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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Pledge of the Legion of Decency

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those which glorify crime or criminals. I promise to do all that I can to strengthen public opinion against the production of indecent and immoral films, and to unite with all who protest against them. I acknowledge my obligation to form a right conscience about pictures that are dangerous to my moral life. I pledge myself to remain away from them. I promise, further, to stay away altogether from places of amusement which show them as a matter of policy.

And any movie that has cute, inept or lazy nuns.

I added that last part.

I don't watch many movies. Once in a while I get roped into something, but I never seek out a film on my own. I still miss the Legion of Decency, which slowly faded into oblivion. I suppose if it were around today, people would laugh in the face of the Legion of Decency. Sadly, when it was around, it always seemed to me that a thumbs down from the Legion guaranteed a hit, because of the curiosity factor. (It's the same reason I would sometimes like to tell William Donahue to shut up, if I was so rude as to tell people to shut up. Perhaps we will merely request that he pipe down lest he slowly fade into oblivion. Anyhow I fear for his life, as his red-faced hysterics may cause him to have a stroke.)

In the Colosseum a thumbs down actually meant a thumb's up. A thumbs down from the crowd meant the gladiator was to put his sword in the ground. A thumbs up meant ram the sword into the loser. Maybe that's what went wrong with the Legion of Decency.

I've been thinking about this because the last couple of days I referenced two 'nun' movies. Both horrible disappointments. I think all of the nun movies have disappointed me for one of two reasons. Either they are wretched depictions of religious life, like Mary Tyler Moore in "A Change of Habit", or the nuns just aren't up to snuff, like "A Nun's Story" or that inept bunch that has to have a Vegas show girl save them in "Sister Act". Disappointing.

Wait! there is a third reason. I'll come back to that.

In "A Change of Habit" beautiful perky Mary Tyler Moore plays a nun who works in the ghetto.
(I've never seen a movie about a nun who works in a fancy neighborhood full of McMansions and people who send their children to astronaut camp in the summer as some of our parishioners have. They always work in the Congo or the slums or the soup kitchen or something. Good for them. We wouldn't want William Donahue to complain.) Sister Mary works feverishly in the ghetto .....to get the bishop to let the nuns there drop their habits and blend in with the folks. Hence the title of the film. When the bishop reluctantly grants her request she only manages to blend in with handsome Doctor Elvis and his swingin' guitar. They play football. I am absolutely certain that this is a near occasion of sin.

As bad as all of this sounds the worst part is actually the end of the film in which Sister Mary Tyler Moore must choose between the convent and Elvis. She does this during Mass!!!! as her eyes furtively shift from Jesus to Elvis and back..shifty shifting forth and back and forth. I hope the Jesus statue is one of those kind that looks at you wherever you go. Her choice is left in question.

But let's face it, she loves her eye makeup and capri pants too much for us to hope she skipped a chance at marrying a doctor. A swingin' guitar doctor who plays football and works in the ghetto.

At least Audrey Hepburn gave it the old college try in "A Nun's Story". The valiant nuns she works with in the Congo are kind brave souls. I can't remember why Audrey quits exactly, except that she can't get her brain around obedience. Ever. Compared to her cohorts in the Congo she is just too waif-like and lazy. So long Sister Audrey!

I'll never get over that crowd of Goofenheimers in "Sister Act". If you ever find out I've been rescued from my stupidity by a Vegas show girl, please remind me to follow Sister Audrey out the door. I'll put on big giant fake eyelashes and my capri pants when I go.

And then there is "Sister Act II". Are there a whole new crowd of Goofenheimers? Or did the first crowd fall apart after they had no pretend nun to show them the way?

Which brings me to reason three. Once again, the 'cuteness' factor. Spare me.

I did love Deborah Kerr in "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison".

34 comments:

Faith said...

Sister, I am so happy I found your blog. I feel exactly, EXACTLY!, the same way about Mr. Donahue!

And I also loved Deborah Kerr in Heaven Help Us, Mr. Allison.

Sister Mary Martha said...

Welcome to the convent, Faith!

Christine Ann said...

Have you seen "The Bells of St. Mary's"? I thought Ingrid Bergman made a pretty good nun.

christine ann said...

...although I suppose that wasn't strictly a "nun movie".

Sister Mary Martha said...

In "The Bells of St. Mary" Bing Crosby has the weird passive aggressive attack where he won't tell Ingrid she's really sick, so she just thinks she's a terrible nun and is overjoyed to find out she's sick and not a terrible nun. That's the whole plot, as I recall.

christine seitz said...

Wasn't the main plot that they were trying to save the school? I suppose it's been a while since I've seen it.

off the farm said...

What was the movie with Haley Mills? The Trouble with Angels?

Anonymous said...

What about "Song of Bernadette"? And now there is "The Passion of Bernadette" and the "Bernadette" movie that goes with it. And there is the St. Therese movie which is a bit sacharrin but I love the death scene. It is so beautiful and realistic based on biographical writings.

On the lighter side, "Come to the Stable" is pretty funny but that brings in the "cuteness factor". I guess that eliminates that one!

