This film has been one that we have had on the waiting list for several years, and we finally got around to adding it to the holiday watch list this Christmas because we had more openings what with the longer Advent season. We’re glad we did. It is a charming film focused on faith, with some interesting elements connecting it to other holiday films.
The most obvious connection is to The Bishop’s Wife, which also starred Loretta Young and was also directed by Henry Koster. Two other character actors (Elsa Lanchester and Regis Toomey) also appeared in both films.
Another interesting point we saw is how much of a role World War II plays in this film. The nuns (Loretta Young and Celeste Holm) have made a faithful promise to build a children’s hospital in the United States, after the USA saved their French hospital during the liberation of Europe. The gambler (Thomas Gomez) miraculously donates the land for the hospital when he learns of the nuns’ connection to France, because his son had died in Europe during the war. The musician (Hugh Marlowe), who at first seems pleasant enough but then becomes Scrooge-like, finally joins in the miraculous redemptions, when he also recognizes his WWII connection to the nuns.
How many of the films we have seen on our Christmas watch list have some central connections to World War II? It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Affair, White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut and Never Say Goodbye all make some reference. With the war more than 75 years distant from us today, we may forget until we ponder these films how WWII reaffirmed so broadly the values of faith, family and community that are central to Christmas. Perhaps that is why there were so many fine Christmas films made in the late 1940s.
Two nuns from France have come to the United States to fulfill a promise they made to build a children’s hospital after the U.S. troops preserved a French hospital during a World War II battle. With no land, no money and no support from the church authorities, they seem to face impossible challenges, but at each step their simple faith miraculously finds the buried charitable spirit in everyone they encounter and brings their dream to fruition.
The Christmas connection is seen first in an amusing Nativity scene at the beginning of the film. Though there is plenty of snow early on, Christmastime is less the setting and more the thematic spirit.
Celeste Holm (Sister Scholastica) is best known for her supporting roles in All About Eve (1950) and High Society (1956). I recall her fondly also as the Fairy Godmother in the 1965 TV production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which included Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, Lesley Ann Warren and Pat Carroll in the cast.
Hugh Marlowe (Mr. Mason) played Celeste Holm’s husband in All About Eve (1950). He had other distinctive roles in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Twelve O’clock High (1949), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Monkey Business (1952).
Elsa Lanchester (Amelia Potts) is making her third appearance on our holiday watch list, the others being The Bishop’s Wife and Bell, Book and Candle.
Thomas Gomez (Luigi Rossi) is best known for his role as a gangster’s henchman in Key Largo (1948). He also appeared in Captain from Castile (1947) and numerous TV series in the 1960s.
Basil Ruysdael (the Bishop) appeared as a dean in People Will Talk (1951) and played a bishop again in The Last Hurrah (1958).
Dooley Wilson (Anthony James) is, of course, best known as Sam the piano player in Casablanca (1942).
Regis Toomey (Monsignor) also appeared in The Bishop’s Wife and Meet John Doe.
Mike Mazurki (Sam) previously appeared in Pocketful of Miracles.
Walter Baldwin (Mr. Jarman) appeared as the father in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and had an extended role as Grandpa Miller in TV’s Petticoat Junction.
Robert Foulk (policeman) previously appeared previously in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). He had a small role as a customs officer in Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953) but is better known for his roles as Ed Davis in TV’s Father Knows Best (1954-57) and as Mr. Wheeler in Green Acres (1966-71).
Louis Jean Heydt (Al) was seen previously in The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek (1943). He had interesting key roles in The Great McGinty (1940) and The Big Sleep (1946).
Nolan Leary (station master) was seen previously in Fitzwilly (1967). He had roles in White Heat (1949) and High Noon (1952), was one of the rotating judges in Perry Mason (1957-63), and also played a judge on Lassie (1957-63).
Gordon Gebert (Willie Matthews, one of the children in the Nativity scene) made his screen debut in this film and was next seen as Timmy in Holiday Affair (1949).
Marion Martin (Rossi’s manicurist) is probably most familiar as the platinum blonde Evangeline in His Girl Friday (1940), but her other roles include Boom Town (1940), Tales of Manhattan (1942), The Big Street (1942), Lady of Burlesque (1943) and Angel on My Shoulder (1946).
Nolan Leary appeared with Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949).
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
We were surprised how much we enjoyed this movie. There were some brief interesting scenes in Manhattan, and some wild jeep driving by the nuns, but I think it is ultimately the large number of surprising appearances by character actors that endeared the movie to us.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
The film is not currently scheduled on Turner Classic Movies, but it often appears in December.