See Mormon Film: Key Films of the Fourth Wave
The statement that Brigham
was produced in 1983 is indicative of much of its existence since its premiere in 1977. Popular opinion had shifted dramatically since Twentieth-Century Fox released its epic Brigham Young
in 1940, and by the 1970s many Latter-day Saints had come to see that film critically, as not truthfully representing Brigham Young or the pioneer story. This paved the way for David Yeaman to create a film billed as authentic and sympathetic to the LDS view. Top Hollywood brass was involved, primarily Oscar-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan, and the LDS public grew excited to finally see themselves depicted accurately on screen.
Unfortunatley, when released, Brigham
proved a critical fiasco. It was criticized for poor acting, incomprehensible chronology, sensationalized violence, incredibly poor casting, lack of dramatic focus, and even for recycling wagon train footage from earlier films like Brigham Young
itself. The film was quickly withdrawn, reedited, and re-released early the following, billed as The New Brigham
. Similar attempts at repackaging continued as it was apparently again revamped and christened Savage Journey
a few years later (perhaps to parallel the 1983 handcart film Perilous Journey
). Despite this, Brigham
remained a critical flop, and modern Mormons, if they remember it all, do so with humor or derision.
This is unfortunate, as the film does have a great deal to offer. Though dated and dramatically misdirected more than once, it has a great many qualities lacking in all other LDS films. It displays, for instance, the horrors of mob violence quite effectively, and contains both one of the most sincere relationships between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young put on film and a heartfelt if brazen deference toward temple sealings and eternal families. Its climax of a vicarious temple sealing ordinance puts into perspective the controversy that emerged over Richard Dutcher's depictions of baptism and the sacrament in his early films.
Actor Richard Moll, here credited as Charles, obliquely referred to this film in the more recent mockumentary The Work and the Story
, wherein he portrayed a film critic and claimed that "all independent films suck, all Mormon films suck, and, ergo, an independent Mormon film must royally