Fred Zinnemann's epic 1959 drama The Nun's Story
is a splendid showcase for Audrey Hepburn, who stars as the young nun Sister Luke, who is deeply spiritual yet conflicted about whether or not she can conform to convent life. Though the film is a mesmerizing--and quite leisurely--two and a half hours, its plot is fairly simple--young Gabrielle (Hepburn) enters the convent pledging her life to God, learns the disciplines associated with the life, receives her dream assignment of going to the Congo as a missionary nurse, and once there, is forced to face whether she is meant for the rigorous life of poverty, chastity, and most difficult of all, obedience. The film does a marvelous job of portraying the challenges of cloistered life without being either off-putting or overly romantic. And Hepburn, sometimes with only her eyes, communicates all the drive, faith, and conflict of a young woman so torn.
If you find during the 160-minute running time of The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) that you don't like the plot, wait 10 minutes. It will surely change and there will be another story thread to entice you. The screenplay is literally all over the map: Siberia, where Archbishop Kiril Lakota, played splendidly by Anthony Quinn, has been exiled to a work camp in the oppressive Soviet regime; Moscow, where a genially scene-chewing Laurence Olivier plays a Soviet ruler with history with Lakota; China, where famine threatens to bring the world of the late '60s to the brink of World War III; and Rome, where Lakota travels after being freed (and where dissolute reporter David Janssen does his best to groove on the Swinging Sixties). Yet despite its flaws, the movie's central drama is riveting: the current Pope dies suddenly, and for a good bit of the film, viewers are treated to the Vatican's inner workings on the election of a new Pope. The events unfold at a leisurely pace, which allows you to drink in the spectacle and wonder of the ancient traditions. The Alex North Oscar-nominated score is lovely, and Quinn's performance is the somber-with-a-humble-twinkle glue that holds the film together. Anyone interested in the traditions and rituals of the Vatican will find plenty to savor.
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima tells the story--through an admittedly Hollywood prism--of one of the most beloved Catholic legends of the 20th century. Three young shepherd children in the remote Portuguese mountain town Fatima reported seeing a vision in 1917 of "a beautiful lady" who spoke to them of strife, war and peace and the love of Jesus. Soon the word spread, and throngs, teetering on mobs, gathered near the site for a glimpse of what they believed to be Mary, mother of Jesus. The children remained steadfast in their account, despite threats from the church and the government, and the final appearance of the lady, on Oct. 13, 1917, was accompanied by strange apparitions in the sky that have yet to be explained by science. The movie is well-made and -acted, especially by a radiant Susan Whitney, who plays the oldest child, Lúcia Abóbora dos Santos. The screenplay takes some liberties with the facts: the lovable jokester-sidekick character of Hugo is fictitious, and one wonders if perhaps a few of Our Lady's cautions about the multitude of evil things happening in 1917 Russia might have been heard through a Cold War filter. But the 1952 film is moving and is a reminder that big studios once routinely, and profitably, released religious-themed movies, to audiences who surely would appreciate some of the same today. --A.T. Hurley