Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) ***

UR, 126 min.
Director: Leo McCarey
Writers: Dudley Nichols, Leo McCarey
Starring: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, Martha Sleeper, Joan Carroll, William Gargan, Rhys Williams, Dickie Tyler

As a movie buff, I often don’t think I’ve seen enough older films. So in an effort to gain more knowledge of the classics, I decided to watch what is often noted as a “holiday classic,” but isn’t exactly a holiday movie or a classic. By that, I mean it isn’t one of Bing Crosby’s best, and it’s far from one of Ingird Bergman’s best. But, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is good and is very appropriate for the holiday season.

I believe the reason it’s often labeled as a holiday movie is because it has a scene in it where the story of Christ’s birth is recounted by some five and six-year-olds. It is the most memorable scene of the film. The kid who narrates the impromptu production of the Christmas Story is quite brilliant in his uniquely un-smooth delivery. The scene is endearing and certainly belongs in the echelon of great Christmas scenes.

The rest of the movie deals with a Catholic School that is in danger of being condemned. Crosby has been newly assigned to the position of managing the school to determine whether it should be salvaged or closed. Bergman is the Sister Superior. Her ridged ways often come into conflict with Crosby’s more laid back approach, but both care deeply for the children and don’t want to see St. Mary’s closed. A real estate developer is chomping at the bit to get at the property so he can replace it with a parking lot for his new office building. Crosby eventually realizes that the man might be convinced to donate the building to the school if he sets Bergman on him.

People will recognize the businessman as the angel Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Henry Travers is really quite a gifted character actor, and although it seems Clarence could never be a hard-edged businessman, he does a convincing job. He’s even more convincing in his change of heart.

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