Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Nunny Business

Let me spell this out in black & white... Today we're taking a look at some notable on-screen nuns from the movies (as well as some TV.) I'm not trying to make a habit of it, nor break any rule(r)s, just putting them out there for your perusal. You may find a special favorite or perhaps take note of one that's sorely missed from my incomplete line-up. I can't gather up all of 'em, you know! Thanks to our cover girl Mary Astor from an early screen appearance. And now, onward and nunward we go!

In 1933, Miss Helen Hayes played a conflicted nun in The White Sister.
In 1958, she donned a habit once more for an episode of The United States Steel Hour called "One Red Rose for Christmas" with Patty Duke.
Ingrid Bergman portrayed Sister Mary Benedict in The Bells of St. Marys (1945.) She copped an Oscar nomination for the part, but Joan Crawford won that year for Mildred Pierce.
Here's a rather rare glimpse of her character in color. This was the sort of role that lent to her wholesome image (which folks later delighted in shredding when she became pregnant by a man other than her husband!)
Celeste Holm and Loretta Young (a devout Catholic) played nuns on a mission to build a children's hospital in Come to the Stable (1949.) Young became pregnant, too, in 1935 with married costar Clark Gable, but avoided her own scandal by dropping out of sight for a while and then returning with an "adopted" baby girl!
I couldn't resist sharing this artist's rendering of the sisters (who I presume were merely walking in step together and not one-legged apiece?)
Few people who've seen the strikingly photographed Black Narcissus (1947, featuring Deborah Kerr, as seen here) can forget it.
Deb got into the habit in 1957, too, with Robert Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, as a shipwrecked sister. She was nominated for an Academy Award, but Joanne Woodward won that year for The Three Faces of Eve.
Another shipwrecked sister was Joan Collins in Sea Wife (1957), which costarred Richard Burton.
Nearly thirty years later in 1986, Collins got her nun on once more as part of a disguise during a Moldavian rescue on Dynasty!
1959 found Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story, about a sister working in The Belgian Congo. Hepburn was Oscar-nominated, but the award went to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top.
In 1960, Lilli Palmer played a reverend mother helping Jewish children escape from an Italian prison camp in Conspiracy of Hearts.
1963's Lilies of the Field had Lilia Skala enlisting the aid of Sidney Poitier to build a church. Poitier won an Oscar for his trouble, though Skala was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar as well (Margaret Rutherford took each of them home for The V.I.P.s.)
The favorite novitiate of many a moviegoer, Julie Andrews helped to kick off a nun frenzy after the 1965 blockbuster The Sound of Music. Nominated for an Academy Award, Andrews lost to another Julie (Christie) for Darling.
In there swinging as soon as possible was Debbie Reynolds in The Singing Nun (1966.)
Rosalind Russell scored a hit with 1966's The Trouble with Angels.
This one merited a sequel, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968), with unlikely nun Stella Stevens on board (and with Father Van Johnson!)
Mary Tyler Moore underwent a transformation in Change of Habit (1969) with Elvis Presley, though she spent the bulk of her screen time in street clothes as part of the movie's central conceit.
About as far away from MTM and The King as one could be was Vanessa Redgrave as a frenzied, delirious nun in The Devils (1971.)
Of course, in the midst of all this, Sally Field was flitting around Puerto Rico as The Flying Nun (1967-1970!)
Study though she might, she still ran into difficulty with her special attribute.
Sophia Loren got in on the action in 1972's The Sin, about a nursing nun who falls for one of her patients.
Who could forget singer Helen Reddy as a novice nun (along with mentor Martha Scott) in Airport 1975 (1974)?
Reddy's guitar-wielding nun was later parodied by singer Maureen McGovern (known in part for her interpretation of disaster movie theme songs from The Poseidon Adventure, 1972, and The Towering Inferno, 1974) in the zany Airplane! (1980)
Yet another nun with a crisis of conscience was Kathleen Quinlan in The Runner Stumbles (1979), which costarred Dick Van Dyke as a priest with whom she begins to fall in love.
Just prior to playing one of the toughest matriarchs on TV with Falcon Crest (1981-1990), Jane Wyman hopped on board The Love Boat for a 1980 episode in which she was a nun. (Seen here with Arte Johnson, her real costar of the piece was old flame Dennis Morgan.)
Meg Tilly was one of the cinema's most emotionally-tormented nuns this side of Vanessa Redgrave & Co. in Agnes of God (1985.) Tilly was Oscar-nominated, but lost to Angelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor.
On a lighter note came Sister Kate (1989-1990), a sitcom which starred Stephanie Beacham, fresh from Dynasty, as a non-nonsense den mother at an orphanage. Low ratings had the producers dumping her habit posthaste and outfitting her in navy blue cardigans with her hair showing!
Whoopi Goldberg scored a major hit in 1992 with Sister Act, about a lounge singer who hides out from the mob as a nun. A sequel and a Broadway musical followed.
Meryl Streep played a formidable nun in 2008's Doubt and was Oscar-nominated (losing to Kate Winslet in The Reader.) You may have gathered by now that being nominated for playing a nun is easier that WINNING!
But not all the screen nuns are female. Ha! Here, St. Mary Vincent (aka Vincent Price) is in disguise for Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966.)
Then there are undercover cops Burt Reynolds and Jack Weston in Fuzz (1972.)
Robbie Coltrane and Eric Idle were evading their gangster boss in Nuns on the Run (1990.)
And finally we come to Leslie Nielsen going undercover as a nun in 1996's Spy Hard.


