CARLISLE, Iowa (TheBlaze/AP) — If you’ve ever had any theological interest in the Christian phenomenon known as the “rapture”—in which believers in Christ all over the world ascend to heaven in an instant, signaling the end times—then you’ve probably watched (bell-bottoms in tow) “A Thief in the Night.”
The low-budget early ’70s movie was screened to millions of Christians in churches around the world and in many ways captures the post-hippie, apocalyptic spirit of the “Jesus Movement” era.
Well, the maker of “A Thief in the Night,” Russell S. Doughten Jr., has passed away at the age of 86 after a long battle with a kidney ailment, a funeral home confirmed Saturday.
Although Doughten worked on various secular films—in fact, he helped produce the 1958 science-fiction classic “The Blob”—he was best known for his four-part film series about what life on Earth might be like after the rapture, The Des Moines Register reported.
The series began with 1972’s “A Thief in the Night,” which follows a young woman who is among the non-believers left behind after the rapture.
Doughten appeared in the movie and its three sequels as a pastor with weak faith who doesn’t ascend to heaven. The long, wiry beard he wore in the film was his trademark throughout much of his career.
The series continued with “A Distant Thunder” (1978), “Image of the Beast” (1980), and “The Prodigal Planet” (1983).
Like much of Doughten’s work, the series was shot in Iowa. Former Iowa Film Office head Wendol Jarvis said Doughten strived to make the state a filmmaking destination.
“A lot of people learned their trade from Russ Doughten,” Jarvis said. “He was a man who believed in his message and loved his trade. He was very generous to the people he worked with, and he was never one to boast about anything he did.”
Doughten also produced the 1967 crime thriller “The Hostage,” which starred John Carradine, father of “Kung-Fu” star David Carradine. And he made “Fever Heat,” a story about the thrills of stock car racing, filmed in Stuart, Iowa.
Doughten also founded Mustard Seed International, a nonprofit whose mission was to translate Christian films for use by missionaries around the world, the Register said.
Doughten was born en route to the Iowa Falls hospital on Feb. 16, 1927. He graduated from Chester High School and studied drama at Drake University in Des Moines, where he met his wife of 63 years, Gertrude Sprague.
Doughten is survived by his wife, three sons, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Here’s your blast from the past, the opening sequence of “A Thief in the Night”: