Russ DoughtenDirector | Writer | Producer | Actor
Russell S. Doughten Jr. (February 16, 1927 – August 19, 2013) was an American film-maker and producer of numerous short and feature-length Christian films. His film work is credited under numerous variations of his name: with or without the "Jr." suffix or middle initial, and sometimes using the informal "Russ" instead of "Russell". Nearly all of his Christian films were shot in various locales in his home state of Iowa.
While he worked on films, most notably as producer and director (uncredited) of the 1958 sci-fihorror classic The Blob, he was best known for the religious Thief In The Night series, which dramatizes the Rapture and Second Coming of Christ and the struggles of a small band of believers against an increasingly hostile worldwide Antichrist dictatorship.
The films of that series are:
A Thief in the Night (1972)
A Distant Thunder (1978)
Image of the Beast (1980)
The Prodigal Planet (1983)
Doughten appears in all four films as Reverend Matthew Turner, a survivalist who has an elaborate chart of the End Times events, but does not fully believe in the Bible. With his long, graying hair usually worn in a ponytail and shaggy beard, he didn't look the part of the stereotypical Christian fundamentalist, a fact that is credited with earning him secular fans, as is his use of unusual camera angles and layered audio.
While there had been feature-length Christian films before, including the End Times film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? directed by Ron Ormond in 1971, a sweeping, ambitious project like "Thief"—with three sequels telling one continuous story over the course of a decade—had never been undertaken even in Hollywood. Doughten's identification of the Antichrist not with Communism as Ormond had done, nor with Jack Chick's sinister view of the Vatican, but rather with a worldwide government that initially acts as a global peacemaker, would set the tone for most fundamentalist interpretations of the End Times in the decades that followed.
While the films were clearly made on a low budget, and the dated 1970's fashions shown in the early films provide unintentional amusement today, there is no denying the series' influence among Christian fundamentalists. "A Thief in the Night" is said to be the most widely seen Gospel film in the world and has been influential in many conversions to Protestant Christianity. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins cite Doughten's films as being the primary influence for their million selling Left Behind series of books and films. Doughten's films are frequently shown in churches and on Christian television stations to this day.
In the mid-1960s, Doughten taught English and drama and supervised and directed student productions at South Pasadena High School in California. His former students report that he was exacting in demanding their best efforts, but, they were proud of the results and the quality of the productions he directed and they regretted his departure in 1964 to return to film making in Ohio.
Doughten died from a cardiac-related illness on August 19, 2013.