Sister Luc-Gabrielle (The Singing Nun) and her ecumenical earworm of a pop-ditty, Dominique, topped the charts and actually outsold The Beatles in 1963. In 1965, Julie Andrews and those Nazi-thwarting nuns of The Sound of Music broke boxoffice records nationwide. Sister Luc’s life story was Hollywoodized in 1966’s The Singing Nun, which was little more than perky Debbie Reynolds playing perky Debbie Reynolds in a wimple. Moving on to groovier, more socially-relevant pastures, Mary Tyler Moore played a toothsome, inner-city nun wooed by Elvis Presley (of all people) in his last film, Change of Habit (1969). But perhaps the ultimate nadir and apogee of the entire 60s "nuns can be fun!" mania has to be the sitcom that launched a thousand Johnny Carson monologues: Sally Field as The Flying Nun (1967-1970): a credit it took the actress an entire career, three Emmys, and two Oscars to live down.
|Rosalind Russell as Mother Superior (Madeline Rouche)|
|Hayley Mills as Mary Clancy|
|June Harding as Rachel Devery|
Come the 60s, when overt displays of religious piety began to be viewed as corny by the moviegoing populace, nuns became overnight comic foils. Much in the way that viewers today never cease to find amusement in little old ladies engaging in comically inappropriate behavior like smoking joints, swearing, expressing sexual rapaciousness, or rapping (kill me now); nuns became the go-to images of charmingly comic inappropriateness. Anti-establishment humor, so popular at the time, relied on clearly defined standards of decency to offend, so in the mid-60s it was nuns – those walking anachronisms of starchy morality – who played Margaret Dumont to a world of counter-culture Grouchos.
|Tolerance Tested |
Reverend Mother falls victim to the old bubble-bath-in-the-sugar-bowl trick
|Fleur de Lis & Kim Novak meet The Dragon|
|Marge Redmond as Sister Ligouri, Russell as Mother Superior, and Binnie Barnes as Sister Celestine|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
As I’ve expressed in previous posts, so-called “family films” held very little interest for me when I was a kid. It's not that I thought they were beneath me (I did), it just that I found most of the 1966 options inoffensive family entertainment (when I was all of 9-years-old) to be pretty offensive. On the one hand, there was the “wholesome smut” genre, typified by Bob Hope’s Boy Did I Get The Wrong Number, and Jerry Lewis in Way…Way Out; and on the other, live-action Disney films, which, when not engaged in music or magic, were so plastic and artificial (The Monkey’s Uncle, That Darn Cat!) they were like images beamed from another planet.
Given that my older sister attended an all-girls’ Catholic school and was a huge Rosalind Russell fan (she turned me into a Russell Rooter by having me watch Gypsy and Auntie Mame when they aired on TV, and by always calling my attention to how much Tony Curtis looked like her in Some Like It Hot), there was never any question about whether or not I was going to see The Trouble with Angels when it came out. No problem… like many 60s era little boys and girls, I harbored a mad (secret) crush on Hayley Mills.
|Mary Clancy on the verge of a "Scathingly brilliant idea"|
Part insubordinate teen comedy, part sensitive coming-of-age film; part female buddy picture, part generation-gap farce (crossed with a little Sunday School theology), The Trouble with Angels is something of a family movie miracle. Certainly divine intervention is at least one explanation for a film which doesn't exactly tread new comedy ground feeling so refreshingly original.
Of course, the most obvious miracle worker is trailblazing actress/writer/director Ida Lupino, here directing her first film since 1953s The Bigamist. She handles both the comedy and drama with real aplomb, and gets engaging performances out of her talented cast of seasoned performers and newcomers (June Harding, who gets an “introducing" credit, is especially good).
Lupino's deft touch is in evidence in the stylish manner in which the episodic sequences are tied together with clever connecting devices (the departure and triumphant return of the school band is a wonderful bit of visual shorthand), and in the largely silent scenes conveying the maturation of the Mary Clancy character. Best of all, Lupino manages all of this without resorting to cloying sentimentality, mean-spiritedness, vulgarity, or the kind of over-the-top slapstick that bogged down the 1968 sequel, Where Angels Go…Trouble Follows.
|Jim Hutton (makes an unbilled cameo as Mr. Petrie ("Sort of like Jack Lemmon, only younger."), the headmaster of the progressive New Trends High School|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
One of the more impressive things about The Trouble with Angels it how beautifully (and effortlessly) it balances scenes of broad comedy and gentle humor while still allowing for sequences that are surprisingly touching in their humanity and compassion. Here are a few of my favorite scenes...no matter how many times I see them, the comedic ones make me laugh, the dramatic ones get the ol' waterworks going:
|COMEDY: Where There's Smoke, There's Fire|
|DRAMA: "I Found Something Better"|
|COMEDY: Binders Sale|
|DRAMA: The Christmas Visitors (dam-bursting waterworks scene)|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
The Trouble with Angels was a boxoffice success when released and is well-liked and remembered with great affection by many, yet it remains one of those movies which seem to have somehow fallen through the cracks over the years. It’s not exactly forgotten (while available on DVD, the only time you can see it in widescreen is when it screens on TCM) but it rarely seems to come up in movie circles. Part of this is due to the film being a somewhat innocuous, at times glaringly old-fashioned comedy (in 1966, where there really teens who idolized Burt Lancaster and Jack Lemmon?) with no agenda beyond the modest desire to entertain while passing along a few life lessons and a simple message about growing up.
For me, The Trouble with Angels remains one of my favorite "comfort food" movies; a thoroughly enchanting, fumy, sweet-natured movie capable of stirring up warm feelings of nostalgia. In this instance, the very distant memory I have of when I was so young that movies like this made me associate organized religion with kindness, compassion, and empathy. So sad that religion is so often used today as the banner behind which so many seek to cloak their fear, ignorance, and hatred.
Maybe it wouldn't hurt if those "fun nuns" made a comeback.
Rosalind Russell reprised her role as Mother Superior in the 1968 sequel, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, but Hayley Mills was conspicuously absent. Some say it is because Mills was back in Britain and overbooked with film projects. Others attribute it to the rumor that Russell and Mills didn't along. A rumor supported by Rosalind's Russell's 1977 autobiography, Life's a Banquet, in which Russell writes: "Haley Mills was a demon. She used to stick out her tongue whenever I passed (she couldn't stand me) and she was bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality."
Actress June Harding (Rachel Devery) has a website where she has posted many of the letters she wrote during the films production: June Harding Official Website
Listen to the theme song to Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows by Boyce & Hart HERE