Wow, Iowa’s a dangerous place.
The 1978 film, Nite Song, takes place on the mean streets of Des Moines, Iowa. Pete (Bobby Hoffman) and his best friend, Joe (Tom Hoffman), are neighbors in the local tenement. They also both play on the high school basketball team. In fact, the only reason that this movie is over an hour long is because there’s about five minutes of slow motion basketball footage.
Life’s not easy in Des Moines. The local drug lord wants Pete to work for him. Joe’s sister is addicted to heroin and his father is out of work. Joe has recently become a Christian, which Pete finds to be kind of strange. Even stranger is that Joe often sits outside on the balcony of the tenement and sings a song called I Will Serve Thee. Later in the film, another character will spontaneously start singing I Will Serve Thee while staring up at the night sky. I guess that’s the “nite” song of the title but what’s interesting is that the film itself isn’t a musical.
Anyway, the local drug lord wants Joe to help him rob the local pharmacy. Joe refuses so the dealer refuses to give Joe’s sister any more heroin. Joe and Pete decide to start following the drug dealer around town, in order to gather enough evidence to find a way to stop him. Unfortunately, that plan doesn’t really work out that well. Joe ends up with a knife in his back and Pete is left to struggle with whether he should go to the police or just sit out on the balcony and pray about it. It turns out that all of the other kids at the high school are also Christians, specifically because of Joe. They decide to clean up the streets themselves! Fortunately, that won’t be hard because there’s only three criminals in Des Moines and they all hang out together….
It’s actually probably a little bit too easy to be snarky about a film like Nite Song, if just because it’s a low-budget, amateur film about life and death in Iowa. But actually, the film deserves a bit more credit than I’m giving it. Taken on its own terms, it’s actually an achingly sincere and earnest film and, as opposed to a lot of other faith-based films, it never makes the mistake of getting preachy or being overly judgmental. (The film’s sympathetic portrayal of Joe’s drug-addicted sister actually deserve a good deal of praise.) Even though the actors are all obviously amateurs and the singing gets a bit weird, everyone brings a certain authenticity to their roles. This is a film about Iowa that was actually populated with people who were from Iowa and yes, that does make a difference.
Plus, there’s something charmingly naïve about the idea of the high school basketball team taking out the local drug dealers. All those weapons and tough talk prove useless against a 15 year-old with a dream and jump shot. Nite Song‘s a well-intentioned film. Des Moines has nothing to be ashamed of.