The Post – Why We Need Sappy, Happy, Simplistic Movies Now and Then

I am an old movie fanatic….not the “old movies” you find on American Movie Classics now, which considers “old” to be circa 1970 or 1980. No, I mean the REAL old movies…things from the 1930s and 1940s. The black and white, often simplistic, maybe even sappy, Polyanna ones. The ones with people with blind faith moving cheerfully toward their dreams in spite of the fact their dreams are impossible, implausable, and any logical person wouldn’t even try.

And of course, they reach their dreams. And sometimes along the way, they are often assisted by people society would never imagine them to associate with.

I mean take the movie, Come to the Stable. Now, yes, even though it’s fiction, I like the movie as it’s set in Bethlehem CT and I’ve walked those rolling hills. Anyway, in the movie, two nuns show up from France after World War II to build a children’s hospital in Connecticut, a way of thanking God that their hospital in France was spared by an advancing American Army. They come to Bethlehem, CT, to the home of a poor religious artist, intent on building this hospital….except they have no place to stay, no friends, and no money. But those are small details. Over the course of the movie, they are taken in by the artist, others from their order arrive to help them raise funds for the hospital, and the two nuns find themselves helped by everyone from rich jaded Hollywood types to underworld gangsters. The nuns’ simple cheerful faith seems to sooner or later melt the heart of everyone who crosses their path. The gangster even donates his land for their hospital. Really hard to believe right? Nobody in their right mind ever writes a screenplay as sappy as that right?

And nuns associating with gangsters, and seeing only the good hearts in those tough guys? I mean, it’s about as unbelievable as thinking somebody like Jesus would hang out with prostitutes or have dinner with tax collectors and other rejects of society? Oops. Sorry. Guess Jesus did do that, huh?

Well, you know, a small secret. Deep down inside, in spite of living in this modern realistic world, I really love a movie that all the critics would hate, something where people set out to do good, the impossible, with smiles on their faces, as they move through obstacle after obstacle, overcoming them with love and faith, never losing the smiles on their faces. People who have a dream and cheerily go after it, oblivious to the fact that in reality, they should fail. In their faith, it just never seems to occur to them.

Are there people out there like that? Maybe. Maybe not. But another secret. I wish there were….and deep in my heart, I really think those kinds of people have the really right idea, and the key to happiness.

So what’s the big deal if the story line IS simple, happy to sappy, and based on too many coincidences that would only happen if a miracle occurred? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe sometimes in this overly realistic, edgy world, miracles really can and do occur, if we believe. Maybe we need the tonic of one of these movies. Maybe there is something about faith, and believing that the unbelievable CAN happen, that can make a difference in our lives. And maybe we really do need to be reminded that even people society rejects DO have good hearts and our current world needs them.

Now, sure. There’s a few spots I fast forward through. Just not into the love song Hugh Marlowe sings. And….I will note that there is one drawback to old movies….and old Nancy Drew books. There is no getting around seeing a visual portrayal of how society in the 1940s treated certain segments of society, for example, blacks. It is uncomfortable to watch that and wonder how people could have thought that was okay. But maybe that’s not such a bad “discomfort” either….maybe that’s a reminder that if people then could be so mistaken in their thinking, is it possible we are wrong in our thinking about something now? Are there places in our advanced modern world where prejudices exist and we just haven’t noticed because we’re so used to operating on autopilot or social norms that we never stop to question our own behaviors?

So, whenever I need something to remind me that the impossible is possible, that everyone is worthy, and that unrealistically happy miraculous outcomes due to blind faith can happen, I dig out Come to the Stable.

Oh, and by the way….if you think the movie is so unrealistic….There is an order of nuns, a cloistered Benedictine order of nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, an abbey in Bethlehem, CT….started in 1947. Hmmm. And it was started by Mother Benedict, a nun from France, who came to America with another nun, a friend of hers who had saved her from the Gestapo. Mother Benedict decided to come to America after World War II to create a monastic community as way of saying thanks for God’s help. Their abbey in France had been liberated from the Germans by General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. The selfless sacrifice shown by many of Patton’s men inspired Mother Benedict to do something in return, hence, her journey to America.

She arrived in Bethlehem CT and ….lived with a local artist, was joined by some of the other sisters to raise money for their dream….and they received a donation of some land for their abbey from a local industrialist……. So, miracles don’t happen in modern days????? For the full story, go to the Abbey of Regina Laudis’ website, and read the page on that abbey’s history.

If you think only strange people who can’t make it in the “real” world live in cloistered monastic communities, consider that the Prioress there is the former film star from the 60s, Dolores Hart, and the Subprioress was an attorney in Hartford, elected to the State House of Representatives, and served in the legislature for 7 years. These are accomplished women who CHOOSE to serve this way. If you ever are in the area and want a real treat, stop by on a Sunday afternoon to listen to their Vesper service of Gregorian Chants in their rustic chapel.

Regarding the movie, I’m apparently I’m not alone in my thoughts. Some comments from IMDB and Amazon.com:

Comment on Come to the Stable from IMDB (Internet Movie Database) :

Clare’s Catholic Valentine, 6 August 2005
8/10

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York

During the late 1940s Clare Booth Luce, wife of Henry Luce of the Luce Publications, noted playwright, Republican Congresswoman had a celebrated conversion to Catholicism courtesy of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. There’s nothing like the zeal of the newly converted so this screenplay was written to show how God does move in mysterious ways for the believers.

