Top Ten Roman Catholic Nun Movies

The Roman Catholic nun has appeared as both a major and minor character in a number of Hollywood movies. The list ranges from serious dramas to westerns to wild comedies. Here are the top ten Roman Catholic nun movies...

The Nun's Story (Warner Bros., 1959)

Fred Zinnemann directed this highly acclaimed film starring Audrey Hepburn as Gabrielle van der Mal, the headstrong daughter of a famous physician (Dean Jagger) who leaves fiance and family to enter the convent in the 1930s. Rechristened Sister Luke after taking her final vows, she becomes a nurse in the Belgian Congo, assisting the brilliant, agnostic Dr.

Fortunati (Peter Finch) in the treatment of tropical diseases. Sister Luke later returns to Belgium during World War II where she learns the Nazis have murdered her father. The Nun's Story captured eight Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Director, Best Screenplay (Robert Anderson), Best Color Cinematography, Best Music Scoring, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. The Nun's Story is based on the 1956 best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Hulme.

Lilies of the Field (United Artists, 1963)

Sidney Poitier plays Homer Smith, an itinerant handyman who is dragooned into building a church in the Arizona desert for a small order of German nuns. The nuns – Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), Sister Gertrude (Lisa Mann), Sister Agnes (Isa Crino), Sister Albertine (Francesca Jarvis), Sister Elizabeth (Pamela Branch) – had hidden Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II, later fleeing the communist regime in East Germany. The energetic Smith, who is of the Baptist persuasion, leads the English-challenged nuns in a rousing rendition of "Amen," with Jester Hairston dubbing for Sidney Poitier. Made for a paltry $240,000, Lilies of the Field was beautifully filmed in black and white by Ralph Nelson, who also appears as Mr. Ashton, the owner of a construction company. Lilies of the Field earned five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Poitier, won), Best Supporting Actress (Skala), Best Screenplay (James Poe) and Best Black-and-White Cinematography. "Amen" – the classic gospel tune – never sounded better.

The Trouble with Angels (Columbia, 1966)

Disney girl Hayley Mills along with sidekick June Harding play Mary Clancy and Rachel Devery, respectively, two hell-raising teens at St. Francis Academy for Girls. The girls' nemesis is Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) and her staff – Sister Celestine (Binnie Barnes), Sister Constance (Camilla Sparv), Sister Clarissa (Mary Wickes), Sister Ligouri (Marge Redmond), Sister Rose Marie (Dolores Sutton), et al. – who try to maintain order at the Catholic boarding school. Get ready for plenty of laughs (as well as a few somber moments) in this comedy as the two teens engage in a series of antics which Mary describes as "scathingly brilliant ideas." Based on the 1962 Jane Trahey novel Life with Mother Superior and masterfully directed by Ida Lupino, The Trouble with Angels was partially filmed at St. Mary's Home for Children in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Many parochial schools of the era bussed or car-pooled their students to see special showings of The Trouble with Angels, with their omnipresent nun chaperones and lay teachers in tow of course.

Two Mules for Sister Sara (Universal, 1970)

Clint Eastwood stars as Hogan, a soldier-of-fortune who readily dispatches three cowpoke rapists in the Mexican desert with his six-shooter. The deceased's object of attention was a young woman (Shirley MacLaine), who to Hogan's surprise turns out to be a Catholic nun named Sister Sara. The cynical, hard-drinking Hogan and the good sister team up for the Juarista cause, making a perilous journey to a French fort as they attempt to evade Emperor Maximilian's troops. Clint Eastwood's favorite director, Don Siegel, filmed this violent western on location in Mexico. "Sober up! Sober up, you dirty bastard, or I'll kill ya! Dear Mary, Mother of God, help this no-good atheist to shoot straight," Sister Sara implores as the drunken Hogan takes unsteady aim at a dynamite charge planted on a railroad trestle. Strong language for a nun? Well, about that habit she's wearing...

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1957)

John Huston directed this World War II film based on the 1952 novel of the same name by Charles Shaw. Robert Mitchum plays the gruff Corporal Allison, United States Marine Corps, opposite Deborah Kerr's Sister Angela. The two find themselves marooned on a South Pacific island in 1944, where they try to evade Japanese soldiers who have come to set up a base. Filmed on location in Trinidad/Tobago, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison copped two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Kerr) and Best Screenplay (John Lee Mahin, John Huston). "That's my luck. That's ol' Allison's luck. If ya gotta be a nun, why ain't ya old and ugly? Why do ya gotta have big blue eyes...and a beautiful smile..." an inebriated Allison complains while nursing a bottle.