roberta steve said...

Poseidon, you have done it again. As a grown up Catholic schoolgirl, I've loved and been fascinated by the nuns for a long time.

I had to laugh, looking at the majority of the nuns captured here, it would give the impression that most orders of sisters treasured lipstick and perfectly groomed eyebrows. All told a glamorous bunch. Joan Collins a nun? Twice? Must be the Order of the Sisters of Las Vegas.

Seeing Ingrid Bergman reminded me of a story the comedian John Byner used to tell. As a boy in Catholic school he was sent home from school with a note from the sister who taught him. His outraged, slightly drunk, Irish father storms out the house with little John in tow vowing to go down to the school and give that nun a piece of his mind. Who is she to criticize my boy? They arrive at the school and go to the classroom. Sister is standing by the window and turns with the sunlight streaming through the window looking just like Ingid in The Bells of St. Mary's. His dad pauses. "Sister if my son gives you any trouble just let me know," he says. He turns a spanks John the whole way home.

Seriously, I have to single out one nun, Audrey Hepburn's Sister Luke. She is the most beautiful nun ever captured on screen. It doesn't hurt that she gives a towering performance of a conflicted woman iñ a film that is a work of art. Audrey always said it was her favorite film. (Dame Edith Evans was also Oscar nominated for that film as the Mother Superior.)

Thanks again for all you do to help us remember, celebrate and treasure pop culture. Now I'm going to take my sequined habit and find the Sisters of Las Vegas!

John Gray said...

The airplane nun was Maureen mcgovern.....who sang The Morning After

joel65913 said...

Quite a wonderful collection Poseidon though I was surprised you missed the Watergate send up set in a convent 1977's Nasty Habits. I can still remember Glenda Jackson's Sister Alexandra telling Rip Torn's Father Maximilian in a power play to get his support to make her Abbess "Your Father Thomas has taken to screwing our Sister Felicity under the poplars at night!" delivered as only Glenda could.

My Goodness but Lili Palmer is wearing an awful lot of foundation for a Mother Superior!

So glad to see the spunky Sister Betrille included. She was the first one who came to mind when I saw the subject. I'm sure Sally Field's would like everyone to forget the show, though she does kid about it when its brought up but I've always had a soft spot for it. Not that I think it was ever an award winner but what a cast for such a piece of fluff!

Poseidon3 said...

