In the language of evangelist Estus Pirkle the footmen are those common everyday sins of greed, sloth, and adultery while the horses are that supreme threat to America and Christianity known as communism. Pirkle’s sermon that shares its title with the Ormond film, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971), is a call to arms to return to God and traditional middle class values. Pirkle’s rhetoric is meant to scare wavering believers straight back into the arms of American capitalism and Christianity.
In the forty-plus years since Pirkle’s preaching was so dramatically recorded by Ron, June, and Tim Ormond little has changed within the Christian right-wing of the United States. Communism may no longer be the instrument of choice for satan, but the scare tactics, xenophobia, misogyny, and quasi-fundamentalism of right-wing rhetoric remains the same. If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is so extreme in its points of view that it becomes disturbing. Yet, so many of Pirkle’s ideas and inspired imaginings are so outlandish that an element of comedy inadvertently prevails throughout. Often sensations of revulsion and fear come hand in hand with bouts of laughter when watching If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?
The strength to this paradoxical reaction is a testament to the Ormond family’s ability to provide sensationalist images to match Pirkle’s wacko words. Before being born again in ’68, the Ormonds were purveyors of home grown genre pictures that ranged from westerns and horror flicks to sexploitation and melodrama. The Ormonds developed a keen craftsmanship for making much with very little. In If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? they turn that well honed craftsmanship and resourcefulness to the task of dramatizing Pirkle’s sermon with all of the pomp and terror of Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation (1915).
The Ormonds employ superimposition to dramatize the infiltration of Babylonians into the army of God as they travel on the road; they fix their kino-eye onto frank depictions of Communist torture as children drop their bound father onto a bed of pitchforks; they set their empathetic gaze on wayward believer Judy as she makes her journey with Pirkle back to the flock. In a way If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is as much a showcase for the filmmaking talents of the Ormonds as it is a platform for Pirkle’s preaching. Every vignette shows off a different aesthetic sensibility that the Ormonds have spent the last twenty years cultivating.
The vignette format that hangs around Pirkle’s central sermon allows the Ormonds to play to their strengths. A traditional narrative feature often revealed the budgetary restrictions of an Ormond production in a rather unflattering and inhibiting fashion. The non-narrative structure of If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? negates such pitfalls and demonstrates the aptitude the Ormonds had for cinematic stylization. But for all of the artistry in If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, it is still a right-wing propaganda picture.