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Father Rivard is a priest in a small, economically depressed coal mining town. Working on what he thinks is a "controversial" work, he lives with the brutal lives of his poor parishioners, the old, unfriendly nuns in the nearby convent, and his own self doubts. When Rita, an energetic and bright young Sister, arrives at the parish, he finds someone he can talk to, someone with whom he has much in common. This sets into motion a series of events that leads to Sister Rita's death - and the indictment of Father Rivard in that act. Written by
Gary Dickerson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dick Van Dyke is best known as the comedy writer who trips over an ottoman, and Stanley Kramer is best known as the director of movies like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", so a collaboration of the two men could seemingly only be the zaniest comedy. As it turns out, the result is nothing of the sort. "The Runner Stumbles" is a very serious movie. Van Dyke plays a priest charged with murdering a nun (Kathleen Quinlan) with whom he was having an affair.
The movie is apparently based on a true story. While the love affair and subsequent trial are the main focus, the movie also seems to be dealing with - if subtly - discrimination towards Catholics in the United States in the early 20th century. The children who attend school in the church feel as if they live happy lives with the nuns and priest, but the trial allows the townspeople to be as hostile as they want towards the priest (and by extension, Catholics in general). The movie is sort of like Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" in that regard.
So anyway, "The Runner Stumbles" isn't any kind of masterpiece, but still a good look at discrimination, and the collapse of innocence that the church undergoes. A fine end for Stanley Kramer's career, and certainly good roles for Van Dyke and Quinlan. Also starring Maureen Stapleton, Tammy Grimes, Beau Bridges and Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz").
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