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During the late 1940s Clare Booth Luce, wife of Henry Luce of the Luce
Publications, noted playwright, Republican Congresswoman had a
celebrated conversion to Catholicism courtesy of Bishop Fulton J.
Sheen. There's nothing like the zeal of the newly converted so this
screenplay was written to show how God does move in mysterious ways for
What's hard to believe is that the same author of The Women actually wrote Come to the Stable. But it's true and Luce is a skilled writer and she fashioned a very easy to take tale of two nuns over from France trying to build a children's hospital in memory of the kids they couldn't save in World War II.
The two nuns are played by Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. There was no doubt that Young would be one of the three leads. Loretta Young, Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell were three of the leading female Catholic lay people in the country at that time. I'm sure all were approached with this film.
Young and Holm were both recent Oscar winners, for The Farmer's Daughter and Gentlemen's Agreement and both were nominated for Best Actress here. Both lost the big sweepstakes to Olivia DeHavilland who was also a recent winner for To Each His Own. Strange are the ways of the Academy voters. Elsa Lanchester was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the religious artist who offers the nuns shelter and lodging during their quest. Lanchester is her usual charming, but off the wall self in her part.
In today's audience some may find all the happy coincidences a bit much. But then again that is precisely the point of the film, that God will help those who help themselves.
One other thing. Some very rough and irreligious people contribute to the sister's endeavor and I think the message there is that on occasion, man can rise above just looking out for himself and think of the human race at large.
"Come to the Stable" is a charmingly entertaining tale of two French nuns
attempting to establish a children's hospital through their faith in God and
their fellow man. This story, set in the post-WWII New England,is not a
Christmas movie per se but it does embody the spirit of the season. Loretta
Young and Celeste Holm are wonderful as the nuns - Loretta as the feisty
Sister Margaret and Celeste as Sister Scholastica with the unshakeable
faith. Elsa Lanchester is yet again exceptional, this time in her role as
the reluctant aide to the nuns. Hugh Marlowe is wonderful as the harried and
This movie is about determination and faith and accomplishing the improbable. Sit back and allow this magnificent cast to entertain you. The experience will be well worth it.
For some reason we bought this movie years ago. Every time I started to watch it I fell asleep before the end. It sat in storage for years and I took it out last week and FINALLY watched it from beginning to end. What a surprise! It's a heartwarming movie. It's definetly a period film, but it's not corny. I think I like the respect that God gets in the storyline. A 10 out of 10, just because!!
Loretta Young and Celeste Holm are two nuns from a French convent on a mission to establish a children's hospital in a rural village much to the consternation of composer Robert Masen (Hugh Marlowe) who would like to see his place in the country stay just like it is. Against all odds the indomitable sisters move Masen and several other unlikely contributors into making the hospital a reality. It's fine family viewing with a warmth an innocence unseen in today's more cynical Christmas pics.
I saw this charming, slickly produced film as a young parochial grammar
school kid at a theater in downtown Boston (near where my family lived
at the time) and remember being tremendously amused at the scene where
the two sisters, played by Loretta and Celeste (saddled with having to
approximate a French accent), blithely tore up a parking ticket, placed
on the windshield of their borrowed open WW II-era Jeep, thinking it
was just an advertisement. Sister Celeste tosses the pieces into the
air as they drive off from in front of New York's St. Patrick Cathedral
where they'd illegally parked. (I doubt that she felt obliged to
confess that little venial sin, do you?) There's a lot more to be
amused and entertained by, of course, and the behind-the-camera
artisans, as well as the well-chosen actors, especially Hugh Marlowe
and Elsa Lanchester as well as Misses Young and Holm, all contributed
some very professional work. Henry Koster, the director, was an old
hand at keeping a project such as this from slipping entirely into a
bath of over-the-top sentimentality.
So much has changed since those somewhat more innocent times and a gentle story such as this, with two ladies encased in those heavy, enveloping habits (with only their perfectly made-up faces visible to the world, by the way), is almost inconceivable today. See it and be transported back to a time when goodness, sincerity, and religious beliefs that don't descend into fanaticism were the order of the day, at least in Hollywood movies aimed at the family trade.
