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The Devil's Disciple

The Devil's Disciple(1959)


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In 1777 Springtown, New Hampshire, British armed forces under the command of Gen. John "Gentlemanly Johnny" Burgoyne prepare to hang American Colonist Timothy Dudgeon for treason. Timothy's youngest son Christie hastens to Websterbridge village where he pleads with his family's pastor, Rev. Anthony Anderson, to help save his father. Directing his young and pretty wife Judith to attend to Mrs. Dudgeon, Anthony accompanies Christie back to Springtown, only to find that Timothy has already been hanged. Anthony asks that Timothy's body be turned over to him for a proper burial, but is brusquely informed by a British officer that the body must remain hanging as a deterrent to other potential traitors. When Anthony continues to protest, he is nearly arrested until lawyer Hawkins intervenes on his behalf. Later back in Websterbridge, while praying in the chapel, Anthony hears laughter outside and, upon investigating, finds Timothy's body in a wagon accompanied by Richard, the eldest Dudgeon son who has long been estranged from the family. Richard thanks the pastor for his efforts on behalf of his father, yet ridicules Anthony's religion and pacifism. Claiming that he happily embraces his image as the "devil's disciple," Richard mocks Anthony's sanguine attitude as impractical in a time of war, then rides away. After the burial the following day, the reading of Timothy's will is interrupted by Richard's appearance. To Mrs. Dudgeon's fury, Richard receives all of Timothy's estate except for fifty pounds left to Christie. Cursing her eldest son, Mrs. Dudgeon immediately moves out of the house, leaving Richard alone with young maid Essie. Sensitive to propriety, Judith invites the girl to live with the Andersons, but she refuses and Richard laughs at Judith's shocked reaction. The following evening, a group of British soldiers ride into Websterbridge to declare martial law and announce the impending arrival of the army, which is in sore need of supplies. When Timothy's grave is spotted, the soldiers recall the body as having been stolen from Springtown and vow revenge. Overhearing their remarks, Essie hastens to tell Anthony that Richard is in danger of arrest and certain execution. Meanwhile, some miles from the village, Burgoyne chastens his second-in-command, Maj. Swindon, for not curtailing the continual harassment by the Colonists, which has seriously impeded the army's advance. As the British forces straggle into Websterbridge, Richard ridicules their greedy requisitioning, but Hawkins insists if he is not willing to fight to protect the material he should remain silent. Anthony then takes Richard to his home to inform him that he must flee or risk certain arrest by the British. The men are interrupted by Christie, who reveals that Mrs. Dudgeon is gravely ill and requesting Anthony's presence. Despite Judith's protests about being left alone with Richard, Anthony instructs her to treat their guest kindly and reminds her that Richard is safe only under their roof. Richard soon drives Judith to tears by making fun of her marriage and of Anthony's righteous demeanor, prompting her to ask him if he has ever done anything good for another person. At that moment, a party of British soldiers arrive and, mistaking Richard for Anthony, arrest him for participating in the rebellion by burying Timothy. Judith attempts to correct their error, but to her surprise, Richard cuts her off and after advising her in a whisper to tell Anthony not to attempt to save him, departs wearing the minister's coat. Judith hurries to the Dudgeons to tell her husband of Richard's strange behavior and demands Anthony save him. Angered by Richard's flippant conduct, Anthony asks Judith to pretend that Richard is her husband in order to give him time to act. Anthony then finds Hawkins and asks him to serve as an intermediary to free Richard. Preparing to attack the British with a rebel militia, Hawkins dismisses Anthony, who is amazed to see that the lawyer has taken up arms. The next morning, Judith visits Richard in jail, revealing her stunned belief that Anthony has run away. When Judith insists that she will reveal Richard's identity to the British in order to save him, he explains that when they discover he is a Dudgeon they will hang him anyway. Later that day, an informal military court convenes to hear "Pastor Anderson's" case. Burgoyne is amused by Richard's quick-witted responses to Swindon's clumsy questioning, but when Richard purposefully insults King George, his guilt is ensured. Horrified, Judith blurts out that Richard is not her husband, which prompts Bourgoyne wryly to suggest that Swindon learn Richard's identity and locate Anthony quickly. To Judith's dismay, Swindon announces that Richard's treasonous statements have assured his hanging regardless of his identity. Meanwhile, Anthony has followed Hawkins and the militia to Springtown, where he watches their attack falter under the brutal assault of numerous cannons. Deeply impressed by the Colonists' bravery, Anthony notices the British munitions stored against the church and attempts to set fire to it. Colonist chaplain Parshotter warns Anthony that he is engaging in treason, but Anthony proceeds until attacked by a British sergeant. Startled, Anthony unexpectedly responds in kind, then enthusiastically fights off several soldiers before successfully throwing a burning log into the munitions pile. Galvanized by the destruction of the armaments, the militia renews their attack. In the smoky remains of the church, Anthony intercepts a messenger carrying a crucial dispatch to Burgoyne from Gen. William Howe, dons the messenger's leather clothes and takes his horse. Back in Websterbridge, Richard is scheduled to hang at noon, when Anthony abruptly rides up bearing a safe conduct pass from British Gen. Philips in Springtown. Identifying himself to the bemused Burgoyne, Anthony demands Richard be set free and informs Burgoyne that Philips' troops were vastly outnumbered by the Colonists and forced to ask for a truce. When Anthony repeats his demand to free Richard and adds that the British must withdraw and leave their cannon behind, Burgoyne politely refuses, advising the minister that his weakened forces will soon be reinforced by Gen. Howe's army. Anthony then shows Burgoyne the dispatch which reveals Howe has remained in New York, never having received orders to support Burgoyne. Realizing that he must indeed withdraw, Burgoyne sets Richard free and tells the flustered Swindon that the British soldier can withstand anything except the errors of the British War Office. As Anthony reunites with a confused Judith, Burgoyne invites Richard to tea.