Thursday, October 9, 2014


I grew up in the '60s, the era of the "fun nun."
And while it's true I attended Catholic schools almost exclusively during my youth, the real-life nuns I encountered daily bore more of a resemblance to Jessica Lange's steely Sister Jude in American Horror Story: Asylum than all those spunky, irrepressible, exhaustingly adorable nuns that littered the pop-cultural landscape in the wake of the '60s reconfiguration of the Catholic Church and Vatican II.
Nuns were everywhere. In 1963, Sister Luc-Gabrielle (The Singing Nun) and her ecumenical earworm of a pop-ditty Dominique topped the charts, actually outselling The Beatles. In 1965, Julie Andrews and those Nazi-thwarting nuns of The Sound of Music broke boxoffice records in movie theaters nationwide. The aforementioned Sister Luc had her life story Hollywoodized in 1966's The Singing Nun, which had perky Debbie Reynolds playing standard-issue perky Debbie Reynolds, only this time, in a wimple. Moving on to groovier, more socially-relevant pastures, Mary Tyler Moore played a toothsome, inner-city nun romanced 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 which 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

When I was young, nuns onscreen seemed like near-mythic figures of virtue, wisdom, and heroism on par with cowboys in white hats and combat soldiers at the front. The embodiment of Christian values in human form, they were untouchable (and, all-importantly, untouched) and representative of all the noble (aka, maternal) female virtues. But as I grew older, the long-suffering, queenly brand of nuns portrayed in movies like The Bells of Saint Mary's (1945), Come to the Stable (1949), and The Nun's Story (1959) struck me as just another variation of the self-sacrificing "grand lady" stereotype.

Come the 1960s, when overt displays of religious piety began to be viewed as corny and old-fashioned 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 swearing, 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, nunsthose walking anachronisms of starchy moralityplayed Margaret Dumont to a world of counterculture Grouchos.
Tolerance Tested 
Reverend Mother falls victim to the old bubble-bath-in-the-sugar-bowl trick 

To avoid the appearance of mocking Catholicism, these films took the stance that their lighthearted ribbing actually contributed to "humanizing" nunsnot a bad idea, as nuns can be pretty terrifying. To mute the impression that Catholicism itself was being mocked by outsiders, these movies tended to place the antagonist "in-house." By that, I mean the standard set-up was always very similar to that of your basic opposites-attract buddy film: a high-spirited, independent-minded novice (how does one solve a problem like Maria?) butts heads with a staunch defender of the old Catholic order. Old-order Catholicism, in these instances, is represented by the imposing figure of a Mother Superior: your typical imperious disciplinarian, wet-blanket authority figure, and parental surrogate.

Thanks to oversaturation, it didn't take long for the whole wacky nuns sub-genre to fall into a series of overworked, sitcomy tropes (nuns on scooters, nuns in brawls, nuns in discothèques). But in 1966, director Ida Lupino made what is perhaps the best film to come out of the whole "fun nuns" genre: the delightful The Trouble with Angels. One of the funniest and most egregiously overlooked comedies of the 1960s. 
Fleur de Lis & Kim Novak meet The Dragon
Set in fictional St. Francis Academy, a conservative Catholic boarding school for girls in Philadelphia, The Trouble with Angels chronicles (in seriocomic vignettes) the misadventures of rebellious, headstrong Mary Clancy (Mills) and her bumbling partner-in-crime Rachel Devery (Harding), as their mischievous antics provoke the mounting consternation and ire of the school's formidable Mother Superior (Russell).
Marge Redmond as Sister Ligouri, Russell as Mother Superior, and Binnie Barnes as Sister Celestine

