The Bells of St. Mary’s
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Dudley Nichols from a story by Leo McCarey
Repeat viewing/Netflix Instant
Mrs. Breen: I can see you don’t know what it means to be up to your neck in nuns.
I seem to be building up some Christmas-themed viewing without even trying. My favorite part of this movie is the first-grader’s Christmas pageant. I have some serious bones to pick with the last 15 minutes of the film however.
Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is transferred to be pastor of the parish of St. Mary’s, which also runs a parochial school. His secret mission is to determine whether the school, which is in ill-repair, should be closed. The group of nuns that runs the school is headed by world’s youngest Mother Superior, Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). She and her colleagues pray daily that God will give a modern building in construction on the other side of the playground to them. The building’s owner Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers) is having none of it and, in fact, wants the nuns to sell the school property to him. If not, he has the clout to have the school condemned.
The other running subplot concerns a boarding student named Patsy, whose single mother put her in the school so as not to further expose her to her “bad” lifestyle (she might be a singer in a club or something wicked, never stated). Patsy has many inner troubles that finally cause her to fail her final exams. The one big disagreement between Father O’Malley and Sister Benedict is whether Patsy should be allowed to pass and graduate despite her failing grades. The priest’s attitude is that the school is there to help the students and, of course, Patsy should graduate with the rest of her class.
Everyday incidents in the life of the school, many of them amusing, are peppered throughout. The resolution of the above plot threads should not be in any doubt. However if you have not seen the film, you might want to stop reading here.
SPOILER ALERT: Late in the picture, Sister Benedict is discovered to have a mild case of tuberculosis. The doctor says that it is vital that she not be told about this but simply transferred to duties in an old-age home or infirmary(!) in a dry climate. Evidently, knowing you have TB is worse for your morale and healing than being stripped of your position and calling as an educator without any explanation. Also, did they not know TB was contagious? I’m sure they did. It’s really a brilliant idea to send somebody to work with elderly or already ill people not knowing s/he has a contagious disease, no? Ditto, for allowing her to continue working with the children at the school until she departs. This part of the story drives me nuts.
While basically tolerable entertainment, this film does not measure up to the heights of the earlier Going My Way in terms of plot or music. There are some good scenes that show McCarey’s talent for working with actors, though, and I do absolutely love that pageant.
The Bells of St. Mary’s won the Oscar for Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated in the categories of: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Original Song (Jimmy Van Husen and Johnny Burke, “Aren’t You Glad You’re You”); and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.