Sunday, December 14, 2008
We've had many people clamoring for another movie review from our friend Scott Marks... a few people... okay, two people... and one of those was Scott... and the other was me. What's your point?
I've always seen the first 30 minutes or so of this particular movie and chicken out. Maybe Scott's honest opinion will make me want to see the film from beginning to end. On your Marks, get set, go:
The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Written by: Dudley Nichols from a story by Leo McCarey
Starring: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, Joan Carroll & Rhys Williams
Running Time: 126 min.
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
When people ask if a sequel has ever surpassed its original, "The Godfather II" and "The Bells of St. Mary's" are always the first that come to mind. ("Gremlins II" runs a close third.) Long before the second installment of the Corleone family trilogy, Bell's had the distinction of being the first sequel to be nominated for a best picture Oscar, and coincidentally makes a stellar cameo appearance on the Radio City Musical Hall marquee in "The Godfather".
Fancy yourself a contemporary filmmaker hired to tell the story of Father O'Malley (Matt Damon in the role originated by Bing Crosby), a showbiz priest assigned a position at an urban Parochial school following the former Pastor's mental breakdown brought about after spending years "up to his neck in nuns."
Once established, Father O'Malley falls in love with Sister Mary Benedict (sinful Angeline Jolie as Saintly Ingrid Bergman), a tubercular nun, all the while helping a prostitute's daughter (Mylie Cyrus substituting for Joan Carroll) get an education. In addition to a earning a compulsory G rating, the final cut has to be sprinkled with a handful of musical numbers.
Nowadays, it would probably be easier to film The Bible in real time, but for Leo McCarey the success of "The Bells of St. Mary's" seemed preordained. The story had been with him since childhood. His aunt, Sister Mary Benedict helped build Hollywood's Immaculate Heart Convent and died of typhoid fever. This was also a follow-up to the the director's Paramount smash "Going My Way". McCarey wrote the story before "Going My Way" which was originally intended to be Bells' sequel.
Normally, films about nuns leave me cold. Who wants to see Audrey Hepburn in "The Nun's Story" when it's made clear by the title that sparkling romance will never enter into it? Only Leo McCarey, the man whom, according to Jean Renoir, understood people better than any Hollywood director, could have slipped this material past the censors.
It should come as no surprise that McCarey, the man who first teamed Laurel with Hardy, is able to find delicate humor in the most unlikely of places. O'Malley's arrival at St. Mary's is shown as a calamitous series of sight gags capped off by the original, and funniest, cat-in-the-hat. Other laughs come from a yawning dog in church and a performance of the nativity story by an all-toddler cast.
I know how crazy this must sound to you. Am I actually recommending a film rife with puppy and kitty cutaways, cute kids and Bing Crosby? You bet! Not Der Bingle's biggest fan, he's actually superb in the role. For two hours I believed that Bing Crosby was a munificent soul. That's acting!
In "Going My Way", Bing is up to his big ears in a vat of sentimental goop almost on par with either visit to "Boys Town". "The Bell's of St. Mary's" is anything but cloying. It's insightful, heartfelt and in many ways more uplifting than "It's a Wonderful Life". It even features Henry Travers one film before gaining winged immortality as Capra's Clarence.
An unsuccessful attempt at explaining the gray box grafted over the studio name and copyright date on both the feature and trailer: Even though "Going My Way" brought Paramount needed recognition and bushels of cash, they chose not to pop for the sequel. Made under the banner of McCarey's Rainbow Productions, Inc., the film was distributed by R. K. O.
In 1957, National Telefilm Associates (NTA) obtained the theatrical rights and for years, all prints bore their logo. The U. S. video rights are controlled by Republic Pictures, and while their otherwise immaculate copy not only lacks the introductory R. K. O. tower, the telecine operator was instructed to obliterate all studio mentions.
Finally, this from imdb.com to further underscore the director's intention of making his film a romantic love story. "The production was overseen by a Catholic priest who served as an advisor during the shooting. While the final farewell sequence was being filmed, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman decided to play a prank on him. They asked director Leo McCarey to allow one more take, and, as 'Father O'Malley' and 'Sister Benedict' said their last goodbyes, they embraced in a passionate kiss, while the offscreen priest-advisor jumped up roaring in protest."
- - Scott Marks
Turner Classic Movies is showing "The Bells Of St. Mary's" on Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 2:30 PM EST. Set your TiVos now or ask TCM to e-mail you a reminder for this film.