The Trouble With Angels

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Don’t forget that the Key West NOW Film Festival continues through the month of March, a film screening at the Tropic every Wednesday. Today is that of the 1966 Hayley Mills classic, “The Trouble with Angels.”

“There’s something for everyone, men and women alike, in this interesting collection of films,” says Andrea Henley Heyn, coordinator of the Film Festival. “Action-packed docu-drama, cult classics, New Wave pioneers, even light-hearted comedy in a convent. A real feast of great films by women!”

You don’t have to be of the faith to enjoy this light-hearted comedy set in a Catholic girls school. “The Trouble with Angels” was based on the 1962 book “Life with Mother Superior” by Jane Trahey, about her own high school years at a Catholic school near Chicago, Illinois.

The movie follows a pair of teen troublemakers – Mary Clancy (Hayley Mills) and Rachael Devery (June Harding) through their high school years at St. Francis Academy. “The only difference between this place and a girls’ reformatory is the tuition,” grouses Mary.

Both were sent there to be straightened out.

At school, the girls commit many infractions: smoking, entering the sisters’ living quarters, and skipping swimming instruction.

Promoted as a comedy, the funny episodes occur early in the film; thereafter, life gets serious. The girls visit a home for the aged, learn how one sister was abused by the Nazis, and how another plans to teach in a leper colony. Then one of the sisters passes away as the film evolves into a serious portrayal of life in a boarding school.

While the story mainly follows the episodic relationship of Mary and Rachel, many viewers turn their focus to the dynamics between Mary and the Mother Superior – essentially, a battle of wills. “As mirror images, Reverend Mother and Mary … have a common bond: pride,” writes Cinema Faith.

The nun’s habit had a transforming effect on Rosalind Russell, who seemed born for the role of the Mother Superior. “Russell was a devout Catholic who took pains, while photographed in her habit, to never have a cigarette or cocktail in hand,” noted Cinema Faith.

This was one of Russell’s defining roles.

Another big name was Hayley Mills, daughter of Sir John Mills and May Haley Bell and younger sister of actress Juliet Mills. Hayley began her acting career as a child, quickly attaching herself to Disney. Older viewers will recall her memorable turns in “Pollyanna,” “The Parent Trap,” and “That Darn Cat.” Here she gives a solid performance, quite a feat when facing off with a consummate pro like Rosalind Russell.

Co-star June Harding delivered a convincing performance as Mary’s rather naïve and impressionable understudy – although she was nine years older than Hayley Mills. Harding enjoyed a steady career in ‘60s TV with such gigs as “The Richard Boone Show” and “As the World Turns.”

The NOW Film Festival is focusing on strong women directors. “The Trouble with Angels” was directed by Ida Lupino. You may remember her more as a noir actress of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Her films ranged from “They Drive by Night” to “High Sierra” to “The Hard Way.”

Throughout Lupino’s 48-year career, she appeared in 59 films and directed eight.

“I did not set out to be a director,” Ida Lapino recalled. She took over the helm on a film called “Not Wanted” when the scheduled director experienced heart trouble.

In the late ‘40s she formed her own production company, The Filmmakers. It was an extraordinary accomplishment for the time, its projects centering on women and their struggles with society over topics like pregnancy out of wedlock, the repercussions of rape and bigamy.

“Her short yet immensely influential directorial career, tackling themes of women trapped by social conventions, usually under melodramatic or noir coverings, is a pioneering example of proto-feminist filmmaking,” observes cinema authority Philip Kemp.

“We hope to hear lively discussion as people come out of the Tropic,” says NOW’s Andrea Henley Heyn, “because we want to show films that highlight interesting topics, interesting points of view, not your usual Hollywood fare… well, sometimes it might be your great Hollywood fare, but by women like Ida Lupino.”

Movie Footnote: If you enjoy this one, you may want to find the sequel, “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.” No Hayley Mills, but Rosalind Russell returns as the Mother Superior.

Too bad Ida Lupino didn’t direct this so-so sequel.

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