How Near To The Angels: A BYU Film Recap From 1956 That Will Make You Feel A Lot Of Things
At some point during my periodic search for obscure, horrifying old Mormon films, I discovered a real doozy. This was about two years ago and I’ve been willing myself to summon the endurance to recap it ever since. How Near To The Angels comes at us from 1956, and it comes at us hard.
We begin our story with two schoolmarms dressing a young lady in a white wedding dress.
The bride-to-be is Janet. “You really think he’ll like it, mother?” Janet asks about the dress.
“I doubt he’ll even notice it,” she responds.
Moms gonna mom.
Janet ponders in a sing-songy voice, “Mom, how did such a wonderful man ever fall in love with me?”
“Men have been falling in love with you since you were three,” mom counters, lovingly, like she hasn’t just said the first of many horrifying things this film will soon throw at us without any attempt to unpack it.
“Marrying a man is the most important thing a woman ever does, isn’t it?” Janet goes on.
Mom leaves the room so Janet can pick up a photo of her soon-to-be. She begins an echoey voiceover monologue directed at him.
Janet contemplates how “wonderful and clean” her man is and then she summons a look of horror as she thinks to herself about “how close” she came “to being denied the greatest of all blessings,” hinting at some questionable past.
It sounds like we’re about to go for a cocaine-filled romp through debauchery. We’re not.
“It seems like only yesterday I was a Beehive girl. And even then, popularity was almost an obsession with me,” Janet continues.
Side note: “Beehive Girl” is what the other writers on this site call me at our team meetings. It’s a toxic work environment but it pays for my wine habit, so I stay.
Janet says she got mixed up in the “wrong crowd,” and through a flashback she introduces that wrong crowd to us:
This is Betty and Babs, and yes, I’m all in on Betty and Babs. They have the kind of names of people who start arguments by spinning a small purse in one hand, chewing gum with an open mouth, and saying, “Now see here!”
Betty and Babs are talking to Janet on the phone, apparently trying to get her to hang out with them. “Gee wiz!” Janet yells. “If I keep missing Mutual someone’s sure to tell my folks!”
For the uninitiated, “Mutual” is an old term for Mormon youth activities where teenagers gathered on folding chairs at the local church meetinghouse so a grownup could explain the differences between “petting” and “heavy petting” just before passing around an unwrapped candy bar to demonstrate that, just like girls, once it’s been touched by so many hands, no one will want to eat it.
Janet seems ready to tell her friends she can’t come over, but then Betty or Babs or it doesn’t matter who says she just got a new record. “You did!?” Janet yells. “That real cooooool jazz number?! Crazy! Neat! I’ll simply DIE if I don’t hear it!”
Janet rushes off to Betty’s or Babs’s place to listen to the devil’s music. It’s clear that the purely-instrumental song, which sounds like something you’d hear at a nineteenth-century traveling circus, is a bad influence because the girls start dancing.
Eventually they collapse on a bed. “Oh Babs, I’m real thirsty. Have you got any pop in the house?” Betty asks. “Are you kidding?” Babs responds like she’s in a seventh grade play and she’s been told by the English teacher she needs to speak as loudly as possible so the parents in the back can hear her. “It’s imPOSSible to keep anything here in the house with MY kid BROTHER. He drinks up EVERYthing.”
The girls decide to go down to “the service station” to get something from the vending machine. “Neato!” “Swell!” they say at random as they walk out of the room.
Give this screenplay an Oscar!
They get to the vending machine and make their selections. Suddenly the machine glitches and spits out two “pops” for the price of one.
Betty and Babs are all in on this, but Janet isn’t so sure. “I think I’d rather pay for mine,” Janet says about this accidental scheme of thievery. “Not me,” Babs says. “I get a kick out of outsmarting these dumb klugs (???).”
Janet is not so sure.
Then things get really bad.
The girls go inside and find an open pack of cigarettes. “Should we try one?” Betty asks.
“I don’t think we ought to!” Janet objects. “What if our folks find out?!”
Babs tells Janet she smokes “a couple packs a day” and asks, “What’s the big deal?”
Well, first of all Babs, you’re 12.
Just then a man comes in and demands his cigarettes back. Then he looks at Janet. “Say, aren’t you . . . WILL HOWARD’S LITTLE GIRL?!”
