Today’s Prayer Focus

Red Betsy

MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for language and thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Moral Rating: Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Family (10 years old to adult)
Genre: Drama
Length: 1 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release: 2003
USA Release:
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Lang Films

How can I be and feel forgiven? Answer

If God forgives me every time I ask, why do I still feel so guilty? Answer

Fear, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

Am I good enough to go to Heaven? Answer

How can I be sure of my salvation? Answer

Forgiveness of sin

Featuring Alison Elliott (“Spitfire Grill”), Leo Burmeister (“Lone Star”, “The Abyss”), Lois Smith (“Minority Report”, “Fried Green Tomatoes”), Chad Lowe (“Unfaithful”), Isa Thomas, William Wise, Brent Crawford, Courtney Jines, Kyle Gallner, Simon Jacobs
Director Chris Boebel
Producer Chris Boebel, James Calabrese
Distributor Lang Films LLC

This “indie” film follows a fictitious rural Wisconsin family from 1941-51. The characters and the challenges they face are believable, unlike in most modern films where everything is larger than life. There are many recognizable actors, but no one from the “A-list.” This is drama for drama’s sake. The Wisconsin-rooted writer/director adapted the screenplay from a story written by his father.

Dale Rounds (Brent Crawford) and his father Emmet (Leo Burmeister) have built an airplane from a kit, and christened it the Red Betsy. In the opening scene, the neighbors are gathered to witness the attempted maiden flight. Yes, it does fly. Emmet, cursing because the engine doesn’t kick in right away, seems to be a crusty, difficult type. Later, he appears apprehensive about his son’s engagement to “city girl” Winifred (Alison Elliott). Mostly, he’s afraid his son might move away from the farm; and yes, that’s the couple’s intention. But Pearl Harbor intervenes, Dale goes off to war, and new bride Winifred stays on the farm to look after Emmet. Then comes the telegram. Now the family consists of just a young, pregnant widow and her father-in-law.

Fast-forward eight years. Winifred never did move away. She’s still on the farm, a single mom holding down a job (a rarity in those days) and watching over Emmet, who of course denies that he needs watching. The house has no indoor plumbing, and the entire valley has no electricity. But, changes are in the wind.

If it were up to Emmet, those changes wouldn’t be made. He’s handy with machinery, and he’s not against progress per se. But he doesn’t like the loss of independence and individuality that uncontrolled progress and newfangled contraptions will bring. (I was raised in rural Wisconsin. Our house didn’t have indoor plumbing until the mid-1950s. And Emmet reminds me of my own father.)

Actually, Emmet’s complaints about the Rural Electrification Administration and other “outsiders” are in part a symptom of a deeper problem. There are unresolved resentments within the family. A need for forgiveness and letting go. Emmet and Winifred can’t agree on things; and Winifred’s daughter Jane (Courtney Jines), who desperately needs both her mother and her grandfather, is caught in the middle and adversely affected. Can the family find a place of compromise and wholeness before it’s too late?

Some viewers might consider this film boring, but I found it very thought-provoking. The feel of the time and place is authentically re-created. Evenings with no entertainment except perhaps a radio. Kids “making their own fun.” Large gatherings at someone’s home, with each family bringing a covered dish. And the conflict between the “old” and the “new” as a backdrop.

Content issues

  • Language: Mild—Two occurrences of s*o*b*, one of a*, six of d* and one of g*d*, four of h* plus one “go to h*.” Young boys playfully insult each other with words like “idiot,” “moron,” “pinhead” and “stupid,” and they talk about “Japs” and “Commies.” At a social event, some young women are being eyed up by some not-too-attractive young men, and one woman comments: “Thought they kept the hogs in the barn.”

  • Sensuality: Mild—A small amount of kissing. The wordless wedding night scene between Dale and Winifred is handled tastefully; they share a long kiss, he lowers her to the bed (both of them are clothed), the camera holds on them a few more seconds and then cuts away. There are one and possibly two occurrences of older men pinching their own wives on the behind; in the more obvious occurrence, the wife (who’s walking with a covered dish in her hands and is defenseless) calls her husband a “stud horse” (in German with subtitles).

  • Violence: Minor—A half-serious scuffle between schoolboys. Occasional arguing and bad attitudes. A child is trapped on a roof and nearly falls, but is rescued. Emmet, remembering the loss of his son, gets angry with boys who play “soldiers” and takes an air rifle away from one of them.

  • Other—Dale and Winifred’s family-and-friends engagement party at Dale’s home includes cigar and cigarette smoking, beer drinking, and gambling; Winifred and another young woman smoke. Emmet often has a stubby cigar clenched in his mouth. A busybody woman violates her neighbors’ privacy by listening in on party line calls. There’s a scene implying discreetly that a young boy is urinating; rear view and waist-up front view only, but with sound effects.

“Red Betsy” is “church-neutral,” except for sequences of schoolchildren putting on the play “A Christmas Carol,” there’s no direct mention of spiritual issues, either negative or positive. Dale and Winifred are married by a Justice of the Peace. Some of the conflicts in the story really ARE spiritual issues by nature; the film clearly illustrates the problems, but offers no easy solutions.

Matthew 6:12-15 and many other Scripture passages tell us that we must forgive others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves. (We now know that harboring unforgiveness in our hearts causes medical problems as well.)

In II Corinthians 5:17-21 there’s a beautiful description of how God reconciles us to Himself by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, makes us new creatures, and then gives us the ministry of reconciliation. When I consider everything I was guilty of before God, and was forgiven of me, forgiving other people their offences is small potatoes by comparison.

This film is well-acted and beautifully photographed, and has an excellent musical score. It’s comparable in quality to a major studio production. With some reservations due to the listed content, I recommend it as family viewing for about age ten and up.

The film premiered Thursday, September 18, 2003, and opened throughout southern Wisconsin the following day. Wider release followed. I believe those who appreciate relatively clean family fare should give this film their support.

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