Anonymous said...

"Sister" would do well to go the the website of the US Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org) and click on "movies."

Jane said...

I really like "The Trouble With Angels." I think it's a decent portrayal of nuns, especially Rosalind Russel as Mother Superior. The girls are very silly, but teenage girls can be very silly like that, but the nuns are sensible, act like grown women, and are not mean, saccharine, or weak.
The sequel, "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows," is not as good.

I also like "Green Dolphin Street" although that isn't as much about the girl who becomes a nun as her sister who goes to New Zealand and gets married.

Sharon said...

It is so easy for armchair critics to criticise William Donohue. Who else is standing up for the Catholic Faith as publicly as he is? If Bill was one of many vocal supporters of the Faith we could criticise his methods but how many of us are willing to step up to the barricades to support the Catholic Church day in and day out?

Most of us just accept the blatent anti-Catholicism or our world because we are too scared to challenge the status quo.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Sister Darling, how well I remember the dear old Legion of Decency. In 1938, they declared it a sin for any person not only to see any of my movies, but to even speak to me in the street. They said I was "Too slutty even for Satan." My box office skyrocketed. No film that I did that they condemned, ever lost money. We used to put sacrilegious stuff in especially, just to be sure we would offend the Legion of Decency, so we could get condemned and be a hit. They did more to encourage dirty and/or violent movies by condemning them than anyone else. God Bless them for the wonderful work they did so counter-productively.

Now as to "Change of Habit," the most inspirational movie I have ever had to sit through because that damned Barbara McNair happened to drop by my home while it was on TV; I'm afraid Mary's choice (What a much better title: "Mary's Choice", like an upbeat version of "Sophie's Choice"!) was clearly stated in the movie's title, "CHANGE of Habit." If she had stayed with Jesus, she wouldn't have had to change her habit, now would she? So the title TELLS us that she made the right choice, and went with Elvis.

Actually, when you remember that Ed Asner played a cop in "Change of Habit," an argument could be made that she took neither Elvis nor Jesus, but ended up with Ed, co-producing TV news in Minnesota, obviously her penance. What a grisly punishment. Losing Elvis for Ed Asner ought to have been punishment enough.

In my own movie with Elvis, "Wet, Wild, and Willing", Elvis ended up with Stella Stevens. I was playing the mother of Deborah Wally; not my finest hour. And frankly, I never understood a single word that drunken hillbilly ever sang. What a mushmouth.

Of course, I played a nun myself once, in what one critic called "The biggest miscasting in history", in the inexplicably beloved tunester "It Sounds Like Music," a sugary blend of singing nuns (Headed by me, as the Mother Extremely Superior), adorable children, inept Nazis, and mawkish sentimentality. I researched my role as a celibate by going for a full 12 hours without sex. It nearly killed me, but I was always willing to make any sacrifice (Except for sex, booze and money) for my art. The results speak for themselves on the screen. My portrayal of a devout, pious, virtuous, virginal singing Catholic Mother Superior was praised by Prtestants the world over. Pauline Kael wrote of my performance, "By the end of this endless horror, I was actually rooting FOR the Nazis!" You must admit, it took a powerful performance from me to achieve that.

Our movie has killed diabetics on three continents. I've never been drunk enough to sit through the whole thing. How does it end? DOES it end?

Playing a celibate had one surprise benefit for me: I met my eighth or ninth or tenth (It's hard to keep track) husband, Al Bronze, making that movie. Something about seeing me in that habit just turned him the hell on, and we were wed soon after.

But my all-time favorite nun movie, which I still think is the best, and least cutesy, representation of nuns in movie history, is Ken Russell's great film "The Devils," with Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed. Audrey Hepburn and Mary Tyler Moore just fade into the background next to Vanessa's repressed hunchbacked nun, rolling nude on the ground, foaming at the mouth in fake demonic possession. That's Inspirtainment!

monica said...

The nun movie we like here is 'Lilies of the Field' with Sidney Poitier. The Mother Superior was a pretty crabby old nun but then, she was also german!

Kelly said...

I don't remember how the movie went, exactly, but in the book, the Audry Hepburn character left because she couldn't forgive the Germans and give the equal nursing care. Her brother had enlisted and gotten killed during the war. She was fine in the jungle, when she could focus on pagans away from politics, but when she was stuck back home in Europe during the war, she couldn't forgive her neighbor.

Andy Mathis said...

Hi Sister Mary Martha,
You've been tagged! I am playing blog tag this afternoon, and had to choose 7.

I know you are busy, but if you want to participate, the rules are posted at the top of my blog.
http://andymathis.blogspot.com

Andy

Catholic Mom said...

What a fun diversion, thinking about nun movies. I've posted a few of my favorites on my blog. Stop by and take a look!

sr. mary alternative said...

definitely not cute nun in black narcissus (sp?).

Coffee Wife said...

