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Back in the days before VCR's I set my alarm clock to 3:00 Am to watch
this film. If you were a film buff back then you had no choice, the TV
told you when to watch something. I was a big Clark Gable fan and this
was a pretty obscure film that I was keen on seeing.
My grandmother wandered in and sat down with me to watch. She not only knew the film immediately but remembered every moment in the film like she had just seen it. She remembered what she wore and what she had for lunch that day in 1934. This movie was like a time machine for her. She cried at the end like a little girl.
I lost my grandmother not long after that and this memory has stayed with me for 30 years.
I haven't seen the film since but I remember it being a very old fashioned melodrama. It will never get to DVD I suppose.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The screenwriter for "The White Sister," Donald Ogden Stewart, has an
uncredited bit playing the hind end of a horse; that pretty well sums
up this picture. It's an insipid, implausible, and uncompelling film
that wastes a lot of prime MGM talent.
***SPOILER ALERT*** The story concerns the ill-fated love between a sheltered, aristocratic Italian girl, Angela Chiaromonte, and a dashing soldier, Giovanni Severi. He pursues her despite the strenuous objections of her father and thwarts her marriage to a wealthy bankeran alliance that apparently was meant to save the girl's family from financial ruin. Their romance leads indirectly to the death of Angela's father in a car crash. The affair goes downhill from there. Throughout the film, Angela and Giovanni keep getting together only to be torn apartfirst by her father, then by the war, and then by God himself. Their rotten luck and bad timing are almost comical. Sent off to battle, Giovanni implausibly survives a horrific plane crash, then makes a daring escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp, only to find that Angela, believing him dead, has become a nun. At this point, there's nothing left for him to do but die an anticlimactic death with his white-habited fiancée at his bedside.
The two leads, Helen Hayes (Angela) and Clark Gable (Giovanni), give it their best, but they can't overcome being both miscast and mismatched. Coming into his own just as films learned to talk, Gable exemplified the "new" American male: confident, brash, and openly sexual. The old-fashioned pieties of this movie fit him like a straight jacket. Hayes is more plausible in the role of the spirited/spiritual young girl. While you can see how she'd be carried away by Gable's charisma and animal magnetism, it's hard to understand why he'd be so attracted to this mousy little innocent. The whole enterprise might just have worked with someone like Leslie Howard as Giovanni; his restrained classical style would have been better suited to this dated material.
Other welcome and familiar faces include Edward Arnold as a sympathetic priest (like Gable, though, he's seen to better advantage in earthy or roguish parts); Louise Closser Hale as Angela's duenna/companion, and May Robson as the Mother Superior. Uncredited but recognizable are Gino Corrado as a chauffeur, Nat Pendleton as Giovanni's soldier buddy, and Greta Meyer as the Italian-German woman who nurses Giovanni back to health after his plane crash.
A minor quibble, but I found it hugely annoyingnone of the characters can agree on how to pronounce "Giovanni." Hayes, as Angela, seems to say it differently (and wrong) every time, which is odd considering her character is supposed to be madly in love with him.
Worth watching mainly as an opportunity to catch Helen Hayes in one of her infrequent film roles (her reputation was primarily as a stage actress) and for Gable's characteristically charming performance (not to mention beefcake appeal!) in an uncharacteristic role.
Over the top melodrama isn't a bad antique but it is an antique.
Overwrought emotions dominate from almost the first frame and only become more hard to swallow as the picture unspools.
Part of the problem lies with Helen Hayes. Perhaps it's partially my own perception having become familiar with her when she had moved into her highly entertaining old lady phase but she seems too old for her part or her pairing with Clark Gable. It doesn't help that she was never completely comfortable on the screen in her youth relying on stage techniques that don't translate well to the movie screen. Her method and Gable's do not mesh and while she's playing to the back row he is his usual low key self, they share little chemistry.
The film has its moments and a decent supporting cast but the lack of rapport between the two leads in what is basically a story of great unrequited love makes this a struggle to get through at times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Throwing Clark Gable against God isn't exactly the best plot, but the
movie is watchable. Giovanni (Gable) falls in love with Angela, a
prince's daughter, after running into her at a festival. Complications
arise for the two of them, including (spoilers ahead) Angela's fiancé
Ernesto, her father's death, Giovanni's recruitment into war, and her
eventual commitment to God.
The first half of the film is pretty interesting as Gable wooing Helen Hayes is entertaining for the most part. Afterward, Hayes's indecisiveness about her way of life drags on a bit. In the beginning of the movie, she wishes to adventure out into the world and celebrate, then it takes her some time to realize she loves Giovanni, but a possible life with him is eventually put to an end as she becomes a nun.
A movie worth catching on television on a rainy day.
This is my all-time favorite film. A lovely romantic love story with Helen Hayes & Clark Gable. It is not on video so, your only chance to see it is if you get TCM (Turner Classic Movies). They sometimes air it. If it is on...be sure to catch it!
One of the reviews on this site talks about the good old days when, if
you wanted to see a film, you had to set your alarm for 3 a.m., or stay
up past 11 p.m. in order to see it. And most of the time, five minutes
into it, you fell asleep.
"White Sister" is a remake of a film starring Lillian Gish and Ronald Coleman. Studios often did this, making one an A-film, and remaking it as a B-film. I am thinking this was a B film since I don't think Clark Gable had quite made it big yet; he was still being "groomed." Helen Hayes, of course, was from the stage, and while she made some films, she never became a superstar.
Hayes plays Angela, the daughter of a Prince (Lewis Stone). She is betrothed to a banker, Ernesto Traversi. He's boring; Angela has a lot of verve and is interested in fun, as young people are.
