Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA,. . Screenplay by , , story by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .
Enchantment sparkles in every frame of this truly delightful comedy, one which perfectly balances good-natured humour with heartfelt sincerity but never belittles its characters or, worse, its audience; put it up there with all the other post-war films that sold you a sweet but never saccharine uplift like Miracle On 34th Street and The Bishop’s Wife, and count it among the most charming films about nuns.
American ex-patriotand French are two sisters who arrive in Bethlehem, Connecticut from France, having for many years run a children’s hospital that thanks to, they believe, their prayers and their bargain with god, survived the war intact. To make good on their blessing and hold up their end of their pact with the almighty, they have come to America to start another hospital for children, drawn to this place by its name and the work of its mayor, a sweet painter of religious icons played by (as always brittle and indelible).
The two women have nothing on them but a few dollars and a lot of gumption, but almost immediately begin setting about to accomplish the task they believe has been ordained from on high: a consultation with the local bishop is not encouraging, but the less optimistic male authority figure doesn’t bar their goals either, giving them three months to attain the land for their project and earn the money to build it, and if they don’t do so in that time will be required to return home. Before they know it, the sisters are in the office of a New York City gangster kingpin who owns the snow-covered hill that they wish to build on, and find an old factory on an adjoining property that they believe will make a great temporary shelter until their dream hospital is built. Even with their initial good fortune in acquiring both, however, their operation still requires more money.
Time passes and more nuns come over to help with fundraising, all of them housed in Lanchester’s stable which she has converted into a painter’s studio, but a wealthy musician neighbour () who doesn’t want nuns and sick children in his backyard provides them with their biggest obstacle. Hearts are won, souls are saved and the man above inspires all to do the right thing, and what really touches the feels in this genuinely wonderful film is that behind all the images of spiritual salvation is a story reaching out to a nation still recovering from the war years, and looking to touch their tender psychic wounds.
Young is masterful in the lead role, her character’s generosity and plucky tenacity are always measured with good common sense, but just look at her face when she encounters characters who have faced recent battle or loss, clearly knowing from her own experience what they have seen but carefully controlling her reactions for very powerful effect.
Inspired by the true story of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where Hollywood starlet Dolores Hart later took her vows and gave up her acting career to become a sister, this is no doubt a highly fictionalized telling of the origins of that institution but one that makes you want to believe its every claim, right down to the nun who is also a pro tennis player. Also check out the Oscar-nominated documentary about Hart, God Is The Bigger Elvis.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress (Loretta Young); Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm); Best Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester); Best Motion Picture Story; Best Cinematography-BW; Best Art Direction-BW; Best Original Song (“Through A Long And Sleepless Night”)
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Picture