Hello! Please excuse this totally off-topic comment! I need your help. Over the past couple of weeks I've been blogging about some serious issues and slowly but surely I've become locked out of my own blog. Now I cannot get logged on - even when I log in to post comments on someone else's blog. So I'm posting this comment on the blogs I haunt in the hopes that some of you can help by praying for me. There's no explanation and no one can fix the problem so I'm asking for prayers!! Please feel free to post prayers at my blog in the comments so that maybe the word will get out - since I can't post I can't ask for help on my own blog! (And I can't spend all day going from blog to blog asking for help - I live on a busy farm haha!)

Thanks so much for your help and please forgive me for coming here and begging for help when you are busy blogging about your own stuff. God bless! -Michelle Therese
www.thewalledgarden.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

"Dead Man Walking," about Sister Jean Prejean is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Sister this is totally off topic, but I can't help but say thank you.

I stumbled upon your blog completely by accident, but read an entry anyway and was completely drawn in.

I was raised in the Church, but after many years of feeling spiritually unfed and searching for a parish where I DID feel spiritually fed, I left. I did alot of serious praying and soul searching but was finally led to a place where I truly felt my spirit being nourished... But I'm babbling.

Your blogs bring back the days of talking with the nuns that taught at my school... The days of laughing and kidding around with Sister Ann... The days of visiting the public chapel of a cloistered order, a place where I have felt peace and the presence of God like no other place I've ever been...

Thank you Sister. Thank you for keeping your blog, thank you for bringing back those precious memories... Just thank you.

Blessings...

Etrangère said...

Ingrid Bergman teaches a little boy self defense for the playground. And tells the poor daughter of a hooker that you're not supposed to say "I want to be a nun" while sobbing.

Sister Helen in dead man walking was cool. Apparently she traded the capris for sensible skirts in order to visit the violent male prisoners and incite less lust. She's not particularly cute or lazy or inept (though not overly strong on the obedience either)

There are some very entertaining and enlightening film reviews on http://www.decentfilms.com/

Etrangère said...

Also: This House of Brede was very good, seemingly addressing real issues and constraints of life in a cloistered convent without simply shrugging them off at the end as the whims of an oppressive bureaucratic establishment.

Anonymous said...

Sister, what do you know about Cursillo? I am intrigued, but my
Significant Other is concerned that it's a "secret society" & will corrupt me in some way. Any thoughts?

Kasia said...

First, it's Sister Helen Prejean, not Sister Jean Prejean. And I haven't seen the movie, only read the book, so I can't speak to its quality.

However, I think that Faustina is a very good movie. And I loved both The Song of Bernadette and Therese.

With that said, can I just say that my biggest pet peeve about Sister Act is not that a bunch of hapless nuns get drawn more fully into their vocations by a Vegas showgirl (though that is up there), but rather that the people who wrote the movie seem to have picked Carmelite out of a hat as the order they would use? When I think about the scene where the nuns are prattling about how they became nuns because they wanted to help people, I just want to throw something and scream "Then why would you have become a CARMELITE?" There are plenty of orders that are devoted to active service in the world; Carmelites are contemplative, cloistered, and decidedly NOT the order one would join if one wanted to clean up the neighborhood (through any means other than prayer)!

catbishop said...

I love your blog o holy one

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Laura said...

Random tidbit from me.... I LOVE the nun from The Blues Brothers movie. Anybody else??

dan e. said...

I can't believe that in all this talk of nun movies no one mentioned The Singing Nun! Too cutesy for you? For many years Debbie Reynolds wanted to make a sequel, because the story of what Sister Whateverhernamewas did AFTER she left the church was infinitely more interesting than the story of her nunhood.

That's also the film where Debbie met her long time "good friend" Agnes Moorehead. Who seems to have been appropriately named.

Gordon said...

How do you feel about The Sound of Music? :)

Tallulah Morehead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tallulah Morehead said...

"I LOVE the nun from The Blues Brothers movie. Anybody else??"

ME!!! That wonderfully strict old Nun was played by that magnificent comic character actress, the late Kathleen Freeman, who's last Big Role was her Tony-nominated Broadway turn in "The Full Monty". I adored Kathleen, who taught a terrific comedy acting class in Hollywood for many years. She was in movies for over 40 years. Look for her very young as the speech coachess in "Singin' In the Rain".

Kathleen was the greatest, and one of the nicest lifelong lesbians I've ever had the enormous pleasure of meeting. Her sins don't matter. Her films make her immortal.

dan e. said...

Kathleen Freeman was amazing. I saw her in Full Monty less than a month before she died of lung cancer. Here she was singing her heart out on Broadway WITH LUNG CANCER that would kill her less than 30 days later. If that ain't a trooper I don't know what it is!

Winnipeg Catholic said...

The blues brothers none was cool!

Sister, I feel like playing ostrich isn't necessarily what we're called to do. Or at least not all of us. Sure the hermit has a place in aesetic life and the church, but isn't there something to be said for taking on the lurid culture as it is and standing in the midst of it?

Winnipeg Catholic said...

er, pls excuse spelling of nun as none...

Amanda B. Reckondwythe said...

Vanessa Redgrave as a mother superior in The Devils, and the sisters of whom she was in charge, are probably the least sympathetically portrayed nuns in all of moviedom.