Miracle in East Texas screened on opening night at the Anthem Film Festival to an overflow crowd, winning the Best Narrative Feature award. The Anthem Film Festival, part of FreedomFest, has become my favorite venue for finding challenging, fun, and important films. It ran this year from July 17-20 at the Paris Resort Las Vegas.
Miracle in East Texas, with Kevin Sorbo, John Ratzenberger, and Lou Gossett Jr. takes viewers to depression-era middle America to meet two bible-quoting con men bent on bilking widows out of their savings.
The movie is a must-see. The cast is strong, and the story is inspirational, as are the filmmakers, who had some hints for other filmmakers during the post-screening question and answer session.
Kevin Sorbo, best known for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and as Captain Dylan Hunt on the Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, plays Doc Boyd. Boyd claims to be a geologist who knows how to find oil. He is actually a snake-oil salesman who knows how to find well-off widows.
His partner in chicanery, Dad Everett, is brought to life by John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff on Cheers and is known as the voice of Hamm the Piggy Bank in the Toy Story films. Everett, a frustrated, lonely old man, really wants to go straight, but can’t find a way to do it.
The story starts in modern times as two college students, one played by Sorbo’s son Braeden, interview Irving Tanner, an old man who lived through the bad old days. As Tanner, played by Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman, Enemy Mine, Roots), tells his story, we see him as a young boy and the story begins.
There are several widows who are key to the story, but the most important one is played by Kevin’s wife, Sam Sorbo. She also produced the film, which Kevin directed.
Boyd and Everett get run out of Oklahoma as knowledge of their nefarious behavior begins to precede them. They decide to look for new victims in Texas.
Their go-to scheme is to find a dry oil well and claim they have discovered oil beneath it and need investors to make it gush. Sorbo’s character relies on maps and scientific-sounding gibberish. Ratzenberger’s character elaborately fakes being able to find oil with a dowsing stick. Both rely on their charm to get widows to invest in the project. After they have collected enough money, sometimes selling several hundred percent of a project, they disappear with the cash.
When they get to what turns out to be their last scam, things go wrong in surprising, miraculous ways. They are faced with important decisions about their futures, the people in the community they are trying to bilk, and who they really are deep inside.
Making the Movie
Dan Gordon (Wyatt Earp, The Hurricane, A Very Mary Christmas) wrote the script. The Sorbos had worked with him before on Let There be Light. They asked him if he had any scripts which might be right for them, and when he shared Miracle in East Texas, they were sold immediately.
The script is funny and touching and even contains an in-joke about one of Kevin’s previous roles. I don’t usually like stories in which bad guys are the protagonists, but in this case, I am happily noting an exception.
During the post-screening question-and-answer period, the Sorbos talked about making the film. They explained that it was based on a true story.
An audience member asked about the shooting schedule, which was very fast. “Two takes and move on,” Kevin explained.
The filming was done in Alberta, Canada, not Texas. Sam explained that the tax advantages given to filmmakers was a critical element in the decision to shoot there. She said that because of previous experience there, they were also able to recruit cast and crew in the Alberta area.