I imagine most people, when asked who is their favorite movie character, would take it as a fun exercise to go through their favorite movies and try to think of the characters that they most enjoyed watching go through struggles and emerge on the other side as heroes. Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Mr. Spock, Atticus Finch – so many famous characters to choose from. They’d be happy to pick one and then discuss all of the great scenes with them. It’s an exercise in finding a common bond with others.
For me, revealing my favorite movie character is a much quieter, humbling act. It feels like exposing a sensitive part of my heart. You see, he’s a side character in a mostly forgotten film, so I doubt you’ve ever heard of him. He’s not involved in any action sequences, he could be seen as nothing more than a plot device to move the story forward to the climax, and he really only appears in a handful of scenes at the very start and very end of his movie. And I absolutely love everything about him.
Al the Hero
My favorite character in any movie is Al Frazier. Who is he, you might ask? He’s from a 1944 movie called I Accuse My Parents. It’s not the best movie ever made, but it has a good heart. The first time I watched it was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was funny to watch Joel and the Bots poke fun at the film, but as soon as Al came on the screen, I knew I was watching something special that shouldn’t be mocked. I Accuse My Parents is about a young man named Jimmy who receives no guidance from his parents, which leads him to get entangled with the mafia, kicked to the curb by the woman he loves, and almost killed. When his life completely falls apart and the police are hot on his trail, he finally runs away to a distant town with a gun hidden in his pocket. He is hungry, but he has no money, so he decides the best thing to do is to rob a café.
He walks in late at night as the last few diners leave and walks up to the counter where Al Frazier just finished counting all of the money from the till. Jimmy looks around nervously, and Al asks if he’s waiting for someone. Jimmy says no and surreptitiously pulls out the gun and holds it under the counter. He’s readying himself to commit a robbery when everything suddenly changes. Al gets a warm smile on his face and invites Jimmy to enjoy a hamburger. Jimmy claims he’s not hungry, knowing he can’t pay for a meal, but Al joyfully responds that he can eat now and pay later if he’s broke. He’s pragmatic about it. He believes most people are good, and he lives by the Golden Rule, sharing his abundance with others who aren’t doing as well so that they don’t go away hungry. Then, once they get back on their feet, they remember Al’s kindness and they return the favor by paying him back.
Jimmy is shocked. This is the first time someone has done something kind to him without expecting anything in return. He’s a penniless runaway, yet this man chooses to see the best in him. Al throws a hamburger patty on the grill and approaches Jimmy with a kind smile. He politely asks him to hand over the gun, even though he hasn’t seen it yet. Jimmy sheepishly complies, and Al explains that he knew exactly what Jimmy was planning to do when he walked in. He’s kind, but not dumb. Al tells Jimmy that most people would react poorly to having a gun pulled on them. He checks the cylinder and is dismayed to find it fully loaded with bullets. He notes Jimmy easily could have killed him if they had gotten into a scuffle, which is a clever bit of foreshadowing for what happens at the film’s climax. Thankfully, Jimmy doesn’t shoot Al, but he does accidentally shoot and kill a mafia boss.
I love the moment when Al tries to hand the gun back, but Jimmy is too dumbfounded to even react. Jimmy has never met anyone as kindhearted and merciful as this café owner. He’s ashamed of what he was planning to do. Al just takes his silence in stride. He says he’ll hold onto the gun for him, and he can have it back whenever he wants. I can relate to that. I’ve always tried to be totally honest with people, and when someone gives me something, I do my best to keep it safe and return it if they want it. Al is like a high-water mark of goodness to measure myself against. Maybe that’s why I like him so much.
One Condition to His Kindness
Al invites Jimmy to stay and work for him. He will even give Jimmy free room and board. This seems a little reckless to Jimmy, and it snaps him out of his reverie. He points out that Al doesn’t know anything about him, and he could be putting himself at great risk by inviting him in, no questions asked. Rather than asking the obvious question, Al responds unexpectedly yet brilliantly. He gives Jimmy a test. He says that there is just one condition attached to his generous offer: Jimmy has to go to church with him every Sunday. Jimmy had been about to confess his painful past to Al, but Al recognized that he’s not ready to face all that needs to be faced, so that’s why he invites Jimmy to come to church to find the best version of himself.
Now we see the key to Al’s character. He doesn’t think of himself first and foremost as a businessman, cook, philanthropist, or anything like that. He is a Christian above all else. Six days he works for himself, and on the Sabbath he works for the Lord as an usher at his church. An usher might seem like a lowly job, but he talks about it so highly, it sounds like a kingly office. It speaks volumes about his character. He’s not interested in the praise of men, but in praising God. After a little thought, Jimmy agrees to this condition. Attending weekly church meetings and working with Al on a daily basis helps Jimmy turn over a whole new leaf. We don’t even see all of it, but somehow that doesn’t matter because all of the groundwork was laid so perfectly in this setup scene that Jimmy’s transformation in the next scene comes naturally. After a few months, he confesses his sins to Al and decides to go back and turn himself in to the police. And it’s all because of Al’s compassion.
Obscure, But Not Forgotten
Modern movies usually portray the pure in heart as naïve and oblivious to the darker side of life, like Buddy in Elf. As soon as he gets a taste of the cynical world his father represents, he can’t deal with it and runs away. But Al Frazier is different. He knows the world isn’t perfect, but he doesn’t let that stop him from making the world a better place by living his Christian faith. He doesn’t run away from conflict, but he exercises restraint and gentleness to guide others to make better choices. It’s so heartwarming.
Other movie characters might be more heroic, humorous, romantic, etc., but Al Frazier is the kind of man I admire and want to emulate. I can see myself in his shoes one day, if I diligently strive to be that good. That is why he is my favorite movie character, and it’s also why it is such a personal thing to reveal that fact. A forgotten character from an obscure movie is more powerful to me than the most memorable performance in any blockbuster movie.
I invite you to watch this wonderful scene play out. I’ve queued it up to the right moment in this video:
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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