As I've expressed in previous posts, so-called "family films" held very little interest for me as a kid. It's not that I thought they were beneath me (I did); it's just that I found most of the 1966 options in inoffensive family entertainment to be pretty offensive. On the one hand, there was the "wholesome smut" genre of ragingly sexist sex comedies typified by Bob Hope's Boy Did I Get The Wrong Number and Jerry Lewis in Way…Way Out. Then there were the live-action Disney films, which, when not engaged in music or magic, were so patently plastic and artificial (The Monkey's Uncle, That Darn Cat!) they were like images beamed in from another planet.
Given that my older sister attended an all-girls Catholic school and was a huge Rosalind Russell fan, there was never any question about whether or not I was going to see The Trouble with Angels when it came out, merely when. (My sister turned me into a Russell Rooter by always insisting I watch Gypsy and Auntie Mame when they aired on TV, and by frequently pointing out how much Tony Curtis resembled her in Some Like It Hot.) Besides, 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"
When it came to finally seeing The Trouble with Angels, I'll admit my expectations weren't very high. But from the minute I saw the pre-credits sequence featuring an animated Haley Mills (complete with wings and halo) mischievously blowing out the torch of the Columbia Pictures lady, The Trouble with Angels had me in its pocket.
Part insubordinate teen comedy, part sensitive coming-of-age film; part female buddy picture, part generation-gap farce (crossed with a bit of Sunday School theology); The Trouble with Angels is a family movie miracle. Certainly, divine intervention is at least one explanation for the phenomenon of a movie not exactly treading new comedy ground yet feeling so refreshingly original.
Of course, the most obvious miracle worker is trailblazing actress/writer/director Ida Lupino, directing her first film since the 1953 noir, The Bigamist. Lupino handles both the comedy and drama with real aplomb and gets engaging performances from her talented cast of seasoned performers and newcomers (June Harding, who receives an "introducing" credit, is especially good). 
Girl Power
A true Hollywood rarity, The Trouble with Angels is a major motion picture directed by a woman (Lupino),  written by a woman (screenplay by Blanche Hanalis from Janet Trahey's 1962 memoir, Life with Mother Superior), focusing on the lives of its almost exclusively female cast. In the screencap above is classic character actress Mary Wickes as Sister Clarissa. Wickes reprised her role for the 1968 sequel Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, and, 26-years-later, dusted off her nun habit again to appear in both Whoopi Goldberg Sister Act movies.

Lupino's deft touch is in evidence in the seamless manner in which the episodic sequences are tied together with clever connecting devices (for example, the departure and triumphant return of the school band is a great bit of visual shorthand) and in the largely silent scenes conveying the maturation of the Mary Clancy character. Best of all, Lupino manages all 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.
Madame Rose & Her Daughter, Gypsy
Rosalind Russell famously portrayed the mother of stripper/author/talk-show-hostess Gypsy Rose Lee in the eponymous 1962 musical. The Trouble with Angels brings mother and daughter together again (for the first time) as Miss Gypsy herself  portrays Mrs. Mabel Dowling Phipps, interpretive dance instructor

The Trouble with Angels' original title (changed sometime during production) was the far less whimsical-sounding Mother Superior. Well, the title may have been changed, but there's no denying that the film's comedic, dramatic, and emotional focus remains with the character embodied by the actress who's the film's greatest asset and most valuable player: Rosalind Russell. Whether getting laughs for her pricelessly droll delivery of simple lines like "Where's the fire?" or adding unexpected layers of emotional poignancy to scenes providing brief glimpses of the woman behind the nun's habit, Rosalind Russell gives an extraordinarily layered, subdued performance. No Sylvia Fowler (The Women), Auntie Mame, or Mama Rose flamboyance here. Russell downplays beautifully and conveys volumes with those expressive eyes and peerless vocal inflections.
After appearing to the students to be coolly unmoved by the loss of a friend, in private, Mother Superior gives vent to her complete anguish. Russell's performance in this scene alone single-highhandedly raises The Trouble with Angels far above the usual family film fare

The Trouble with Angels is well-cast and well-acted throughout. Marge Redmond as Sister Ligouri, the mathematics teacher who sounds like a race track bookie, is very good in a role similar to that which she played for three years on The Flying Nun. Former Disney star Hayley Mills (19-years-old) and co-star June Harding (25) display a winning and relaxed rapport and make for a likable contrasting duo of troublemakers. Both are real charmers from the word go, and every moment they share onscreen is a delight. Mills, soon to graduate on to more aggressively adult roles (with nudity, yet!) is just excellent. Her performance gets better with each viewing. Before movies became a total boys' club in the '70s, for a brief time in the '60s there seemed to be a small surge in movies which placed the friendship between teenage girls at their center: The World of Henry Orient (1964) and I Saw What You Did (1965) are two of my favorites.
June Harding never made another movie after The Trouble with Angels, and at age 25 it's not likely she could have ridden that teen train for much longer. But I always thought she would have made a wonderful Emmy Lou in a film adaptation of the Bobby Sox comic strip by Marty Links

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 

One of the more impressive things about The Trouble with Angels is 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 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: Shopping for "Binders" 
DRAMA: The Christmas Visitors (dam-bursting waterworks scene)

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 discussion circles. Part of this is due to the film being a somewhat innocuous, at times glaringly old-fashioned, comedy (in 1966, were 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.
And while the above may serve as a fairly apt description of the movie on its most superficial level, I think it's a mistake to dismiss a film merely because its ambitionswhich The Trouble with Angels surpasses with easeare modest, and chooses a light comedy touch over the bellylaugh sledgehammer. (Although I've never seen it, internet sources recommend the similar 1954 British comedy, The Belles of St. Trinian's for fans with broader tastes.)

