Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A touch of class: The Nun's Story

THE NUN’S STORY. Zinnemann’s 1959 classic was on in the middle of the night, so I recorded it, despite having the dvd, and what a transfixing experience it is. I had not seen it for decades but remember what a big hit it was at the time. It is surely Audrey Hepburn’s crowning achievement. One hardly sees classic movie-making on this scale any more, as Zinnemann orchestrates it all – the early scenes in the convent as the young novice adjusts to the religious life, the faces of all those nuns, and then the Congo scenes, her recovery from tuberculosis, and back to wartime Europe, based on a best-selling true story. as scripted by Robert Anderson. While not as austere as a Bresson or a Dreyer or indeed Melville's LEON MORIN, PRIEST (reviewed here at Belmondo label) it does convey the rigours of the religious life and the demands it makes (and of course complements those nuns perfectly portrayed by Deborah Kerr in BLACK NARCISSUS and HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON).

It is totally absorbing and the players are so perfect for their roles: Hepburn as the strong-willed and fiercely independent Sister Luke, whose very psyche is torn asunder by the battle between her own innate, personal pride and a sincere desire to live a life of obedience to the Church and its rules; Peter Finch as Dr Fortunati, Edith Evans as Mother Superior (doing marvels with very little screen time), Peggy Ashcroft, Dean Jagger as her father, Mildred Dunnock, Coleen Dewhurst, etc. A totally marvellous achievement and Franz Waxman's score complements the visuals perfectly.

1959 was not only a key year both in cinema and for me, aged 13, and loving all those big hitters of the year, as lots of key directors produced their late classics: BEN HUR, SOME LIKE IT HOT, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, ON THE BEACH, RIO BRAVO, IMITATION OF LIFE, PILLOW TALK, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, SOLOMON AND SHEBA etc, THE NUN'S STORY was up there with them as one of the key dramas of the year and it was of course an enormous hit, for such a solemn film, and it is certainly one of Hepburn's key roles, ably supported by Finch's skilful portrayal of the doctor. After the Congo episode we are back in wartime Europe as Sr Luke tries to settle back into the religious life, but her rebellious spirit will not let her.... The complexities of the religious life are nicely demonstrated when she is asked to fail an essential examination to help another nun go to the Congo. The interiors were actually shot at Cinecitta so just how much of it was shot in Africa I wonder? The seemingly now under-rated Fred Zinnemann showed his mastery again the next year with the wonderful THE SUNDOWNERS and that great re-teaming of Mitchum and Kerr, and of course his 1953 hit FROM HERE TO ETERNITY among others.

I find it incredible that London's National Film Theatre in their Audrey Hepburn season a year or so ago did not include THE NUN'S STORY or indeed the chance to see King Vidor's WAR AND PEACE, 1956, another key Audrey role, on the big screen, as they were focusing on Audrey as the fashion icon and not the actress!

Soon: an appreciation on Peter Finch.

1 comment:

  1. The Nun's Story is my favorite movie. Only Now, Voyager comes close in how many times I have seen it. Audrey delivers what I consider to be one of the greatest performances ever captured on film, as so much of the character's conflict is internal. Her face, her eyes, her body convey so much without dialogue. When she does speak, with that exquisite boiuce of hers, she is transcendent. My favorite moment is when she is in the confessional, near the end of the movie, asking the priest to help her leave the convent by laying her case before the cardinal. "If you don't," she says, "I shall do something that would kill me. I shall leave without permission.". Right then the entire weight of what Sister Luke has been struggling with is brought to bear. The Nun's Story is a piece of art; one I might add that has stood the test of time, and has aged far better than the ultimate " best picture" Oscar winner that year, Ben Hur. Thanks for a chance to honor a truly great film!