One interesting little tidbit: in one scene Hugh Marlowe's character (a song writer) sings the Academy Award-nominated song, "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" (which didn't win - and you'll hear why), and his singing voice was dubbed by Ken Darby, who was chiefly responsible for directing most of the choral work in many of Twentieth's films for many years. I have a suspicion that Mr. Darby probably rejected quite a few male candidates who wanted to join the Fox studio's choir if they didn't sound any better than he did!
"Come to the Stable" is a beautiful, sentimental movie, in the vein of
"Bells of St. Marys" and "Going My Way." I saw it many years ago before
buying the video and seeing it again. Loretta Young, unquestionably one
the great actresses of all time, is outstanding as a dedicated nun. So is
Celeste Holm. It is easy to see why they were nominated for oscars. The
picture itself received (I believe) six nominations.
The picture has you pulling for these dedicated nuns to accomplish their task. As with movies of this era, of course they do.
It is well worth watching.
"An irresistible force has been let loose in New England" as two nuns travel across what appears to be desolate country by foot, coming upon a stable in the clearing...true, they're in Bethlehem, but it's Bethlehem, New York! The stable is being rented by a dotty artist who specializes in religious paintings, and the sisters have been drawn there by a picture-postcard with the hopes of spearheading development in that area for a children's hospital. Skillful sentiment walks a nimble line between heartfelt religiosity and treacle. The nuns (Loretta Young and Celeste Holm, both Oscar-nominated) lack just two things in their quest--land and money--and the ways in which they acquire these necessities will warm even the grumpiest of viewers (they melt the heart of Thomas Gomez's surly racketeer--luckily for the sisters, he's a Catholic!). No weighty or ponderous agendas here, just simple, old-fashioned entertainment. Beautifully photographed by Oscar-nominated Joseph LaShelle, with a music direction by Lionel Newman that tugs at the tear ducts. *** from ****
COME TO THE STABLE (20th Century-Fox, 1949), directed by Henry Koster,
from the story by Claire Booth Luce, stars Loretta Young in her most
perfect screen role. Not quite the retelling of the three Wise Men
following the star in the Heavens as they locate the Baby Jesus born in
the stable surrounded by Joseph and his Mother Mary, but one about two
nuns from the Order of Holy Endeavor on a mission of faith fulfilling
their promise to God.
With its opening parallel to the three wise men, the film begins with two wise nuns, Sister Margaret (Loretta Young) from Chicago, and Sister Scholastica (Celeste Holm) of France, having arrived in Connecticut by train, walking miles through the snow with the twinkling star up above. Having spent and survived their war years in France helping underprivileged children, their mission now is to build a children's hospital in the town of Bethlehem. Their journey leads them to the barn where they find Miss Amelia Potts (sensitively played by Elsa Lanchester), an artist who specializes in religious pictures, and the Matthews family acting as models for her latest painting, "Come to the Stable." During the course of time, the nuns take up residence with Miss Potts, acquire the friendship and assistance of Anthony (Dooley Wilson), employed and living in the home of Robert Mason (Hugh Marlowe), a young composer, and his great dane called "Arson," on the other side of the hill from Miss Potts. Finding the perfect location to build their hospital, the nuns learn the land owner to be Luigi Rossi (Thomas Gomez), a bookie/ racketeer who conducts his business in midtown New York. Regardless of circumstances, they intend on meeting with him with the hope he would be so kind and donate the land to them, which doesn't seem possible. As much as the Bishop (Basil Ruysdael) and Monsignor Talbot (Regis Toomey) feel the nuns are fighting a lost cause, the Bishop agrees on giving them, along with the other assisting nuns, three months to earn enough money to pay for property and adjoining building for their church, much to the dismay of Mr. Mason who doesn't want the hospital placed "in his own back yard."
Filled with sentimental charm in the style of Leo McCarey's THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S (RKO, 1945) starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, COME TO THE STABLE is great on comedy as well with the sisters getting into the habit of unwittingly annoying Mr. Mason for special favors, and their way of passing through some tough thugs (one of them played by Mike Mazurki) in order to visit with their head boss (Gomez, in excellent portrayal). Aside from Sister Margaret being a driver with a lead foot, the scene worth mentioning is the one where the sisters come to Manhattan in Mr. Mason's borrowed jeep, leaving it in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral to enter the church and light a special candle, only to return to find a parking ticket placed on the windshield. What's done with the ticket comes as an element of surprise, especially from the officer watching at a distance. Scenes such as these are played in a straightforward manner, which performs much funnier for its viewers.