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 some of 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 get along. A rumor supported by Rosalind 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."
Mills, for her part, has denied there was ever any bad blood between them.

Listen to the theme song to Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows by Boyce & Hart HERE.

In many ways, The Trouble With Angels marks Hayley Mills' last "girlish" film role. From 1967 on, she appeared in roles explicitly designed to promote a mature image and distance her from her Disney persona. In 1974, Hayley Mills dropped her Disney princess image for good (as well as her knickers) in the bizarre but oh-so-engrossing British thriller Deadly Strangers, co-starring Simon Ward and Sterling Hayden. A real departure and available on YouTube HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2014


  1. Hey Ken! You're on a roll, two HUGE favorites in a row!!
    I ***love** this sweet little film! As you say, it's comfort food - the very funny comedy (Gotta love when Roz keeps reading to the nuns during tea, while the bubbles fly, not noticing it at first - while the passages from the book inadvertantly comment on what's going on! The scenes with Mary were dones beautifully - hostility at first, then e-v-e-r so lsowly, the warming up to each other. The senior citizens home and the scene in the chapl, where Reverand Mother mourns Sr. Liguori - very, very moving (waterworks, is right). I love the "60s" feel of it, the musical score, and the very sweet, humorous, and respectful way that the Catholic Church and the nuns are handled.

    Do you like the sequel? That's one of my all-time faves, too! I love the score (the endlessly repeated, but very catchy theme song), the EXTREMELY 1968 "vibe" - and of course - the two performances by Roz and Stella Stevens. I truly enjoyed the "old church vs. new church" theme that ran through it, as symbolized by Russell and Stevens. It made points on both sides, without hitting you over the head - l loved the scene in which Stevens explains her idea of faith to Fr. Van Johnson and the other nuns ("Faith, like love, should be shared - and we hold it up for all to see")...and then the scene where she and Roz square off about the other's perceived shortcomings. With our new Pope and his "scathingly brilliant" ideas, perhaps this movie is more relevant now!

    Thank you AGAIN for this lovely board, where I faithfully check in!!

    PS - I love THE FLYING NUN though - Sally Field really did wonders with a role that could have been truly strange, the great Madeline Sherwood was a stern yet loving Reverend Mother (not unlike Roz) - and I think that if you removed the "flying" aspect, it would have been a sweet little sitcom anyway :)

    Sorry I rambled!!! BTW, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    1. Hi Michael
      Thanks for the B-day wishes! So pleased (but not really surprised) that you are a fan of this wonderful little movie. It has so many wonderful lines of dialog, spot-on comic performances, genuine heart, and never lags for a moment. Cinematically speaking, it is a bigger triumph than it's reputation would indicate merely because it WORKS!
      Perhaps were Ida Lupino one of those male directors they shower with accolades for tying their shoes (Hitchcock), this small but effective film would get its due, as it is, I think it is a film many hold in their hearts and memories as an enduring favorite.
      My relationship with its sequel is somewhat problematic. I saw it many times at the theater when it came out, and I still find it to be watchable. But whereas I consider "The Trouble with Angels" to be a "flawless beauty", "Where Angels Go" just lacks a certain poignancy to me.
      I love Russell and Stella Stevens in it, but the girls are obnoxious (although I recall I really thought Susan St James to be a knockout with that boyish haircut) The gentle humor felt over-stressed, the subtle battle of wills strident. It's a good movie, no denying, but I think it mostly proves what an excellent job Ida Lupino did.
      What tends to puzzle me is that, even given all I've said about it, I still like watching it!

      As for "the Flyin Nun"...don't get me started. It speaks volumes to what a nice person you must be to have found it a sweet sitcom. Bellicose, bilious me can't look at all those scenes of Sister Bertrille interrupting Carlos Remirez in the middle of some romantic clinch without thinking the show should have been called "Sister Cockblocker."

  2. I'm glad Michael mentioned the catchy theme song to "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows." Not too long ago, TCM showed it and one of my daughters (aged 16) liked that tune so much, she immediately went to i-tunes and downloaded it. So much for delayed gratification!