Come to the Stable (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1949)

Loretta Young and Celeste Holm play Sister Margaret and Sister Scholastica, respectively, two French nuns who arrive in post-World War II New England to build a children's hospital. They solicit the help of an artist, composer and notorious racketeer for their cause. Come to the Stable was huge with the Academy, earning seven Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Young), Best

Supporting Actress (Holm, Elsa Lanchester), Best Story (Clare Boothe Luce), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Song ("Through a Long and Sleepless Night") and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration. Loretta Young was of course one of Hollywood's staunchest Roman Catholics, dedicated to various church causes. Her "cuss jar" – famous on Hollywood sets – was once filled to the brim by foul-mouthed actor Robert Mitchum.

The Singing Nun (MGM, 1966)

The incomparable Debbie Reynolds has the title role, playing Sister Ann, a Dominican nun who works with the poor in Belgium. Sister Ann becomes a singing sensation, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, no less. Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead, Chad Everett and Katharine Ross are also along for the musical ride. The Singing Nun was loosely based on the life of Jeanine Deckers (1933-1985). As Sister Luc-Gabrielle a.k.a. Soeur Sourire ("Sister Smile") or The Singing Nun, Deckers scored a monster hit in 1963 with her rendition of "Dominique." Deckers later left the convent, starting a school for autistic children with a woman named Annie Pescher. Beset by personal and financial problems, both women took their lives via a mutual suicide pact (barbiturate poisoning) in Belgium on March 29, 1985.

Where Angels Go Trouble Follows! (Columbia, 1968)

In this sequel to The Trouble with Angels, Rosalind Russell returns this time as Mother Simplicia, still the stern head of St. Francis Academy School for Girls. The students and their chaperones are headed cross country on a bus trip to California in order to attend a youth rally. Mother Superior has her hands full, trying to deal with the hip, rebellious Sister George (Stella Stevens) as well as the latest student troublemakers in the persons of Rosabelle (Susan Saint James) and Marvel Ann Clancy (Barbara Hunter). Along the way they encounter several biker toughs, a mad movie director (Milton Berle) and the wealthy owner of a western dude ranch (Robert Taylor). "Mother, do we know where we're going?" Rosabelle asks when the bus gets lost. "We do. If we live good Christian lives," she replies. "I wasn't thinking that far ahead," Rosabelle answers. Directed by James Neilson, Where Angeles Go Trouble Follows! features Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart performing the movie's bubble-gum title song.

Sister Act (Touchstone, 1993)

Whoopi Goldberg plays Deloris Van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer who sees her mobster beau Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel) kill his chauffeur. Taking no chances, Vince orders his slimeball henchmen (Robert Miranda, Richard Portnow) to silence the only witness. Fearing for her life, Doloris enters the witness protection program where her masters place her in a San Francisco convent for safekeeping. Now disguised as Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris transforms the choir into a gospel/rock 'n' roll/do wop singing sensation. Poor Deloris is eventually tracked down and nabbed by Vince's boys and transported back to Reno. But Mother Superior (Maggie Smith) and her girls follow, trying to free the unfortunate Sister Mary Clarence. Mary Wickes, who had previous Hollywood nun experience in The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go Trouble Follows!, plays Sister Mary Lazarus. Emile Ardolino directed this raucous comedy, which produced the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).

Change of Habit (Universal, 1969)

Elvis Presley – in his final Hollywood movie dramatic role – plays Dr. John Carpenter, a physician who works at a clinic for the poor. Assisting the doctor in his work are three nuns in street attire: Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore), Sister Irene (Barbara McNair) and Sister Barbara (Jane Elliot). Dr. Carpenter is unaware that the three women are nuns, and soon falls in love with Sister Michelle. William A. Graham directs the King of Rock 'n' Roll in his 31st dramatic film. Edward Asner, who plays Lt. Moretti, would later join forces with Moore on TV's iconic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77). When Sister Michelle reveals her true identity as a nun, she tells a surprised Dr. Carpenter, "Say something." His reply: "I'll be damned."

More Hollywood Nun Film Favorites

  • The Song of Bernadette (1943)
  • The Sound of Music (1965)
  • Dead Man Walking (1995)
  • Doubt (2008)
  • The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
  • Agnes of God (1985)
  • The Painted Veil (2006)
  • Conspiracy of Hearts (1960)
  • Nasty Habits (1977)
  • The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
  • Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
  • Papillon (1973) 

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner

Article Written By William J. Felchner

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Illinois State University. My many print and online articles have appeared in True West, Hot Rod, Frontier Times, Factoidz/Knoji, Persimmon Hill, Sportales, Goldmine, Socyberty, Corvette Quarterly, Sports Collectors Digest, Bukisa, Movie Collector’s World, Cinemaroll, Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, Sports Card Trader, Old West, Storyboard, Antiques & Auction News, Illinois, The Paper & Advertising Collectors’ Marketplace, Television History, Tuff Stuff, Pennsylvania, Military Trader and a number of other venues…

Last updated on 29-07-2016 3K 0

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