While Loretta Young deservingly earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, Celeste Holm's secondary performance as the French nun who expertly plays a good game of tennis should not go unnoticed. Even though a native born French actress as Annabella could have been more accurate in the role, Holm's French accent is so perfect and convincing one would think she was actually born and raised in France. Hugh Marlowe, a fine actor with a very pleasing voice, is ideally cast as the harassed songwriter who not only finds the nuns to be a little troublesome to him, but more of a bother when he is told that his latest composition, "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" to be an old religious hymn he's unwittingly acquired in his head after listening to nuns chanting during church service nearby. Also in the cast is Dorothy Patrick as Marlowe's girlfriend, Kitty Blane.
Often categorized as a Christmas movie, COME TO THE STABLE actually isn't. Though its opening takes place during or around the Christmas season, the love, care and kindness enriched by others is felt throughout its three month time span in which its set. An inspirational movie with a message of not giving up hope when situations prove impossible. In Sister Margaret's case, her faith in the Lord and prayers to her patron St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases. A delightful film from start to finish, COME TO THE STABLE is worthy viewing not only around Christmas but any time of the year. While Loretta Young never portrayed a nun on screen again, she would enact that particular role in an episode or two on television for her "Loretta Young Show" in the 1950s, but none as memorable as her portrayal as Sister Margaret, who's faith is stronger than herself.
Displayed on video cassette in 1995, cable broadcast history for COME TO THE STABLE consists of American Movie Classics (1990s), Fox Movie Channel and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: February 27, 2012) (****)
Come to the Stable (1949)
*** (out of 4)
Excellent performances and a touching story highlight this comedy/drama about a pair of nuns (Loretta Young, Celeste Holm) who travel from France to New England where they plan on building a children's hospital. Without any type of funds, the nuns try to gather enough money for their dream to come true but they're going to have to depend on some characters who aren't all that thrilled about the hospital. This film was nominated for seven Oscars but it seems to have been forgotten, which is a real shame because this is a pretty touching little gem that works on many levels. What really stands out are the terrific performances with Young and Holm both turning in strong work. There wasn't a single second that I ever looked at their characters and saw actors because the two were so good that you'll have no trouble believing that they are nuns. They're surrounding by some fine actors including Hugh Marlowe as a neighbor who doesn't want to church built. Elsa Lancaster plays an elderly, lonely woman who first takes the nuns in and Thomas Gomez is terrific as a gambler who owns the property where the sisters are wanting to build the hospital. The movie tries walking a fine line between laughs and drama and for the most part it works. I think there are a few bits that push too hard for comedy and you'll see one such scene early one when the "joke" about the nuns driving too fast is played to the extreme. The main reason this movie works is due to its more dramatic and religious moments. The film is never preachy nor does it try to convert people; instead it just makes you feel good. The sequence where the nuns go to the gambler to try and get him to give away the land ends is a very dramatic sequence that I won't ruin but it's incredibly touching. Another terrific scene is when the nuns try to get the local Bishop to buy into their ideas even though it seems impossible that they'll be able to pull them off. Apparently this drama was so successful when first released that a sequel was planned but never produced. It's easy to see why this movie would bring a crowd in but it deserves to be better known today.
I guess this isn't exactly a Christmas movie but rather a general light
religious one, but I've always wound up watching it in December so I
think of it as holiday fare.
I like this movie a lot. More than anything else, this is because of Elsa Lanchester's performance as a jittery artist. Even though it's not a huge part, whenever I think of the movie I think of her.
This movie does a solid job of being religious without being insufferably so (as opposed to twaddle like Song of Bernadette). The movie is light and breezy, trading on the charming site of two nuns steamrolling mobsters and doing whatever it takes to reach their goal.
The movie is light and fun and has a lot of charm to it. It has its issues - that long, slow song you're forced to listen to twice, the fact that there appears to be zero need for the hospital the nuns want to build - but it's so pleasantly amusing that you can't be too bothered by that.
All the same, I'm glad neither young nor Holmes won an Oscar, because they are quite unexceptional. Lanchester might have deserved one, but I haven't seen the winner so who knows?
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