    If you're looking for another "Hayley Mills is all grown up" role, try 1973's "Endless Night," a fairly faithful adaptation of Agatha Christie's least-typical mystery--almost a film noir.

    1. Hi Deb
      That IS a pretty catchy tune. I have it on my ipod and I'm impressed that a youngster today would find it appealing. And so interesting that you mentioned the film "Endless Night"...I actually saw it a few years back when I chose it for screening at a film club I used to belong to (we were all encouraged to expose other film enthusiasts to "obscure" movies). Details are hazy now, but I remember liking it!

    2. And Happy Birthday! If you were born in 1957, you're six days younger than me!

    3. Why, Thank you! And yes, I was born in 57.
      Happy early birthday, fellow Libran!

  3. Ken, you nailed it with your analysis of this movie.

    This movie has heart, that can be easily missed by the jaded. I saw it at an early and impressionable age, because so much of it dictated moves I’ve made in life from considering becoming a nun (too much college) to in Excelsis Deo being my favorite Christmas carol, to life decisions ensuring that I’d never end up in a home dependent on the kindness of others; that scene breaks my heart every time. I even opted for the smallest all girl high school in San Francisco, in part because of this movie.

    Of the favorite scenes you selected, the only one I felt was missing was Rosalind Russell seeing Hayley Mills in the chapel as she slips back into the shadows while taking in all that's happening; the sisterhood/bond. I think it’s then as well as witnessing the veil of strength replaced by tears as Rosalind breaks down over the casket that alters Mary Clancy’s path.

    There were no small roles, this was a true ensemble cast; each story line lead to the reveal and coming of age for Mary and having to do it without sharing it with her best friend.

    There is nothing I would change about this movie, nothing at all.

    So well written, thank you.

    1. Hi Cathy
      How wonderful that this movie made such an impression on you when you were young! I still think it's a terrific film for young girls. Although the film has been criticized for this very thing, I like that it presents a world from a female perspective, and that the girls are not living their lives thinking about, chasing, or preoccupied with boys (like every female in a teen beach party movie).
      I also like that it presents (subtly) a rebellious spirit as being a symptom of a young person seeking something, and I think "The Trouble with Angels" is most skillful in not hitting us over the head with Hayley Mills' realization that the lives of the nuns in many way s does represent "something better" than trips to the Riviera and caring and thinking of no one but oneself. The scene you mentioned, as well as the one where Russell takes the girls to task for making fun of a sister's German accent, are so moving, and wonderful signifiers in the maturation of Mills.
      You wrote:
      "There is nothing I would change about this movie, nothing at all"
      I so agree!

  4. Oh my God, June Harding has a website! Thank you, thank you, Ken. My heart skipped a beat when I saw your latest. When this came out I had the movie tie-in and the soundtrack album. I'd sit on my bed and imagine I was flying down a fire escape. (I also used my bed as a runaway glacier after I saw In Search of the Castaways) I'd pretend to smoke in the bathroom. I wanted a best friend like June Harding. (or was I June Harding?) I prayed to have the nuns in this movie, rather than the evil Sister Dismas I was stuck with at my school, Immaculate Conception. Today I have the music on my iPod, too. In fact I used some of it to dub my family's home movies from the 60s when I transferred them to DVD. The "Christmas visitors" scene still hits hard, doesn't it? Hayley's line about hoping to dying young and wealthy still kind of makes me gasp. Absolutely madly in love with Hayley. I was lucky enough to meet her in Dallas when the American Film Festival paid tribute to her in the mid 90s. She was so lovely she made my heart ache. Tiger Bay, The Moon Spinners, The Family Way, The Chalk Garden. I need to go and catch my breath. Thank you for this.

    1. Hi Max
      What a fan! You had the paperback book and the soundtrack album? So jealous! Also, such a crack up to learn that other kids were inspired to play-act favorite movies (a weird by-product of my seeing the age-inappropriate "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" when I was a child, was my sisters and I re-enacting The Derby in the back yard. I got to be Red Buttons having a heart-attack).
      And yes, that scene in the home for the elderly is still so powerful. It was very insightful to have the Mills character respond to the sadness of what she saw with a defiant response that was every bit as sad. That's what gets me about this movie. So much of it comes from a place of understanding its characters, so much of the sequel came from needing to set up the setpiece pranks.
      And Hayley Mills in The Moonspinners...she was just gorgeous in that.
      So pleased you liked the post, but happier in your sharing your enthusiastic childhood memories. I so enjoyed reading it.

