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One Foot in Heaven

One Foot in Heaven(1941)

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In Stratford, Ontario in 1904, William Spence is inspired by an evangelical speaker to study for the ministry instead of entering medical school. Although Will's first post as an ordained Methodist minister is a small town in Iowa, Hope, his new wife, devotedly accompanies him. The dilapidated parsonage is a great disappointment to Hope, but soon the women of the church arrive to help straighten things out and Hope learns in the process that the parsonage will always be the domain of these women. The Spences move from parish to parish and along the way first Eileen and then Hartzell are born to them, but they are still very poor. During World War I, Will augments his income by performing weddings. When a third baby, a boy, is born, Hope and Will cannot agree on a name, and he remains unbaptized at three months old. Hope wants to name the baby William Spence, Jr. and Will, who does not like the idea, insists that he should be given the middle name Frazer. Will finally agrees to name the baby the following Sunday and baptizes him William Frazer Spence. Although Eileen and Hartzell expect their parents to quarrel after the service, Hope agrees that the baby shall be called Frazer. Hartzell has a hard time with the idea that a minister's son should be an example to the other boys. Will explains that "a pastor's family walks a tightrope, balancing with one foot on earth and one foot already in heaven." When a chance visitor reveals that she has seen Hartzell at the movies, a pastime forbidden to Methodists, Will decides to accompany his son to the theater and point out why the film is bad for him. The scheduled film stars William S. Hart, and rather than finding the movie sinful, Will is charmed by it and the following Sunday, preaches a sermon advising his parishioners that young people may have something to teach their elders. Will finishes out the war years as an Army chaplain. The 1920s are a time of economic prosperity for the country, but not for the Spences, whose parsonage in Denver is coming apart at the seams. Will resolves to build a new church and parsonage, but his plans are thwarted by power struggles among the members of the church. He loses one wealthy church member, Mrs. Lydia Sandow, when he refuses to stop visiting her chauffeur and another after he replaces the off-key choir, headed by Mrs. Preston Thurston, with a children's choir. Soon, Hartzell is expelled from school because he is falsely accused of making a young girl pregnant. Will takes advantage of a job offer to seek out the girl's family in California, where they have moved, and learns that there is no truth to the rumor. Back in Denver, Will confronts the Thurstons, who started the rumors, and gives them a choice: he will call them out in church or they can contribute a large sum to the building fund. A year later, the church is built and the family is happily ensconced in a new parsonage. Their comfort is short-lived, however, because Will has accepted a new job, confident that he leaves behind a revitalized church.