She meets Lt. Giovanni Severi (Gable) at a carnival, and they fall in love. When she tells her father, he is furious. Angela rushes to Giovanni's barracks, but he isn't there; she is sent to the Officer's Club. Meanwhile, her father had the same idea and is en route to the barracks when the cars crash, and her father is killed. Angela is injured.
She feels terribly guilty and, at any rate, she can't marry him while she is in mourning. He goes into battle, and it seems that he has been killed.
Devastated, Angela enters a convent and takes her vows as a nun.
Some time passes, and it turns out that Giovanni escaped from a prison camp and is being cared for on a farm. With his captors on his trail, he takes off and eventually gets home and goes looking for Angela.
This is a well-acted story, schlocky by today's standards, but still moving. I think it's because of the sincerity of the performances. Helen Hayes as a young woman was pretty. I notice she was never photographed full face, perhaps because her eyes were so far apart. I'm just guessing.
One would think that by today's standards, the acting would be melodramatic and seem over the top, but it doesn't. Hayes was a great actress - today there is a theater, a hospital, and an award named for her. She gives a lovely performance, soft and fragile.
Clark Gable here is young and handsome and does a solid job. He isn't smooth like Ronald Colman; he has a toughness and a ruggedness that would serve him well over his career.
I really enjoyed the movie. It has a sweetness about it not found in today's films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's odd that some of Gable's movies of the time directly dealt with
religion: in " the laughing sinners "-check the title- he played a
salvation army officer;in "Polly of the circus" ,he portrayed a
minister.And though in "the white sister " he is cast as a dashing
young officer ,the whole movie is steeped in religion,to be precise
,the catholic rites.The heroine is very anxious to go to
confession;when she thinks her only love is dead ,the only way out is
to take her wows :the scenes which take place in the convent are the
most interesting in the whole movie,depicting in lavish details how a
woman becomes a nun ,how a girl "marries " Christ.For that matter ,Fred
Zinneman's "a nun's story" starring Audrey Hepburn is also absorbing.
Helen Hayes is the stand out and she's touching even if the role may seem old fashioned today.She was also the delightful old lady -an unlikely stowaway-in "Airport" (1970)(an Oscar-winning performance)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I admire the stars of this film, and they give great performances, as
expected. The acting strikes all the right emotional chords, but
unfortunately the material is weak - one of those Doomed Romances where
the plot contrives to keep the lovers apart through one calamity after
another, and some stupid, unnecessary sacrifices made by the Heroine.
She believes he's been killed in the war and becomes a nun. He escapes from prison camp *just* too late to stop her from taking her final vows. Oh, fate is Cru-el! Of course you're supposed to enjoy the soapy drama without questioning it, and have a good cry, but I just roll my eyes and berate the characters on the screen.
She could've waited a bit before taking such a radical step - after all, he was only missing & presumed dead. I wouldn't be giving up on *my* True Love so soon. And after the poor guy struggles repeatedly to get back to her, how is he rewarded for being so brave, clever and loyal? He finds out she wasn't loyal to *him*, and she isn't brave enough to be with him no matter what. (I choose to interpret the "White" in this film's title as "Cowardly", thankyouverymuch).
Oh, she can't renounce her vows (even though technically she *can*). It's Too Late. She's married to Jesus now. Even though she admits she still loves Gable and wouldn't have gone through with it if she'd found out he survived. Which means her vows are a mockery anyway and she pretty much lied during the ceremony. Isn't it compelling to watch someone struggle to suppress their real feelings for the sake of a promise made because it gave her "comfort", even when the reason & need for said comfort has been removed? No, it's just infuriating.
The ending really piles on the soapsuds, as the Hero finally accepts her decision, and they have their upteenth Moving Goodbye Scene ...How many times do we have to watch these two say Goodbye Forever?! 1. when her father disapproves of him & she tries to honour her engagement to another man - 2. when she feels too guilty to be with Gable now that her father's gone, because dad died while chasing her (!) to stop her from being with Gable, you see! - 3. when Gable goes off to war - 4. when he first visits her at the convent & she sends him away - 5. when he finally stops pursuing her but promises to love her for the rest of his life ... and get ready for one more! A few seconds later the "rest of his life" is cut short (with just enough time to say Goodbye again though!) as he's killed by a bomb during a raid (which wouldn't have happened if she hadn't insisted on going back to the convent, under his escort).
Sheesh. Jesus really hates this guy for moving in on His woman, eh? Gable promises to wait for her in the afterlife, but I have a feeling the Eternal Love Triangle will never be resolved. God, the big bully, will keep tripping Gable up with banana peels in Heaven. Or maybe He'll just remove the competition and send the guy to Hell. Fate is Cru-el that way.
"The White Sister" started off promisingly, with some cute and amusing courting scenes between the would-be lovers. Too bad the film descended into contrived melodrama that only a masochist (or a repressed nun, but now I'm being redundant) could enjoy.
Uggh! Apart from the wonderful acting of Helen Hayes and Clark Gable,
this is a very silly and forgettable romance. Clark plays a young
soldier than falls for a princess. They know that their love is doomed
due to the difference in their social status, but despite everything
their love seems unavoidable. Later, when she thinks Gable dies, she
drops everything to become a,....NUN!!! Then, when Gable returns it is
too late,...she's married to God and cannot renounce her vows (though
exactly WHY I couldn't figure out). If you haven't guessed, the plot
just seems really hokey and silly. And, unfortunately, it is just that
and nothing more. I only recommend it for fans of Hollywood's Golden
Age and Clark Gable. All others, I'm afraid, will see it and be turned
off older movies and that would be a shame.
By the way, this is a remake of a silent film which starred Lillian Gish and Ronald Coleman. In many ways, the film was better than this 1933 remake and the old fashioned plot seems more suited for a silent.
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