    2. Ok, re-enacting They Shoot Horses made me laugh out loud. (one of my top-ten favorite feel-bad movies) And how great you had sisters as co-stars to play along. Did you do it slow-mo? I remember play-acting scenes from Bonnie & Clyde, Gypsy, Carroll Baker in Harlow, Barbarella, The Birds, and The Haunting. But I bet you were a great Red Buttons.

  5. I SO love this movie, from Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score to Ida Lupino's smooth, deft direction, the balance between comedy and tears and the great cast. You mentioned Rosalind Russell played Mama Rose in the 1963 musical GYPSY and that she's working with Gypsy Rose Lee in this movie. She also worked with "Baby June"--June Havoc--in 1942's MY SISTER EILEEN.

    1. Thank you for contributing that great bit of movie trivia! I didn't know June Havoc was in that earlier, non-musical comedy. Although I've never seen "My Sister Eileen" (in any of its incarnations) I love that Russell appears onscreen with the real-life counterparts of her two "Gypsy" daughters...decades apart!

    2. You haven't seen (the 1942 non-musical) MY SISTER EILEEN? It earned Roz her first Oscar nomination and it's absolutely wonderful. Her performance in it is right up there with her best--AUNTIE MAME, THE WOMEN, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and PICNIC. TCM shows it about once a month. Try to catch it, you won't be disappointed.

    3. Hi Vito
      Thanks for the recommendation. I wanted to pluck my eyes out after watching the 1955 musical film (just loathed it) and have avoided all incarnations of the story ever since. If Russell is as good as you say, I'm sure i'll enjoy it.

  6. LOVE All these comments!! Isn't it wonderful that so many fans of movies that perhaps don't have the fame level of, say, GONE WITH THE WIND or SOUND OF MUSIC can gather here and share their feelings and experiences?? .....oh yes Ken - that scene with Roz scolding the girls about the German nun, when she explained what the brave deeds she had done and that she was tortured by the Nazis...and her voice trails off and she has to turn away (did she start crying?)....and Mary's defiant "I HATE HER!" a few seconds after - did Mother touch a nerve in her, and she realized how small she had acted?...and that something was starting to stir in her? Wonderful stuff!! .... and yes, there were some obnoxious girls in TROUBLE FOLLOWS. BTW - what was Marvel-Ann STILL doing in St. Francis all those years??? LOL!!!

    1. I agree! I suspect it is the same pleasure you get from you movie musicals FB page; it's great to share your feelings about a favorite film, but it is something altogether more gratifying to have people sharing their own. Many times it opens my eyes to things I hadn't noticed, other times it affords great insight into what movies mean to people. That's why I get so mad at "lazy" filmmakers who think they are only making 90 minutes of diversion, so it doesn't matter what crap they produce (Adam Sandler just came to mind).
      And you bring up one of the things I think works especially well in "Trouble..." Mills' Russell doesn't yeall and punish the girls exclusively, in the case of Mills she makes her feel ashamed of herself, and the young girl responds with anger ...which seems so authentic. She is embarrassed because she is essentially a decent girl "acting out" and in that scene and the one in the retirement home, her defiance is (to me) a very real way a young person deals with emotional pain they don't understand. Whether it be pity, or remorse, or even empathy. Mary Clancy's transformation feels 100% because we sense she is forced to confront things within herself. Such a smart movie!

      And yes, it never fails to make me laugh to think that Marvel Ann got held back a grade or something (someone online notes she is nowhere to be seen in this film's graduation scene. maybe that cold she got laid up her so bad she had to repeat a year. :-)
      Thanks, Michael!

  7. Hi Ken - A "scathingly brilliant" review of one of my favorite films...big surprise, right? Next to Shirley Temple, I'd rank Hayley Mills among the greatest child star of the 20th century, because she was a real actress rather than just a personality. Parent Trap and Pollyanna are classics because of her amazingly skilled performances in them. And Angels is Mills's swan song to the child-star chapter of her career. I love what a bossy b*tch she is in this film...which makes her character transformation all the more memorable. And her chemistry with June Harding is so perfect...I wish they could have worked together again.