What’s hard to believe is that the same author of The Women actually wrote Come to the Stable. But it’s true and Luce is a skilled writer and she fashioned a very easy to take tale of two nuns over from France trying to build a children’s hospital in memory of the kids they couldn’t save in World War II.

The two nuns are played by Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. There was no doubt that Young would be one of the three leads. Loretta Young, Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell were three of the leading female Catholic lay people in the country at that time. I’m sure all were approached with this film.

Young and Holm were both recent Oscar winners, for The Farmer’s Daughter and Gentlemen’s Agreement and both were nominated for Best Actress here. Both lost the big sweepstakes to Olivia DeHavilland who was also a recent winner for To Each His Own. Strange are the ways of the Academy voters. Elsa Lanchester was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the religious artist who offers the nuns shelter and lodging during their quest. Lanchester is her usual charming, but off the wall self in her part.

In today’s audience some may find all the happy coincidences a bit much. But then again that is precisely the point of the film, that God will help those who help themselves.

One other thing. Some very rough and irreligious people contribute to the sister’s endeavor and I think the message there is that on occasion, man can rise above just looking out for himself and think of the human race at large.

From Amazon.com’s entry for Come to the Stable, this review:

By Simon DavisSee all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)

Loretta Young, one of Hollywood’s most respected actresses had one of her greatest roles as the assured and determined Sister Margaret in Twentieth Century Fox’s 1949 “Come to the Stable” a beautiful story of two women’s determination and sheer belief in the rightness of what they are seeking in their work for others. Loretta Young, a staunch catholic in real life is one of those rare actresses in a league with the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn , that seem totally convincing as nuns whether it be in their displays of humility in portraying their characters or just by the total immersion that they undergo when taking on the nun role.

“Come to the Stable” tells a very simple but extremely moving story based on a short story by Clare Booth Luce, of the journey that two nuns, one American and one french, make to fulfill a solemn vow made during World War 2. Resulting from the fact that through prayer to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of lost causes, their hospital was spared destruction by the advancing forces the two make a vow to return to America to set up a similiar hospital for young infants in Bethlehem, Connecticut where they have learnt of a woman who paints very beautiful religious paintings. After finding the right place atop a serene hill with perfect views of the town the nuns with very little money, very few propects and with a strong unquestioning faith proceed to achieve everything that has become their lifes work. Their journey from a hopeless situation with no funds to build the hospital or obtain the land, to one that inspires others to get involved to achieve the dream of the new hospital makes for inspirational viewing and puts across the strong message of the basic good of all people if you only take the time to look for it. In their drive to fulfill their aim the nun’s encounter some interesting characters who’s lives they alter in very positive ways. Miss Potts played by Elsa Lancaster in a wonderful performance is a lonely spinister who loves to paint and finds her whole life turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of the nuns on her door step. She for the first time finds a real purpose to her existence as she involves herself totally in the plans of Sister Margaret and Sister Scholastica (Celeste Holm). In their search for land to build the church on the sisters find themselves travelling to New York where they encounter small time con man Luigi Rossi who after hearing their story not only gives them a sizable donation but also the deed to the land with the promise that a commerative stained glass window will be installed in memory of his son who was lost in the war not far from where the sisters nursed in Northern France. His transformation from a small time hood to a man with a conscience is only one of the miracles that the nuns work in their dealings with others. Hugh Marlowe plays the nuns new and indeed quite unhappy neighbour Robert Mason who despite being against the idea of a hospital literally in his backyard finds himself helping the nuns and in a crucial situation where the nuns find themselves short of financing for their repayments, chips in and ensures the sisters dream becomes a reality.

Directed with a sentimental but sure hand by veteran director Henry Koster who was responsible for such diverse efforts as “Harvey”, “Flower Drum Song”‘ and “The Robe”, the representation of what strong belief can do to achieve great things either big or small in ones life is always the central theme of “Come to the Stable”. Loretta Young as Sister Margaret was an inspirational choice as the lead in a role originally intended for Irene Dunne. She is everything a nun should be, strong, gracious, determined, and a firm believer in the basic good in man. Her’s is a superb performance which quite rightly received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress. Equally honoured is the beautifully unplayed performance of Celeste Holm in the role of French nun Sister Scholastica, Sister Margaret’s helper who in a comical moment reveals herself in a past life to have been a top class French tennis player in a scene where she is forced to play in full nun’s habit for high stakes, namely a large badly needed donation to the building fund!

Such beautifully put together films as “Come to the Stable” often make me wonder what Hollywood is really doing nowadays as such delicate themes as guiding faith and divine providence, would not be able to be made nowadays what with the harsh reality of most modern screenplays. I never fail to be touched by this story or by the wonderful performance by Loretta Young in the lead. It is a heart warming viewing experience for anyone who has ever had avow to fulfill or a dream to pursue. Watch this film and be inpired as I always am to try and fulfill my dreams while enjoying an terrific excursion back to movie making as it used to be.

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