Dun dun DUUUUUUUN!
The man threatens to call her father and let him know “what she’s been up to.” The girls leave. A newly scared-straight Janet ditches her heathen friends to go catch the end of Mutual.
And that’s where we meet Sister Stanley.
Sister Stanley invites Janet to go to the canyon with her, which probably isn’t supposed to be a euphemism, but then the video immediately cuts to an extremely breathy voiceover by Janet set to romantic get-it-on music.
“That was the most perfect trip,” Janet says of her weekend with Sister Stanley. “It was there that I really became acquainted with Roberta. Stanley. She was wonderful. She took me on . . . sort of a nature ramble. She could cook and swim and . . . well, most of all she taught me to understand beauty. And to feel real. joy.”
Janet dotes on for a while about Sister Stanley.
Then, suddenly, Janet starts dating Ted, a high school football star. And this kicks off the beginning of our very g-rated Mamma Mia prequel.
“Ted wasn’t a member of the church, but that didn’t seem to bother me too much. I thought I could just convert him when the time came,” she explains.
Ted and Janet go out for a while. They even go to a school dance where the girls perform a very Handmaid’s Tale-y routine.
Ted convinces Janet to leave the dance to meet up with some of his friends at a diner where kids are, well, brace yourself for this. What I’m about to share with you can’t be unseen.
THEY’RE SWING DANCING!
See this is what happens. One minute you’re dating the non-member football star and the next you’re swimming in a den of jukebox depravity on the wrong side of town.
Janet is extremely uncomfortable with the environment in which she has found herself. Ted doesn’t give a damn.
The lines between appropriate and inappropriate conduct in this film are genuinely confusing to me:
The Midsommar women doing a death dance together in a school gym? Good.
Sitting in a diner while other people cut a rug to some sick beats? Absolutely not.
Listening to a jazz record in your friend’s bedroom? I hope they give you one of the better rooms in hell.
Undeniable sexual tension in the mountains with Sister Stanley? Hold to that rod.
The kids start ordering naughty drinks, but they never actually say what the drinks are, presumably because the writers of this film wouldn’t have known the names of any alcoholic beverages. “Get us the usual,” one of the friends at the table says. “Give Janet the same as ours. She’ll drink it all right!”
Janet is horrified.
“How have I ever gotten myself into such a spot?” Janet asks herself through echo voiceover. Janet decides that since Ted likes this very normal and well-lit diner, he must be “lacking.”
Then Janet starts thinking about Sister Stanley and how good she feels around her. She stands up and demands Ted take her home.
Up next, we meet Kent. And look. I’m going to warn you. A lot of the rest of this recap is going to go very off the rails. But I can’t help myself.
You guys. Kent is a dreamboat. A+++++
Janet. Listen to me. Kent is the one. His voice is smooth like butter. Yes, he has a weird Transylvanian accent for some unexplained reason. But look at those chocolate puppy eyes and that confident swagger! Kent is the man of all men. If you screw this up, Janet, I’ll never speak to you again.
Kent immediately asks Janet out and they walk off together because Janet is living my dream.
Janet and Kent have a good time. And of course they do because, and I don’t want to belabor the point, but, I mean, look at this man!
What I wouldn’t give to be those sunglasses.
He’s all Timothee Chalamet-ing himself up and down the slopes like he's not the hottest thing to hit Utah since BY and his daddy beard. Who are his grandchildren? Did these genes pass on to present-day? Shouldn’t his posterity be our rulers now? Can we get a Where Are They Now on the descendants of Kent?
OMG THIS IS NOT A DRILL! HE ALSO RIDES HORSES!
Turn this film into Brokeback Mountain!
GAH!!! THIS IS THE MOST ADORABLE MAN I’VE EVER SEEN.
Janet’s mom, who clearly has not seen Kent and can’t possibly understand why all of Janet’s bad choices shall henceforth be forgiven, confronts her about the fact that Janet hasn’t been to church in four weeks because she’s always hanging out with Kent.
Look, mom. Janet has been going to the Church of Kent and it’s a perfectly fine place to worship. I would pay all my tithing to that church. I’m basically already a full-time missionary for it. I have been called to serve and you better believe I plan to return with honor.
