Brigham Young (1940)

brigham young mormonFor being a film about Young, this movie is pretty “old”… [crowd laughs uncontrollably]


This week we in Utah will be celebrating Pioneer Day (our state’s founding holiday), so I thought Brigham Young was an appropriate pick. (It was either this one or Hellboy II.)

tyrone power brigham young movieProduced by Darryl F. Zanuck, Brigham Young stars two celebrities who were at the height of their popularity in 1940 — Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Both were paired together again in a movie released that same year called The Mark of Zorro, which is actually a pretty good flick for any of you swashbucklers out there.

The title role is played by Dean Jagger, who you might remember from The Robe or White Christmas. Other cast members include Mary Astor (Meet Me in St. Louis), Jane Darwell (bird lady in Mary Poppins), Moroni Olsen (the only principal cast member who was a Mormon, and whose voice you might recognize as the mirror in Disney’s Snow White cartoon), plus a little-known actor named Vincent Price, who plays the part of Joseph Smith in this movie, but who later became famous for his horror films and voiced the sinister monologue in Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Now since this movie was not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are a few inaccuracies about the Church, particularly regarding Mormon doctrine (for example, the Book of Mormon is not a re-write of the Bible). Still despite a few things here and there, the fictional scenes portrayed are actually very true to the spirit of real events faced by early Mormon settlers. And yes, one of those pioneers was probably Zorro in disguise.

OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: An older Mormon named George D. Pyper, who knew the real Brigham Young and was hired as an adviser on this film, said this about Dean Jagger: “Besides resembling him in appearance, there is also a striking similarity to voice…Mr. Jagger even has some of Brigham’s mannerisms and his walk.” — in other words, Brigham is one of the few people who can say with absolute confidence, “I’ve got the moves like Jagger.”

Just so you know, not only are my wife and I Mormon (I know, shocker), but our son’s middle name is actually Brigham. We’ve studied his life and his teachings, and there is great respect for Brigham Young in our house.

brigham young mormon

The real Brigham Young

Brigham Young was not perfect, but he was most definitely a man of God. He was a devoted husband and father (and yes, he was a polygamist, but that’s a longer discussion for another day). And while a few of his isolated teachings are not in harmony with the doctrine of the Church today, by and large he taught truths that brought—and still bring—people closer to Jesus Christ.

This “Lion of the Lord” as he came to be known, was the right man at the right time for Latter-day Saints. Not only did this modern-day Moses lead the exodus to Utah away from relentless persecutions in the Midwest, but he did so by inspiration from God, eventually establishing a safe place where parents could raise their children in peace and prosperity.

Brigham Young led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than 30 years, serving God and man and accomplishing much more than can be written in one blog post. He was more than a good person or frontiersman—he was a prophet of the Lord.

By the way, Dean Jagger ended up converting to the Church decades later in 1972. Brigham Young finally became a Mormon!

“I give unto you my servant Brigham Young…” — Doctrine & Covenants 124:127

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3 Responses to Brigham Young (1940)

  1. Nice spotlight. I had forgotten about this oldie but goodie. I wonder what the church thought of this movie released in 1940? I suspect that it was a source of pride that although not 100% accurate, Hollywood was interested in portraying Mormons in a positive light – with big star power no less – (as opposed to the anti-Mormon propaganda film “Trapped by the Mormons”).

  2. P.S. Fun facts: According to the book The Hollywood Hall of Shame, the film “Brigham Young” was a flop, even in Utah, but it had a lingering effect on the man who played the title role. In 1972 Jagger was baptized as a Latter-day Saint. A headline of the day read: ” ‘Brigham Young’ Becomes a Mormon.”
    Cool 🙂

    • Adam says:

      Great comments! If you’re ever able to find this one on DVD, you should listen to the commentary by James D’Arc. Some really cool behind-the-scenes stories, including one with John A. Widtsoe stopping by and praying for seagulls to show up for that big scene with the crickets. 🙂

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