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The Runner Stumbles (1979)

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, ... See full summary »


Stanley Kramer


Milan Stitt (play), Milan Stitt





Cast overview, first billed only:
Dick Van Dyke ... Father Brian Rivard
Kathleen Quinlan ... Sister Rita
Maureen Stapleton ... Mrs. Shandig
Ray Bolger ... Monsignor Nicholson
Tammy Grimes ... Erna Webber
Beau Bridges ... Toby Felker
Allen Nause ... Prosecutor
John Procaccino ... Amos
Billy Jayne ... James (as Billy J. Jacoby)
Marguerite Morrissey Marguerite Morrissey ... Sister Immaculata (as Sister Marguerite Morrissey)
Zoaunne LeRoy Zoaunne LeRoy ... Sister Martha
Don Riley Don Riley ... Maurice Prindle
Ted D'Arms Ted D'Arms ... Sheriff
Kendall Kay Munsey Kendall Kay Munsey ... Louise Donnelly
Casey Kramer ... Marie


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 <slug@mailo.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A Forbidden Love. Based on a True Story. See more »




PG | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


This movie and its source play were based on an actual court case in Isadore, Michigan during the early 20th century in which a priest was suspected of murdering a nun with whom he'd had an affair. However, in real life the priest had an ironclad alibi and searched frantically for the missing nun for years before she was finally found. He was never charged, and eventually the real murderer confessed. The playwright's wife was from Isadore, Michigan and remembered the story differently. The play was written more about the local legend than what actually happened. See more »


My Rumble Seat Gal
Music by Ernest Gold
Lyrics by Jan K. Gold (as Jeanette Keller)
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User Reviews

Dick Van Dyke's serious role
1 January 2011 | by lee_eisenbergSee all my reviews

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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Release Date:

21 February 1980 (Australia) See more »

Also Known As:

The Runner Stumbles See more »

Filming Locations:

Ellensburg, Washington, USA See more »

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