Coming of age story for two girls, Mary Clancy and Rachel Devery, who find themselves as students at the St. Francis Academy, a Catholic boarding school for girls. The story spans three years and follows the girls and their many pranks including setting off fire alarms, smoking cigars in the basement and putting bubble baths in the nuns' sugar bowls. As the girls mature, they gain a greater respect for their teachers and the commitment and devotion required to be a nun, leading one of them to make a life changing decision.
Rosalind Russell ... Mother Superior (Rev. Mother)
Binnie Barnes ... Sister Celestine
Camilla Sparv ... Sister Constance
Mary Wickes ... Sister Clarissa
Marge Redmond ... Sister Liguori
Dolores Sutton ... Sister Rose Marie
Margalo Gillmore ... Sister Barbara
Portia Nelson ... Sister Elizabeth
Marjorie Eaton ... Sister Ursula
Barbara Bell Wright ... Sister Margaret
Judith Lowry ... Sister Prudence
Hayley Mills ... Mary Clancy
June Harding ... Rachel Devery
Barbara Hunter ... Marvel-Ann Clancy
Bernadette Withers ... Valarie
Hayley Mills & Rosalind Russell truly shine in the only accurate portrayal of Catholicism I have ever seen on film. With the popularity of Catholic bashing by today's filmmakers, if this film were remade today, there would be lesbian overtones in the nuns' relationships with each other or the girls would be running off to have sex. Thank "God" none of that is here; I recently rented this movie and my two girls, ages 15 and 8, were glued. The movie is timeless, despite its 60's setting.
After attending Catholic school 12 years, the movie brought back many memories. Yes, we did pranks in our high school - the rigid curriculum leaves a girl no choice. But who can top the ones played by Mary (Mills) and Rachel (June Harding, who succeeds in stealing a few scenes of her own from Mills and Russell)? From spooning bubble bath powder into the sugar bowls before the nuns have tea, to sneaking cigars in the basement where the billowing smoke is seen by an aged nun who calls for the fire department's help, each of Mills "scathingly brilliant ideas" is hilarious.
The movie portrayed nicely the relationship a Catholic feels with God. Totaaly unaware that she is doing so, Mills becomes greatly affected by the lessons Russell, who plays Mother Superior and Dean of Students, is trying to instill in her. To Mills' puzzlement, she is much like Mother Superior, both having been orphans for starters. Mills' defiance is a result of living with a playboy uncle who pays her tuition but does not pay her attention.
But mothers is you are looking for a film that is nice but just a little naughty to keep your daughters interested, this is the one to rent! And they just might learn a little about themselves, too.
Back when The Trouble with Angels was released (back in the olden days of the sixties), I recall one reviewer writing it was a run of the mill cutesy poo movie with cutesy poo nuns or words to that effect. Can't remember who the critic was, but they not only missed the boat on this one, they weren't even at the dock. Sister Act had cutesy poo nuns, this movie had nuns that had personality, character, and a story to tell. Perhaps this critic saw the cartoonish titles and decided not to give it a chance. Could be that's all they actually watched of this terrific film, that can be viewed by young and old alike.
Hayley Mills plays orphaned teenage girl, Mary Clancy, who is sent by her Uncle George to the St. Francis Academy For Girls, because he believes it will straighten her out. On the train to the school, she strikes up a conversation with Rachel Devery (June Harding)), whom is also being sent to the school by her parents. They quickly become friends and co-conspirators, who at the very outset seem to have one thing in mind-give the nuns one big giant size headache. So much so that as soon as they arrive the school they find theirselves in Mother Superior's (Rosalind Russell)office and bad graces.
If this movie had been made today, I have no doubt that the whole film would taken place during one school year, and be only about Mary and Rachel playing one prank after another (of course in this day and age the pranks would probably just be gross out gags), and tidy things up with some silly ending. Ida Lupino, who skillfully directed this film from a script by Blanche Hanalis, gives us so very much more. We follow these young ladies through three different years at St. Francis. With each year we see their characters grow and mature. The majority of the pranks they pull occur in the first year, tapering off until in their final year, the only two pranks we get are one that is a leftover from something they had been doing for three years (won't give it away)and the other trouble they get into in their last year is because they were actually trying to help the St. Francis. Seems, they were indeed maturing.