I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.
Later, Janet is sitting in a car with Sister Stanley. “You’re in love,” Sister Stanley tells her. “When do you plan to be married?”
Sister Stanley tells Janet not to spend time with Kent alone so she doesn’t “wreck” her life.
Boy, I’d love to wreck my life on those probably washboard abs.
In the next scene, Janet is at Mutual. “Ok girls,” Sister Stanley says, “What are the three most important dates in a girl’s life?”
“Any date is important in MY life!” an unnamed comedian, the true star of this film, shouts.
Sister Stanley explains the three most important dates are birth, marriage, and death. And I’d be horrified by this lesson if I wasn’t too busy being so impressed with Sister Stanley’s chalkboard penmanship.
Look at that kerning!
Maybe Sister Stanley really does have it all.
Sister Stanley explains that Marriage is the only of these three important dates you can control, so you should “never settle for anything less than temple marriage. If a man doesn’t love you enough to want you forever it’s a pretty good indication that he’s not the right man for you,” Sister Stanley explains, leaving absolutely no room for nuance.
When she sees him again, Janet tells Kent she’s worried they’re going down the wrong path. Kent tells Janet to relax. “Unwrinkle that pretty little brow. You don’t think I want to marry an old lady, do you?” he teases her as my heart rate doubles.
Janet asks when they’re getting married. Kent says he’ll go to Vegas with her right away, but Janet says she wants a temple marriage. Kent says he can’t get married in the temple because he doesn’t pay tithing, which honestly is not the thing I expected to keep someone as hot as Kent out of the temple.
Kent sweetly tells Janet he loves her and wants to marry her. She dismisses him like a dumb stupid idiot who doesn’t deserve happiness.
Heartbroken, we then have to meet Tim Morgan. Buckle the hell up for Tim Morgan. Tim Morgan sucks ass. Tim Morgan is the answer to the question, “What would happen if we built a calculator out of funeral potatoes?”
Tim Morgan is like if property taxes became a person.
Tim Morgan once read Moby Dick and the book got bored of him.
Tim Morgan sucks so bad you’re about to even start missing TED.
Tim Morgan introduces himself to Janet. “I thought if I was going to marry you, we should get acquainted,” Tim immediately says LIKE AN ABSOLUTE LUNATIC.
“My mission president said he’d give his returning elders just six months to get married. And, oh, I’ve been home five months, three weeks, and four days,” he explains.
You guys. I never intended to get invested in this, but I hate Tim so much. I want to go back to 1956 and stuff him in that vending machine where Janet stole the pop.
“Would you rather get married in Salt Lake or St. George?” he asks before Janet has spoken a single word to him. “I think I’d rather get married in St. George. Then we can go up to ZionSSSSS for a two-day honeymoon.”
Tim says this is the first time he’s ever proposed to anyone and asks if he can take Janet home. She agrees.
They then date for SIX DAYS. SIX. DAYS.
The timeline is important here.
By way of recap: Janet made the biggest mistake of her life in breaking up with Kent. Three days later, she meets the Zion Zodiac Killer, Tim. They date for SIX DAYS.
At the end of those SIX!!! DAYS!!!, Tim takes Janet to meet his family. Tim says his mom had 12 kids and his older sisters are working hard on “breaking that record” already. Then he introduces Janet to his grandma.
“Come here so I can get a better look at you!” Grandma says. “Ah, I see. So this is the girl you’re going to marry, Tim!”
WTF is wrong with this family!? Is this a cult? Is Janet being recruited into a cult? Has anyone actually seen Janet since this movie came out? Is Tim Riggins there? Does he still have abs?
We find out at the end of the SIX DAYS of dating that Tim has joined the army and he has to go to training the next morning. Janet is devastated.
“In the week that followed, I found the most important man in my life was the mailman,” Janet says through voiceover.
I can’t meet any more of your men, Janet.
Again, Kent proposed to Janet like two weeks ago. How is Tim even relevant already?
Janet says she felt conflicted about Tim since her inner-tiger still wanted Kent because, well obviously. So she calls Kent, People’s Sexiest Man Alive 1956, to try to figure out what to do. They decide they should get together to talk.
