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The Sounds of Fundamentalism: A Thief in the Night by Russell S. Doughten

a thief in the night

This is the one hundred and eighth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is the movie A Thief in the Night, produced by Russell S. Doughten. Released in 1972, A Thief in the Night was used by thousands of Fundamentalist churches as a tool to scare and evangelize the lost. According to Wikipedia, over 300 million people have viewed A Thief in the Night. I saw this movie when it was first released, seeing it several more times in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to a 2012 Christianity Today article:

It’s been 40 years since the release of a film that wrecked havoc on the sleep of millions of souls in America and around the world, a film that combined religious themes with the chills of a horror film. No, not The Exorcist. But a year before that: Long before millions of readers were getting worried about being left behind, scores of viewers fretted about the ramifications of A Thief in the Night.

The film told the story of a young woman, Patty Myers (played by Patty Dunning), who wakes one morning to find that her husband has suddenly vanished, along with millions of other people throughout the world. The film brings to life the dispensational view of Matthew 24:36-44—one will be taken and one will be left—assuming the Rapture of believers takes place before seven years of tribulation … coming without warning, like a thief in the … well, you know. Patty faces the nightmare of a one-world totalitarian government that will usher in the coming of the Anti-Christ.

At the time, it was a radical new way of making a Christian film. There had been Christian movies before, particularly from Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures (usually about a troubled teen who considers smoking a cigarette before being converted at a Graham crusade). But Thief was different, using the conventions of science fiction and horror—everything from the “It’s Only a Dream … or is it?” device (from every other episode of The Twilight Zone), to the paranoid “Are They With Me or Against Me?” questions (replace the Pod People of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the Mark of the Beast people), to the End Credits with a Twist (The End??? from The Blob becomes The End Is Near). (Not coincidentally, Thief’s executive producer, Russell Doughten Jr., worked on 1958’s The Blob.)
A Thief in the Night also introduced new audiences to the budding Christian rock music scene, featuring Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” sung in the movie by The Fishmarket Combo. (Check out the groovy/spooky video of the song here; they’re also featured in the film’s trailer.)

The film’s budget was $60,000, a paltry sum compared to today’s indie films, rarely made for less than $1 million. Thom Rachford, one of the actors in Thief and now a vice president at Russ Doughten Films (RDF), said that to raise the money, the filmmakers prayed and asked people to invest $5,000 apiece.
A Thief in the Night has reportedly been seen by over 300 million people around the world. Pirated copies appeared in communist countries during the Cold War, and it since has turned up on YouTube. Upon its initial release, the production company developed a program to share the gospel with viewers; RDF records show six million people made decisions for Christ through their ministry.

(video removed from YouTube)

Bonus Video

I Wish We Had All Been Ready by Larry Norman. This Norman tune was the theme song for A Thief in the Night.

Video Link

Series Navigation<< The Sounds of Fundamentalism: The Burning Hell by Estus Pirkle and Ron OrmondThe Sounds of Fundamentalism: Duffy Strode, the Boy Preacher >>

1 Comment

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    I’ve seen it a couple of times as a child and a teen. I haven’t for a while now, but I might sometime soon. It intrigues me how I look at these thing now: all the fearmongering has much less effect 😉

    But it did in the past. I hated this movie quite a bit because I had friends that weren’t all that Christian (anymore) and I was afraid for their fate. Jesus could come any moment, and they were my friends; I didn’t want them to live through all that and go to hell on top of it. And it wasn’t just them either, teachers I liked, neighbours etc. All of them would have to go through the most horrible time and I didn’t want it all to happen. But, of course, God had a right to punish us all for our wicked ways….

    I just finished the book: The book of strange new things, and it is great. It’s about a preacher that has been chosen to convert a bunch of aliens. The writer isn’t a believer but his preacher is very believable. I’ve read it with much interest: the preacher is a nice guy, though somewhat smug, precisely in that Christian way of being smug and patronizing. I don’t want to write a bunch of spoilers but it is very much about beliefs, non-belief, and loss and longing too. He is having a great time up at the alien planet, whereas the preacher’s wife is still on earth having quite a few problems on her hands. The book reminds me just a little of this but I won’t say why because that would be too spoilery.

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