Army Archives

At the Movies

Lights, camera, action. Here's a look at The Salvation Army in movies. by Major Jason Swain

During the 1920s and 30s, as motion pictures grew beyond its infancy and sound was added, Salvation Army characters and themes were often highlighted.

Famously, Cary Grant played a pseudo-Salvation Army officer alongside Mae West in the 1933 film “She Done Him Wrong.” However, that is not the earliest reference to the Army. The pioneer film “Soldiers of the Cross” was an early example of The Salvation Army embracing the new technology of motion pictures. Herbert Howard Booth was the driving force behind this film and toured the world showing this groundbreaking film to thousands.

“Salvation Nell” was a film that had two different versions. The silent version was filmed in 1921, but an updated sound version was re-filmed in 1931. Unfortunately, the film was considered “lost” until a single print was found and shown in 2001. It is now preserved for future generations to see.

Throughout the pre-war (World War II) movie industry, The Salvation Army was mainly shown as street evangelists, “good deed doers,” or helping the poor and down-and-out in a major city. There are few main character Salvationists, but occasionally they have a line or two!

In recent decades, The Salvation Army tends to show up in holiday movies that center around Christmas. The red kettle often shows up in a street scene or can be seen as the character moves along a snowy street.

Television has also captured The Salvation Army, in some cases to a humorous extent. The British television show “Hallelujah!” was centered around a female Salvation Army officer and her trials and tribulations in a small town in England. Played for its comic effect, the characters always found themselves in a funny situation, but in the end, it always worked out, and Captain Emily always lifted her hands and proclaimed, “Hallelujah!”

Photos: “Hallelujah!” from Yorkshire Television (YTV) “Soldiers of the Cross” from Limelight Department of the Melbourne Salvation Army | “Salvation Nell” from James Cruze Productions “Guys and Dolls” from Paramount Pictures

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