Janet then finds out Tim is being transferred to a new military base and he will be passing through town via train the same day she’s going to meet up with Kent, meaning she’ll have a chance to compare her suitors back-to-back.
The big day arrives and Janet runs to the train station to see Tim. Tim’s entire family is there so they don’t get much time to themselves.
Tim greets Janet with a handshake because he’s the absolute worst.
Tim pulls Janet aside where he asks her to marry him again. I haven’t mentioned this yet because there’s just been so much other stuff to talk about, but Tim’s voice sounds exactly like his face.
Janet explains to Tim that she needs to decide whether she’s going to marry Kent (she leaves out how hot he is, which I feel like is relevant information even Tim deserves to know). She promises she’ll write Tim and let him know whether she’s going to marry Tim or Kent. This is honestly like trying to decide whether to move to Switzerland or live under a pile of discarded cigarette butts just outside Elko, Nevada, but Janet is making it sound like a true moral quandary so maybe she is a really good actor?
Janet goes into the woods and sexy prays for a while.
Then Kent comes over and tells her he’s thought about things and he’ll take Janet to the temple if that’s what she really wants AND OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU CAN GIVE AN ULTIMATUM TO SOMEONE THIS HOT AND IT CAN WORK DON’T SCREW THIS UP JANET.
I’m genuinely sorry about the language, but there’s just no other way to say this: Janet is a goddamn idiot and she tells Kent this isn’t good enough. She wants him to want it. Kent is understandably perplexed because I doubt he’s ever experienced rejection in his life.
In the middle of the conversation, Sister Stanley shows up and Kent abruptly leaves to go be an underwear model in Paris or something.
You guys. I was honestly screaming the first time I saw this part. My husband came into the room to see what was going on. I was so attracted to Kent that I felt like I was cheating on him so I lied and said I was watching sports. Then he looked at the paused screen with Kent walking out of the room and yelled “DEAR LORD WHO IS THAT MAN.”
Janet then talks to Sister Stanley about her situation. Sister Stanley encourages Janet to immediately marry the unclipped toenail she has spent a total of six days with.
I’ve decided the only explanation for Sister Stanley’s advice is that she wants Janet for herself, so sending her off to the human version of an outdated phonebook that got wet when the basement toilet overflowed and then it dried out and now it smells like mildew and pee is the next best thing.
To clarify, this is the objective ranking of desirability of Janet’s suitors:
2. Kent on skis
3. Kent on a horse
4. Kent with a flower in his hair
5. A picture of Kent
6. A memory of Kent
7. Sister Stanley
9. Betty and Babs
10. Betty’s kid brother who drinks all the pop
11. The mailman
13. Is 1-4 really unavailable? Like, did you check?
14. Tim’s grandma, but only if she’s rich and her health is poor
15. The dude who wanted his cigarettes back at the service station
16. Any of the swing-dancers from the diner
17. That real cool jazz album
16,487. Tim Morgan
Nonetheless, Janet sends Tim a telegram and informs him that she guesses she’ll marry him.
“Competitor out of the running. When next I see you, put your arms around me and if I feel like I belong, then I’m ready to talk long-term contract,” her telegram says.
Ok, maybe they are a match.
We cut back to Janet in her wedding dress in her bedroom with her mother.
Janet’s mother says she’s grateful 18-year-old Janet is “finally” getting married because “We didn’t want an old maid on our hands.”
It’s honestly easier to not fight it at this point, you guys.
Suddenly Tim bursts into the room, makes out with Janet, and then kisses Janet’s mom and says “That’s for having her!” as if a kiss from Tim is a gift, smh.
The film ends with Janet hugging Tim. TIM!!! while the Tabernacle Choir sings an unidentified high-pitched wordless song that sounds like it was written by ghosts.
We are to understand that Janet is now going to spend the rest of her life with a man who is the living embodiment of the stale marshmallows in a five cent hot chocolate packet that has been sitting for twelve years in the back of a spice cabinet that only has salt and garlic salt in it because the owner of the house thinks any other seasoning is "too spicy" and also this house is in Logan, Utah.
*If you’d like to hear an audio recap of this film and many others, check out our four-part Strangerville series on Mormon films.
(Design: Joshua Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)