Roberta, thank you for your wonderful compliment and remarks. I can hear John Byner's voice in that story you related. As the product of a Baptist and an Episcopalian, I don't know much about nuns, but I later had a stepsister who went to Catholic school and I was hugged by one during a visit and her cross dug into my chest like a dagger! LOL Thanks, also, for adding in even more nun-Oscar trivia with Edith Evans. I was startled as I went through this posting at the number of nominations, but lack of wins... I hadn't originally planned to even mention such a thing until it became a pattern.

Funny thing... When I saw that John Gray, of the U.K., commented, the very first thing that flashed in my mind was Glenda Jackson and that I'd left her out, but in fact he was just pointing out that I hadn't actually named Maureen (who, of course, I've known about since I was a tyke!) That's been fixed. Then the next comment from Joel is about Glenda Jackson!! Joel, I've never seen "Nasty Habits" or it might have come to me with better ease. I also never see it playing on TV! Sorry, Glenda!!!

Gingerguy said...

Poseidon, I felt like this one was just for me! Two of my Aunts had the habit, and one lived in San Juan just like Sister Bertrille. Because of this I have had a lifelong fascination with Nuns in movies. I Love "Come To The Stable" In the plot a songwriter is inspired by a hymn he hears the Nuns singing in the convent next to his house. That song still sticks in my head years later. Joan Collins twice! now that's a post. I never heard of that movie, but the Moldavia Massacre storyline was priceless. Mary Wickes is probably my favorite movie Nun (twice) but who doesn't love Audrey? This was also a refresher, because I remember watching Mary Tyler Moore and thinking that drag queens wore less makeup. But I must not remember it correctly, she must have only wore false lashes and 10 pounds of eye shadow with her street clothes (along with the fabulous Barbara McNair). Bless you child.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Just for completeness' sake, Peggy Wood was also Oscar nominated for playing the Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, and of course, she also lost! :-)

Rick Notch said...

Did you notice the sign on the wall in the photo from "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows"? "Attend chapel sometime... Father Chase gets lonely." Could this be part of the back story for "Spotlight."

John Greiner said...

Hi - Really enjoy your blog, even though, in this case, nuns still make me nervous - by product of a catholic school education! I think you missed an important portrayal though, Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette. I believe she won an Oscar for that (or was at least another among the nominees.) Best, John

Ken Anderson said...

As a former Catholic school kid who still finds nuns terrifying, I loved getting a look at all these screen incarnations. Since you have a taste for camp, if you get the chance, check out Anita Ekberg in the terrific 1978 Italian nunsploitation film "Killer Nun" - it even has Joe Dallesandro in it for extra weirdness. It's great!

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I will definitely have to watch "Come to the Stable" the next time it's on. As for "Sea Wife," Joan signed on to the film, believing that Roberto Rossellini was going to direct it, but he departed just prior to filming that he didn't want to do it, so an associate producer with one minor movie under his belt as director took over! This was also the movie in which Joan claims to have wrecked Burton's unbroken record of bedding down all of his prior leading ladies (which certainly gave me a new perspective on Olivia de Havilland!) And I do still think MTM is a fairly painted-up nun, even in her habit!

Dave, I did think about Peggy Wood, but for this post stuck mostly to leading ladies/movies.

Rick, that is HILARIOUS!!

John, you are right! I definitely didn't forget Jennifer Jones, but my blond, pea-brained self forgot that her character entered the convent! I recalled her as a peasant school girl, ostracized by the community and the church and somehow mentally lapsed about her actually becoming a nun, too!! LOL Oops....

Ken, most definitely that would be worth checking out! You know so many relatively obscure foreign movies. Whenever I read posts at your site, I find myself scrambling to look up titles that you name (like recently "An American Hippie in Israel!") I don't always comment on your blog posts, but I always READ them. Thanks!!

Jim Bridson said...

You forgot a very effective nun portrayal by Gladys Cooper in "Song of Bernadette." Cooper played the Mistress of Novices, Sister Marie Therese Vauzou, who doubted Bernadette's visions.