    This is also one of my favorite Russell performances...her only really noteworthy role after Auntie Mame (triumph) and Mama Rose (tragedy, Roz could act it but NOT sing it!!). She is glorious as the Mother Superior, and plays with a wonderful sense of fun...I was not surprised to read her less-than-kind comments about Mills in her autobiography...but keep in mind that Mills was trying to break out of her Disney-child-star pigeonhole, both personally and professionally. She really was a young adult while making this picture--age 20--but was still treated as a "kid." Also, I am sure Mills did not treat Queen Roz (a rock-ribbed Republican and Reagan supporter) with the requisite respect for her elders...or anyone else over the age of 30, I suspect. The times were already a changin'

    With its mix of comedy, drama and sentiment, this is a perfect coming-of-age movie, especially for those of us raised Catholic.. Bravo to all involved, especially to director Ida Lupino, the former noir actress who broke ground for women directors.

    Also wanted to note that we have Hayley Mills to thank for that whole Saved By The Bell phenomenon--the series was created expressly for her, but then her lead character was trimmed and finally cut, in favor of all those budding child stars....I wonder if Mills felt a little Roz-Russell about that herself...

    Thanks for the memories as always, Ken. I suspect our movie shelves contain a LOT more of the same wonderful movies. I love the way you write about them!!

  8. Hi Ken,

    As always a delightful recap. This is a huge favorite of mine but I hadn't watched it in some time so I decided to give it a glance before commenting. Happily the chance presented itself not only to watch again but to be able to introduce it to my great-niece, who loved it, at the same time. She was saying "I have a scathingly brilliant idea!" by the time the film was over. Ha!

    I agree with everything you said about the film. Most strongly that even though Hayley Mills and June Harding are the main focus and are delightful Rosalind Russell is engine that makes the film run. Being queen of the slow burn along with her fully seasoned star power no one stands a chance when she's in a scene although Hayley gives her a run for her money once or twice.

    One of the things I noticed this go round, how high in the credits Binnie Barnes is considering the inconsequentiality of her role. It's a shame her part is so small since I've always enjoyed her, although her stock in trade as the snooty sophisticate would hardly fit into the "fun nun" idea of the film. Her husband was a high placed executive at Columbia and she was persuaded to come out of retirement to participate in the film, so perhaps her role was lost on the cutting room floor. She was seen to much better advantage a few years later in her last film Forty Carats as Liv Ullman's fun mom. Oh and Camilla Sparv really was a flawless beauty.

    All the sisters, although never really spotlighted, add marvelous little vignettes. My absolute favorite has to be Marge Redmond's racetrack loving Sister Liguori. If you think about it even though she's teaching the kids how to keep book she's also getting them excited to learn about math, something that none of my teachers ever managed. Also a special shout out should go to Barbara Hunter who played the odious Marvel-Ann. She's great at being rotten.

    Another thing I noticed is the abundance of purple in the movie. I know one of the meanings of the use of the color is to imply spirituality but since it's used both for Rachel's "binder" and Gypsy Rose Lee's killer initial outfit I don't know if that's what Ida was going for. However once I noticed the color it was everywhere, I've never seen such a color co-ordinated nursing home!!

    Aside from that the film is great at balancing the funny and the poignant. It's wonderful how it becomes apparent as the film goes on that Mary Clancy is who the Mother Superior was before she took up the veil. Perhaps not as mischievous but the same strong leader spirit. It's never flatly stated, the script and filmmakers trust the audience enough that they don't spell it out for us, a lesson it would be great to find in more films.

    My favorite scene is one that you pictured, the "I found something better" scene. Roz and Hayley play it to perfection and it's the scene that chokes me up no matter how many times I see it.

    I've seen the sequel but even with my love of Roz, Stella Stevens and Susan St. James it doesn't come within a mile of being as good as this is.

    A word of defense for The Flying Nun, or more properly the cast of it. It is silly fluff to be sure but it speaks well of the talent of the leading players, Sally Field, Marge Redmond, Madeleine Sherwood and a pre-Will and Grace Shelley Morrison that the show comes across as painlessly as it does even now. It's certainly not great art and I know it was a burden whose shadow Sally struggled for years to escape but I'd rather spend a half hour watching it than most of the parent hating, insult heavy, idiotic so called comedies that networks throw out there now.

    1. Hi Joel
      As your great-niece proved, it's almost impossible to watch this film without coming from it with the phrase "scathingly brilliant idea" tattooed onto one's psyche.
      And funny should mention the color purple- I watched this film recently with my partner (who knew of it but never really sat still for it) and he commented upon the abundant use of purple in the retirement home scene as well. Something that never really jumped out at me until it was called to my attention.
      I'm glad you mentioned how well-cast the other nuns are, even if they don't get a lot of camera time. I enjoyed the quirks each is given at the introduction diner for the girls, particular the stone-faced nun who nods her greeting so enthusiastically, and the bell-ringing nun and Russell's reaction to each. (Get-TV recently aired "40 Carats," a film I hadn't seen in a while, Barnes is very cute in it.)

