It is personally appropriate that The Trouble With Angels should be the perpetual Dissolve Movie of the Week bridesmaid that it is, as it’s possibly the movie I’ve looked at, considered blind buying, and put back most often before finally buying it. The strange thing, though, is that the movie in my head is so amazing that I don’t know why I didn’t buy it sooner. Based on the movie’s cover art, I thought it was a caper film where Hayley Mills and a nun played by Rosalind Russell thwarted criminals, and why wouldn’t you watch that movie? Especially when it’s directed by Ida Lupino? That is not the movie we have, but the movie we have still deserves more attention.
Hayley Mills is indeed in it, as the wild and scathingly brilliant Mary Clancy. On the train to the Catholic girls’ school where she is to attend high school, she meets Rachel Devery (June Harding). Rachel’s more of a follower. She is also not Catholic, but she learned so little in her previous school that it’s been decided that she would benefit from the stricter environment. I don’t think anyone was counting on her falling into Mary’s influence—least of all Mother Superior, who is indeed Rosalind Russell.
The film is really more a series of vignettes than anything—it’s how Mary and Rachel survive their years at St. Francis Academy, and how the nuns survive Mary and Rachel. The girls are clearly not unintelligent, but Mary is so interested in literally everything else, and Rachel is so badly academically behind because of her previous school, that they’re stuck in a perpetual last place academically. And Mary does not seem at all suited for the discipline of the school. And Rachel will do whatever Mary encourages her to.
Because the movie is completely set at the school, it is also almost completely female. The credits separate everyone into three groups—the nuns, the girls, and the Outsiders. And even many of them are women, including a brief but delightful appearance from Gypsy Rose Lee. This is almost exclusively a woman’s world. The cast is mostly women. The director was a woman. And it’s based on a book about a woman’s experiences. It kind of gets under my skin, now, that it doesn’t get brought up more in the pantheon of fun family movies, because it’s deserving of that place and it is so much a woman’s story.
Okay, and it’s awfully Catholic in its roots. But we learn practically nothing of Catholic dogma from it, and several of the jokes are how Rachel is at the school despite knowing herself practically nothing of Catholic dogma. She doesn’t even know, when the movie begins, how to perform the Sign of the Cross, and just sort of flails her hand around her chest. We learn a bit, but not as much as you might think, about why a woman would choose to be a nun, but the rest of the structure of the Catholic church might as well not exist as far as the movie’s concerned. Which is probably for the best for the women concerned anyway.
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