Wednesday, January 27, 2021


 Donna Reed's portrayal of her Religious Profession as a cloistered nun in France in Green Dolphin Street movie! 


Only the pre-Vatican II Church could inspire a movie like Audrey Hepburn's, "The Nun's Story." But there is another movie that came to my attention today for the first time, the 1947 drama, "Green Dolphin Street" with Lana Turner and Donna Reed. It is another version of "The Nun's Story" and Donna Reed's ascendancy to her profession as a cloistered nun. 

The movie, though, isn't really about that, or is it? Yes! it is. But it unfolds in a very human and melodramatic way and mirrors the Divine Providence of the marriage of the main character's parents. 

It is powerful from the religious point of view without being a pious religious movie, although Catholic themes and theology are present. It is a masterpiece in fact and well acted. The earthquake scene won an academy award. 

Pope Francis has consistently taught that Catholicism should attract, not repel. Pre-Vatican II Catholicism attracted Hollywood's attention as well as that of novel writers but in the most positive way, not negative as the Church today is often portrayed. And when modern movies portray the Church positively it is a pre-Vatican II image of it and it is superfluous to the story told, but not so with GREEN DOLPHIN STREET!



Pierre said...

The post Vatican II is a bore - even Hollywood has noticed. Another great movie showing the pre Vatican II Church is The Cardinal

ByzRus said...

To Pierre's point, I've seen portrayals of what appears to be the post-VII church that's not recognizable relative to how it actually is. It is as though Hollywood is trying to gussy it up a bit to make it more grand, more cinematic.

For pre-VII, there's a movie where Robert De Niro portrays a priest celebrant during a high/solemn high mass (can't remember the movie). The portrayal itself looks pretty on point - he had to have been coached.

I've also seen the ordination clip from The Cardinal. Nice portrayal as well.

Tom Marcus said...

ByzRus--the movie you are thinking of is True Confessions--a sort of neo-noir crime movie set in L.A,. after WWII and Robert Duvall plays his detective brother. THAT movie is pretty accurate too inasmuch as DeNiro plays a politically astute young priest on the fast track to becoming an auxiliary bishop when a scandal he is staying hushed about puts him in a position where he can no longer remain silent. The end of the movie, which is supposed to be him as an old man years later, shows what happens to priests in powerful archdioceses who don't "play ball": He has spent most of his priestly vocation working in an obscure parish in the desert.

There are a lot of old films that portray being a priest or nun in a positive light: Going My Way, it's sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's, I Confess. I even remember a TV movie from the 70's starring Ralph Waite (Dad on The Walton's) as a priest unjustly accused of a crime--that showed the priests to be overall good men.

Unfortunately, that same Robert De Niro put the roman collar on again to play a priest who perjurer himself in court to protect a gang of young murderers in Sleepers. I also remember watching a TV movie with Tommy Lee Jones as a priest who fornicates with a woman, then leaves her bedroom early in the morning to offer Mass. Tom Berenger's deplorable portrayal of a priest who violates his vows of chastity and avenges his brother's murder in Last Rites is pretty bad. And, of course, there is Linus Roach--an otherwise fine actor--sullying the priesthood with his closeted same-sex antics in Priest. Glenda Jackson also did a great deal to ruing the aura of goodness in the convent with her disgusting portrayal of a nun in Nasty Habits. These "contemporary" portrayals of Church life are semi-accurate at best and cynical and damning at worst. The trouble is, if you are a Catholic, your radar goes up anytime you see a priest or nun on the screen, because you know the portrayal, good or bad, accurate or false, is going to be seen by a lot of people who know little or nothing about the Church and, in many cases, HATE the Church.

Thanks Hollywood--for nothing.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The final scene in "Places in the Heart" was one of the most moving and theologically rich I've seen.

Throughout the movie there are scenes of murder, infidelity, racism, oppression (of blacks and women), and broken friendships. The denouement takes place in a small town church where the congregation has gathered for communion.

As the preacher reads the Last Supper text - "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks..." - the camera follows the plate of bread and the tray of small glasses of grape juice being passed person to person through the congregation.

Suddenly, characters from the movie who had died or left town are seated next to each other, each wishing the next person who the plate "Peace of Christ." When the sheriff, who had been accidentally shot dead by a young drunk black kid, appears, I gasped. When the sheriff then passes the plate to the black kid who had been lynched for the killing, I was almost overwhelmed.

The person absent from the scene, who was not sharing communion and was not being offered or offering the Peace of Christ, was the bitter woman who had refused to end an extramarital affair, and who refused to be reconciled to those she had hurt.

The one who would not be reconciled was excluded from the Peace of Christ.

Pretty amazing.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Black Narcissus was a great almost Alfred Hitchcock type movie that portrayed an Anglican order of nuns in harsh conditions and one of whom goes of her rocker. Overall, though the nuns are portrayed as human and in a sympathetic way.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I have used Places in the Heat in a homily as the eschatological aspect of the last scene, although a Protestant Lord’s Supper, was extremely Catholic.

UK-Priest said...

The nuns in Black Narcissus are Catholic. What made you think they were Anglican?

BTW - The BBC released a new (3 part series) version of Black Narcissus this Christmas. I would say it was just as good as the origin I original film and well worth watching.

PS - I thought the portrayal of catholics in The Priest was generally positive, at least in terms of the underlying moral (in its own way).

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No the nuns are Anglican in the 1947 version.

UK-Priest said...

How can you tell? All nuns look alike!
Certainly the visiting priest appears catholic not CofE.

Anonymous said...

The movie’s description at IBMB describes the women as a group of Anglican nuns