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Louise Closser Hale
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John Francis Dillon
The play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 27 September 1909 and closed on 6 November 1909 after 48 performances. The opening night cast included William Farnum as Giovanni and Viola Allen in the female lead. Allen played the same role in the 1915 version of the movie. See more »
This version of The White Sister is the third and final one to date that was brought to the big screen. This old fashioned drama with heavy religious overtones is not a likely candidate for a modern remake.
It's that second version that is the most known. Shot in Italy in 1923 it was the breakout picture for Ronald Colman as he starred with Lillian Gish and a cast of Italian players because the film was shot on location in Italy, a very unusual thing for the time.
In the Citadel Film Series book the Films of Ronald Colman, it was mentioned that Colman had a swarthy complexion and that was why this erudite man of the English speaking language was cast in the film. The same could be said for the casting of Clark Gable as the male lead opposite Helen Hayes in this sound version.
The story was updated from the 19th century and the Italian colonial wars in Libya to World War I. Gable is an air ace in the Italian Air Corps and he meets Helen Hayes who is the daughter of the local nobleman Lewis Stone. He's got an arranged marriage with wealthy Alan Edwards who will help this noble, but impoverished family out of debt. But Helen wants Clark after spending a little time with him.
But fates just keep them apart, especially after Lewis Stone is killed in an automobile crash and Gable goes off to World War I. Other than the updating of the time of the story and the elimination of a sister for Hayes, if you've seen the Colman-Gish silent version you know what happens here.
Someone like Tyrone Power who was a few years away from breaking into stardom at another studio would have been far better at handling the mushy romantic dialog. Certainly Ronald Colman might have done well with it even though he was British to the core. Gable is too American for the part though he does his best with it. The female lead is very suitable to Helen Hayes, especially with her Catholic background.
Fans of Clark Gable will still like The White Sister, but it will never be rated among his better films.
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