Rosalind Russell gives a very underrated, and more often then not overlooked performance. She has a tough exterior, but there is so much more to her than meets the eye as Mary and Rachael find out over the course of the movie. There are some very telling scenes in this story about her character, when she is ready to expel Mary but thinks better of it after meeting Uncle George, after Mary mimics Sister Ursula's German accent and Rev. Mother begins to tell Mary about what happened to the Sister during the war, when Rev. Mother helps Rachel with a sewing project and tells Mary about her own past after Rachel has fallen asleep, and a terrific scene that takes place in an old folks home. There is one more scene with Rosalind Russell that will bring tears to any but the most cold-hearted viewer, that shows more emotional depth than you could get in all the current summer blockbusters stacked on top of one another.
In the early part of this movie, one might mistakenly believe they are getting Hayley Mills in a run-of-the-mill kids movie with no substance. As the movie progresses, we find we are getting so much more than that. Her character doesn't suddenly change from one scene to another. We see her mature and grow gradually, from the prankster, to the young woman who matures and finds not only what life has to offer, but also what she can give in return. When people talk about Hayley Mills, most of the time they think of Parent Trap or Pollyanna, and while she gave excellent performances in both of those films, she was not required to bring the depth of character she brings to Mary Clancy. If she hadn't been able to do that, then the ending of this movie wouldn't have been at all believable. It is Hayley's performance that brings the whole thing together.
June Harding is excellent also. As Rachael, we believe in her friendship with Mary, we know how much the two of them really care about each other. She also lets us see that Mary is not just her friend but also her idol, which helps us understand why she believes Mary is committing an act of betrayal.
I could go on and on about this movie. All the nuns have their own distinct personalities, but they are never made to be caricatures. Marge Redmond as Sister Liquori stands out in her role as Rev. Mother's closest friend and confidant. Mary Wickes as the gym teacher and bus driver, may seem a little daffy, yet we know she loves doing what she's doing. (Mary Wickes also played the nun who drove the bus in Sister Act II, coincidence or paying homage to this character?) Camilla Sparv as the beautiful Sister Constance has a great scene with Mary, explaining why she is leaving St. Francis.
Checking Ida Lupino's biography, I find that while she directed many episodes of television series, this is the only feature film that I can find with her as director. I don't know the reasons, it could have been a prejudice against women directing feature films at the time, or maybe something else. I wish she had been given the chance to do more feature films. It would have been interesting to see the result. Unfortunately, as so often happens in the movie world we will never know. I just wish I could thank her for having us brought this truly remarkable film.
They don't make 'em like this anymore, alas. There was a time when you could see great "B" movies, like this one, in theaters. They were entertaining pieces, produced for less money, but with just as much fun as their "A" siblings. You don't find many "B" movies anymore (at least good ones) and it's a shame. Even cable and tv movies don't live up to some of these classics.
Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell are the two opposing forces in this battle of wills, and they're pretty evenly matched. Russell sees some of herself in young Mills, as she comments to Marge Redmond. Mills comes to realize that Russell represents something she has been looking for, but has been unable to define, a sense of community and purpose. Both are orphans who were raised by relatives, with dreams of fashion and glamour, but longing for something greater.
The film treats the Catholic Church and work of the nuns with far greater respect than most films, particularly more modern examples, like Sister Act. We see the depth of their faith and their commitment to serving their fellow human beings. I was raised Protestant and have little experience with the Catholic Church, but have always found a deeper respect for the less glamorous work that the nuns often carry out, compared to their male brethren.
The film is full of great character moments and some laugh-out-loud gags. It has a warmth and charm that grows with age. It's a shame that Haley Mills didn't perform in more films like this, as an adult; she had a real flair for comedy and could shift to drama just as easily. It's understandable for an actress to want to move into more serious parts, but I really think she passed up some great opportunities.
This was a film that deserved a sequel. Too bad that the one it got didn't live up to it's predecessor. It would be interesting to see Haley Mills return as Mary, carrying on the tradition of Rosalind Russell's Reverend Mother, with some "scathingly brilliant" ideas. Unfortunately, I doubt Hollywood would be up to the task.
* The exterior shots were filmed at St. Mary's Home, an orphanage, in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The main building looks like a stone castle and is still standing. It was featured prominently in the film but all the interior shots were done in a studio in California.
* The first feature film to be directed by Ida Lupino since The Hitch-Hiker (1953) and The Bigamist (1953) over a decade earlier.
* Producer William Frye personally offered his friend Greta Garbo $1 million to play the Mother Superior in the film. When she declined, he offered the role to Rosalind Russell at a much lower salary.
* According to Rosalind Russell, she and Hayley Mills did not get along during filming. She claimed that every time she turned around or walked away from Mills, she would stick her tongue out at her.