are often hard to come by and this film is one of the few surviving sensationalist depictions of Mormons from the era of the 1920?s.

    ?This is a very early anti-Mormon film, one of the most interesting of its kind,? said James D?Arc, curator of the motion picture archives at BYU. ?The images of Mormons are so outlandish. They are more humorous than insidious or sinister.?

    The movie makes no attempt to show Mormons in a truthful light and shows the main character? a Mormon missionary? smoking, seducing women, and baptizing by sprinkling water.

    ?It?s done in such a silly way that you can?t take it seriously,? said Blair Sterrett, a senior majoring in animation. ?But I like how they zoom in on his hypnotic stare when he uses his supernatural powers.?

    The film was created in England in 1922 and is based on a book called ?The Love Story of a Mormon,? by Winifred Graham Cory. The story tells of a Mormon missionary serving in England without a companion who uses his ?mesmeric powers? to seduce young women into converting to the church and becoming one of his plural wives.

    Isoldi Keene, the manipulative missionary, is portrayed as a vampire-like figure that preys on women. This reflects the common anti-Mormon sentiments in Britain at the time and shows how Latter-day Saints were perceived during this period of the twentieth century, D?Arc said.

    ?Films are like Geiger counters and they reflect the culture that makes them and consumes them,? D?Arc said. ?If you look at ?Trapped by the Mormons? as a time capsule of what was going on, it shows the extreme feelings and perceptions that people had about the church.?

    D?Arc said to deal with the confusion caused by films like this the church would station missionaries outside the theaters to pass out books and pamphlets. He said the anti-Mormon film would spark curiosity among non-members and these missionaries often found success when talking to people who were going to watch the film.

    It is not strange to be showing an anti-Mormon film at BYU, D?Arc said, and these films are being shown to give a complete view of how Mormons were portrayed in the movies over the past 100 years. Special Collections will be showing a series of films including: ?A Trip to Salt Lake City? by famous inventor Thomas Edison, which will be shown together with ?Trapped?, and the classic film ?Brigham Young? which will be shown later this month.

    ?This is an examination of Mormonism in the movies, not just Mormons who make movies,? D?Arc said. ?So those who make movies dealing with Mormons or Mormon subjects are worthy objects for study, evaluation and consideration.?

    The showing will include a live organ accompaniment and an introduction to help put the film in perspective. The movie starts at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library. Admission is free and seating starts at 6:30 p.m.

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