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The Nun's Story (1959)

Not Rated | | Drama | 18 July 1959 (USA)
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After leaving a wealthy Belgian family to become a nun, Sister Luke struggles with her devotion to her vows during crisis, disappointment, and World War II.

Director:

Fred Zinnemann

Writers:

Robert Anderson (screenplay), Kathryn Hulme (book) (as Kathryn C. Hulme)
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Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 11 wins & 15 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Audrey Hepburn ... Sister Luke (Gabrielle van der Mal)
Peter Finch ... Dr. Fortunati
Edith Evans ... Rev. Mother Emmanuel (Belgium) (as Dame Edith Evans)
Peggy Ashcroft ... Mother Mathilde (Africa) (as Dame Peggy Ashcroft)
Dean Jagger ... Dr. Van Der Mal
Mildred Dunnock ... Sister Margharita (Mistress of Postulants)
Beatrice Straight ... Mother Christophe (Sanatorium)
Patricia Collinge ... Sister William (convent teacher)
Rosalie Crutchley ... Sister Eleanor
Ruth White ... Mother Marcella (School of Medicine)
Barbara O'Neil ... Mother Didyma (War-time Hospital)
Margaret Phillips ... Sister Pauline (medical student)
Patricia Bosworth Patricia Bosworth ... Simone (postulant who changed her mind)
Colleen Dewhurst ... Archangel Gabriel (Sanatorium)
Stephen Murray ... Chaplain (Father Andre)
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Storyline

In 1930, in Belgium, Gabrielle van der Mal is the stubborn daughter of the prominent surgeon Dr. Hubert van der Mal that decides to leave her the upper-class family to enter to a convent, expecting to work as nun in Congo with tropical diseases. She says good-bye to her sisters Louise and Marie; to her brother Pierre; and to her beloved father, and subjects herself to the stringent rules of the retrograde institution, including interior silent and excessive humbleness and humiliation. After a long period working in a mental institution, Gaby is finally assigned to go to Congo, where she works with the Atheist and cynical, but brilliant, Dr. Fortunati. Sister Luke proves to be very efficient nurse and assistant, and Dr. Fortunati miraculous heals her tuberculosis. Years later, she is ordered to return to Belgium and when her motherland is invaded by the Germans, she learns that her beloved father was murdered by the enemy while he was helping wounded members of the resistance. Sister ... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Story of the Girl Who Could No Longer Be a Nun! See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

18 July 1959 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Historia de una monja See more »

Filming Locations:

Belgium See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$3,500,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$12,800,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

During a 2017 NPR interview, actress Patricia Bosworth (Simone) told interviewer Scott Simon that on the same day that she had been cast in The Nun's Story, she also learned she was pregnant. Because she knew that she could not play a nun while pregnant (and because she didn't want a child at that time), she had an abortion (a procedure that was still illegal in the United States) right before flying to Rome for the preproduction preparation and filming. On the flight, Bosworth started to hemorrhage. The movie's director, Fred Zinnemann, had arranged for some cast members to meet with real nuns in various Italian convents, and Bosworth happened to be sent to a hospital convent--where the sister who Bosworth was assigned to immediately recognized that she was unwell. Bosworth was hesitant to admit her condition to the nun, but "I got back to the hotel, and I was just bleeding so badly all over the rug. It was just horrific. And I called [the nun] and I told her I had had an abortion and I thought I was dying, and she rushed me back to the hospital. And I got to the operating room and the doctor sewed me up. And he was very angry at me. He said, 'I've - you know, I've been working with actresses for too many years, sewing them up, and you're a fool and why didn't you take precautions and...' you know, really chewed me out. So I went back to my hospital room, and I never told Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers didn't know. The hospital didn't tell them. The nuns didn't--the nurses didn't tell them what had happened. They said I had a stomach ailment. The picture was delayed. So everything was fine, and I recovered and went on with the movie. But, of course, that--it was a traumatic, traumatic experience, and I had really almost lost my life." See more »

Goofs

In the scene where they are making their vows, the priest blesses each one in Latin. The formula should be "et Spiritus Sancti" and not "et Spiritus Sanctus." See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Narrator: "He that shall lose his life for me shall find it. If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come follow me." Each sister shall understand that on entering the convent, she has made the sacrifice of her life to God.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Waiting for God: Another Christmas at Bayview (1993) See more »

Soundtracks

Voi Che Sapete
from "The Marriage of Figaro"
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as W. A. Mozart)
Played by Gabi and her father on the piano, and recurring throughout the film's score.
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
the art of subtlety
17 April 2006 | by Buddy-51See all my reviews

Perched high atop the list of the finest American movies of the 1950's, Fred Zinnemann's "The Nun's Story" is an intensely beautiful and powerful film about a woman who undergoes a crisis of faith and, through her struggle, learns the importance of finding one's true path in life. Based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme, the film tells the story of Gabrielle van der Mal, a Belgian woman who enters the convent in the 1930's, spends a brief period working as a nurse in the Congo, then leaves the order after years of intense personal struggle with herself and with God. Among American films of its time, "The Nun's Story" stands virtually alone in its ability and willingness to dramatize a conflict taking place in the deepest recesses of a character's mind and soul.

Audrey Hepburn - sans makeup and the kind of fashion-plate wardrobe that had already become the hallmark of her movie career - delivers one of her richest performances as the strong-willed and fiercely independent Sister Luke, whose very psyche is torn asunder by the battle between her own innate, personal pride and a sincere desire to live a life of obedience to the Church and its rules. With everything but her countenance hidden beneath a nun's habit, Ms. Hepburn is forced to draw on her resources as an actress, having to convey the titanic internal conflict taking place within her character almost entirely through facial expressions, vocal intonations and body language. And she proves herself more than equal to the challenge. She is brilliantly complemented by Peter Finch, playing the cynical but humane Dr. Fortunati, a dedicated surgeon who is as concerned about Sister Luke's spiritual health as her physical health. The relationship between the two is handled with a great deal of subtlety and tact, never allowing the obvious romantic attraction between the two attractive people to come too much to the fore. Rounding out the excellent cast are Dean Jagger as Gabrielle's loving and concerned father, Peggy Ashcroft and Mildred Dunnock as two older nuns who help guide Sister Luke along the way, and the incomparable Edith Evans, simply astounding as the Reverend Mother who sees unwavering devotion to God and the Church as the one and only goal of a serious nun.

Among other things, "The Nun's Story" is that rare film dealing with religion and spirituality that doesn't contain a single hokey or sentimental moment, that knows the difference between religion and religiosity, that is respectful without being unduly reverential, and that acknowledges the complexity of the human heart in matters of devotion and faith. It also is not afraid to take its time to set the scene and tell its story, never feeling the need to rush headlong into the next dramatic moment just to keep the movie going. In a perfect blending of form and content, the film is every bit as thoughtful, subtle and contemplative as its subject matter, its mood greatly enhanced by the rich and beautiful Franz Waxman score that underlines the seriousness of the work.

In addition to all its other fine virtues, "The Nun's Story" features one of the greatest final scenes and closing shots in motion picture history, a masterpiece of precision and understatement that demonstrates the kind of taste Zinnemman always displayed as a director. The movie is made up of small, beautifully observed moments that, when put together, provide a powerful glimpse into the heart and life of a fascinating, caring individual who wants to do great things in the world but who realizes that the path she has chosen is not the one that will ultimately lead her to her rightful destiny.

On every level of film-making, this is truly one of the greats.


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