Directed by Ida Lupino
Produced by William Frye
Screenplay by Blanche Hanalis
Based on a novel by Jane Trahey
Before I start this review it’s only fair that all you action adventure/horror/crime thriller fans please go on upstairs and avail yourselves of the refreshments provided. This isn’t a review for you. Unless of course you’ve got a daughter, younger sister or niece you want to spend time with but worry about what kind of movie you can watch together that hasn’t got a bit of bad language and/or nudity. A movie that’s actually fun to watch and promotes positive values. But also quite funny in its own way. Not Laugh-Out-Belly-Laugh-Loud but funny in that it’s got a sharp take on how younger and older women interact in a setting that most of us never get to see.
1966’s THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS takes place in a Catholic girls school over a period of four years where we watch the emotional and spiritual growth of two of the main characters: Mary Clancy (Haley Mills) and Rachel Devery (June Harding). The two girls are a perfect match: Mary’s a born leader and Rachel is a born follower. As you watch their friendship develop and grow you can’t help but think that maybe this is how Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz would have been if they’d met as young girls. We get an idea of how much of a problem Mary is going to be as in the first scene of the movie she’s smoking a cigarette on the train taking her to The St. Francis Academy For Girls and mouths off to Bruce Wayne’s Aunt Harriet herself (Madge Blake) The character is never identified by name but I like to think this is actually Aunt Harriet. Just the movie and comic book geek in me at working to make a connection, I guess.
Once Mary and Rachel arrive at St. Francis they meet the nuns who will be their teachers for the next four years: Sister Clarissa (Mary Wickes) is more at home on a basketball court or fixing a car engine than in the chapel. The impossibly beautiful Sister Constance (Camilla Sparv) is going off to work with a colony of lepers, an act that totally baffles Mary as she can’t imagine anyone taking the risk of sacrificing such beauty. Sister Liguori (Marge Redmond) uses horse handicapping as the way to teach her girls mathematics. And there’s a bunch of other nuns, all with their own eccentric traits but they’re used as insights into their characters and not just as props. And then there’s Reverend Mother (Rosalind Russell) who immediately clashes with Mary and a lot of the movie is about how these two very different women of very different ages in life and from very different backgrounds but so similar in attitude start out disliking each other immensely but grow to respect and admire the other. Reverend Mother’s clashing with Mary soon turns into a war of wills as it seems as if Mary will simply not adhere to the rules of the school and indeed, goes out of her way to pull elaborate pranks that continually disrupt and cause chaos. There’s a great scene where Reverend Mother is on the verge of expelling Mary from the school but has a talk with her old friend Sister Liguori that gives you the distinct impression that in their youth, Reverend Mother and Sister Ligouri weren’t all that different from Mary and Rachel. Reverend Mother explains to her old friend why she won’t expel Mary and the resolution of that scene had even an old grinch like me feeling a tug at the heart strings:
There isn’t a plot in this movie to speak of. It’s really a series of incidents that take place over the four years. But the transitions between one year and another are really imaginative due to the direction of Ida Lupino. Most of us know her as an actress but she’s famous in Hollywood for being one of the first female directors. And a damn good director that earned her respect. Ida Lupino has shots where she shows the passing of seasons in unobtrusive yet innovative ways. A character will be bundled up in winter clothes and look out a window, see other characters playing volleyball and suddenly we’re into the next year of school and its spring.
Haley Mills is quite good is this movie. She was looking to break away from the image she had while working at Disney and while I’m not familiar with her Disney work I liked what she did in this movie. I’m also not all that familiar with Rosalind Russell but she was great as Reverend Mother. I enjoyed every moment she was on screen and she has a simply wonderful scene with Haley Mills where she talks about the life she wanted before she found her calling as a nun. If you see this movie, watch the expressions on both their faces. They convey far more than their words.
So should you see THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS? Like I said earlier, if you’re a mother looking to watch a movie with your daughters aged 8-12 or an aunt looking to spend time with your nieces, by all means, give this movie a try. It’s got wonderful performances by Rosalind Russell, Haley Mills, Marge Redmond, Mary Wickes and a great cameo by Jim Hutton. It won’t appeal to most of you bloodthirsty maniacs who normally read my reviews and are by now wondering what I’m currently smoking, snorting or sniffing but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of viewing or respect. The next time you’re looking for a movie to stream, give this one a try. It’s a lot of fun for the audience it’s intended for and even for those who want to step outside of their normal movie habits a bit.