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Conspiracy of Hearts (1960)

Catholic nuns risk their lives to help Jewish children in an Italian internment camp escape to Palestine during World War II.



(story), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mother Katharine
Sister Mitya
Sister Gerta
Major Spoletti
Albert Lieven ...
Colonel Horsten
Peter Arne ...
Lt. Schmidt
Nora Swinburne ...
Sister Tia
Father Desmaines
Megs Jenkins ...
Sister Constance
David Kossoff ...
The Rabbi
Jenny Laird ...
Sister Honoria
Phyllis Neilson-Terry ...
Sister Elisaveta
Rebecca Dignam ...
Joseph Cuby ...


In wartime Italy nuns in a convent regularly smuggle Jewish children out of a nearby internment camp. The Italian army officer in charge suspects what may be going on but deliberately turns a blind eye. When the Germans take over the camp security the nuns' activities become far more dangerous. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

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Plot Keywords:

nun | jewish | children | convent | italy | See All (20) »


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Release Date:

7 April 1960 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Conspiração de corações  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


(archive footage)|

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Betty Box said that Rank did not want her to make the movie saying: "It's religion, it's nuns, it's wartime. Who wants to know?". They eventually allowed her to make it provided she made another installment of the popular "Doctor In The House" series too. See more »


Throughout the scenes in which they appear, most of the nuns are wearing make-up. This would be most unlikely for nuns. See more »


German Soldier: Mother of God: I've killed a nun!
See more »


Featured in Film Profile: Betty Box and Ralph Thomas (1961) See more »


Deserted City
Music by Charles Williams
Chappell Recorded Music Library
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User Reviews

Ralph and Betty try harder
15 February 2008 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Ralph Thomas and Betty Box belong so firmly to the tale of the British cinema's protracted postwar decline, and their output runs so much to cheerful mediocrity and worse, that it would be churlish not to salute this exception.

A film about a mixed European bag of nuns in sunny Italy, sheltering Jewish children from nasty German occupiers, could have easily wound up as sticky or preachy as a Hollywood movie of the week or after-school special "endorsed by the National Education Association". This production does quite a bit better.

To begin with, the couple took the commercially bold decision to shoot in dramatically suitable monochrome (Rank was very into Technicolor) despite the temptation of those gorgeous locations near Florence. Next, Rank's addiction to polyglot casts proves acceptable, since the nunnery and the Cahtholic church are multinational, as is the war situation: the convention of Colonel Albert Lieven talking in Teutonically accented English and others in Italianate English does not distract.

Thirdly, the cast is well chosen. Sylvia Syms, a rising English rose, was the novice. Michael Goodliffe was a familiar officer/vicar type, decent and tense as the nuns' protective priest. Lilli Palmer, that quintessentially cosmopolitan star, is apt (if a little too soigne) as Mother Superior. Ronald Lewis as the Italian major torn between allegiance to the Axis and revulsion at its persecutions, patronised by Lieven and a worm about to turn, is his customary sombre self. (Both Lewis and Goodliffe were suicides).

Fourthly, the mise-en-scene is ideal for moral conflicts: sunny exteriors and open hillsides against the shadowy cloister and catacombs where the hunt for hidden escapees from a concentration camp culminates. Thomas is no Bresson or da Sica, but he makes good use of his lighting cameraman, and in his workmanlike way keeps the tension boiling. The religious angle (with its dilemmas of obedience, confession and incompatible loyalties) is deftly threaded through the chase to raise the tone.

For a 'U'-certificated production there is an unholy amount of screen time leading up to, and about, killings and executions: it's about younger children but not for them.

As always, Box and Thomas are craftsmanlike, most to be praised for the mistakes and ineptitudes they avoid.

This is not "The Sound of Music" sans music. The storyline is not muffled by subplots, the enemy are not caricatured (Lieven convincingly depicts a non-Nazi career officer, forced into exemplary cruelty by his force's isolation amid partisans) and the slither into sentimentality is avoided nearly all the time. This is the price the script willingly pays for not characterising the children much; on the other hand, the issue of whether nuns gladly harboured Jews and made concessions to Judaism under a Christian roof is not shirked.

Adrian Scott, a member of the Hollywood Ten, outlined a plot based on real incidents which was worked up by Marsha Hunt's longtime husband, Robert Presnell Jr. It was unusual for the Pinewood team to work with Americans, who may have helped keep the film's political aspects uppermost-- and, as it were, salted it with some asperity, so that it plays pretty smartly and kitsch-free today.

Barney Balaban of Paramount saw its premiere while in London and paid Rank handsomely for the rights on impulse. The film fared well in an America not yet used to stories of Nazi anti-Jewish actions: the Auschwitz trial and Eichmann's capture would soon make them too familiar. In Britain, "Conspiracy of Hearts" was one of 1960's top grossers alongside Ralph's and Betty's latest "Doctor" film. Sadly, the latter would be much more typical of them thereafter.

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