      The film just has a deft comic eye for large and small-scale comedy (I like the girl who keeps passing out) and character, which is so rare. As the sequel proved, an elaborately staged comic piece doesn't play off as well if the characters aren't delineated.
      It was nice to hear about the things you enjoyed and remembered from this film. It certainly has a special place in the memories of many. Thanks, Joel!

  9. Ken, this is one I missed (which really surprises me), or just don't remember from my youth. But I will be checking it out from the library today - a great resource for films like these that you can't find on streaming services - just like I did Up the Down Staircase based on your post. So thanks! But I will say, I am reminded of The World of Henry Orient, which I think you need to cover. The story of what happened to the young actresses after the movie is almost as fantastic as the film itself!

    1. Hi Tanya
      I hope you enjoy (re)visiting this film! "the trouble With Angels" has always reminded me a bit of "Up the Down Staircase" in that both are based on autobiographical memoirs written by women, and that they both are structured as a series of vignettes or episodes.
      I am a big fan of "The World of Henry Orient" as well, but know nothing of what happened to the young actresses. Hello, Google!

  10. I'm so pleased at the positive comments about this lovely little gem of a film!and Ken - A scathingly brilliant idea :) ......with your love of Roz and musicals - I hope you'll do an article on GYPSY someday!!

    1. Hi Michael
      Yes, so much affection for this film, isn't there? Quite the triumph for a small little film with no car chases, gunplay, or explosions. I read online that someone who liked the film wished they would remake it...God help us. Can only imagine the lower common denominator the film would shoot for. This film needs to stay firmly ensconced in the 60s...period.
      Oh, and I'm sure "Gypsy" will make an appearance someday!

    2. Another gem of a scene – where Reverend Mother and Sister Liguori are sitting by the fire, discussing Mother’s decision not to expel Mary and Rachel after the smoking incident. Mother talks about how she is concerned for Mary... and then has that lovely line "To bend but not yield, but not have pride, yet humility..this has always been my struggle..can I be less tolerant of Mary than the Church has been of me?"

    3. Hi Michael
      I liked that scene too. It gave a peek at how deeply the friendship ran between the two women, and that terrific line you quoted. I forgot which commenter noted it, but it feels very much like Reverend mother is confronting her younger self in Mary Clancy..

  11. Having been in the "brother game" for 40 years, I only say that somewhere between this movie and The Nun's Story is where the grist of religious life is.

    1. An insider's viewpoint! Thanks! By the time I went to high school, all the teachers were brothers. They were definitely more "human" to my young eyes than nuns.

  12. I haven't noticed anyone comment, and I know I've read this on more than one occasion, that the producers wanted to lure Greta Garbo out of retirement to play Mother Superior in this film.

    1. Thanks for bringing that up. You're absolutely right, about Garbo being considered. I'd read the same thing in an Ida Lupino biography, I believe. Thanks!

  13. In "Where Angels Go...", there's a scene where Van Johnson and Rosalind Russell and the nuns enter the boy's school dance. There are posters on the wall behind them. Reverend Mother stops to comment on the one poster with Van Johnson's head on it, but just before that is poster with a very sex-kittenish headshot of Stella Stevens. I've seen this movie a million times and never noticed that before!

    1. I know the scene you refer to, and I honestly never noticed the faces on those posters until I saw the film in HD on TCM. And that was many years after I'd seen the film before.
      They have Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Van Johnson, and, as you noted Stella Stevens!
      Maybe it was some kind of inside joke, as Stevens appeared that same year with Dean Martin in "How to Save Your Marriage and Ruin Your Life"...still, it's kind of cool they "snuck" in a sexy picture of Stevens, now all covered up and playing a nun! Wonder how many other fans of the film fail to noticed it?

  14. Ken, another STELLAR review! Your writing is exceptional. I used to always consult Roger Ebert when he was alive. I wish you had his cachet because you certainly have at LEAST the writing chops and artistic discernment he did. I completely concur with this caption:

    - After appearing to the students to be coolly unmoved by the loss of a friend, in private, Mother Superior gives vent to her full anguish. Russell's performance in this scene alone single-highhandedly raises The Trouble with Angels far above the usual family film fare -

    I also concur with your observation here:

    - So sad that religion is so often used today as the banner behind which so many seek to cloak their fear, ignorance, and hatred. -

    My son the Catholic priest would ALSO agree, by the way!

    You've probably seen Hayley in "A Matter of Innocence" (American release title Pretty Polly). Link below if you haven't and are interested. It's my absolute favorite of her films. I will watch anything she's in. A lot of it is good anyway. But she is utterly charming in A Matter of Innocence. Shashi Kapoor and Trevor Howard are excellent too - as is the Michel LeGrand score and theme song. Filmed in Singapore (including a wild last night in the gay/tranny district). Fun!

    1. Hi Peter
      I'm blushing at your opening lines.
      When i was young, every time a film came out I always found myself wondering what Pauline Kael's take on it was. Even when I violently disagreed with her opinions I loved reading how she "saw" movies.
      When I started this blog, my goal was to be THAT for myself. I wanted to capture the kind of reviews I could never find online (few sites engage in such long form criticism because there's so little interest), but I always felt there would be a soul here or there that was like me in this regard. You certainly fit the description.
      Not because you flatter me or agree with me, but because you seem to allow yourself to have he full movie experience, and you extract things from films in a similar way. I'm happy you've found the site.

      Thanks for citing examples in the text that you relate to. I get a bead on how you approached the film from those alone.
      And you have a son who's a priest? This movie always takes me back (better than any other) to my childhood when my entire school experience was nuns and priests. And to the idea of religion as something that helped to make us bigger, not smaller people.
      You've been batting a thousand in finding films I've never seen.
      As much as I love Hayley Mills I have never seen "A Matter of Innocence," so I have a treat in store.
      good to hear from you again, Peter, you enthusiasm and love for film is obvious and infectious. You bring a lot to these comment sections that visitors to this blog are sure to respond to. Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.

  15. I loved and still love this film. Rosalind Russell was a unique and talented actress. I recommend her autobiography, "Life is a Banquet". In it, she talks about making "The Trouble With Angels. She stayed at a hotel in Philadelphia and would put on her own makeup and habit there, then drive to where they were shooting the film. One day her son and his new bride came to the hotel to spend time with her. Rosalind did the makeup and habit thing, grabbed a bottle of fine champagne as a gift for the newly weds to give them before she left for the day, and burst into their room yelling, "Surprise!", only to discover that she had entered the wrong room. On the bed were sitting two fully clothed men, astonished to see a nun in makeup, brandishing a bottle of champagne.

    Another memory not connected to the film is also worth mentioning. When she as young, a boy came to visit her older sister. Rosalind and a younger sister took his car for a joy ride with Rosalind driving. She ended up driving through a stop sign and crashing into a stone wall. "Roz!" her sister cried, "There's a stop sign back there!" and Russell replied, "And there damn well should be!"

    1. Hello Hans -I hope you don't mind that instead of leaving two posts with the same anecdote, I decided to post the most recent, updated version, as it contains an extra story.
      My partner has actually read "Life is a Banquet" and we have the book, I don't know why I'm dragging my feet reading it. Stories like the above make it sound like a good read.
      I'm a big fan of this film as well, as you must be to have stopped by again. Thanks again for contributing to the comments section!

  16. Hi! I have been interested in the backstory of the book on which the film is based. Jane Trahey wrote Life With Mother Superior and later went on to become a major ad exec on Madison Avenue with many well known accounts,such as Blackgama furs,etc. Apparently,she knew a Mary Courtney in her Chicago high school who became a nun and was the inspiration for Mary Clancy. Her life was colorful. Both have passed. away awhile back. Always loved TTWA since I,like so many others,did my time with the good sisters.

    1. Hello - Although I've read the book, I knew next to nothing about the author. I had no idea she went on to a career in advertising. The personal memoir aspects of the book go along way toward confirming just why the characters in the film seem so vivid, and their exploits so relatable.
      Thank you for reading this post and sharing your knowledge of the author's post-Catholic School life and well as your fondness for this charming film.

  17. Are you aware that the photo caption "Fleur de Lis & Kim Novak meet The Dragon" misidentifies Hayley Mills as Kim Novak?

    1. There's no misidentification on my part, but plenty on the part of the characters played by Hayley Mills and June Harding. In the scene pictured, both girls give false names to the Mother Superior as they begin their first year in school. Rachel (Harding) takes the pseudonym Fleur de Lis while Mary (Mills) chooses to call herself Kim Novak. Both girls refer to the Mother Superior as "The Dragon" guarding the medieval-style boarding school.