"Your eyes are full of hate, 41. That's good. Hate keeps a man alive." (Ben-Hur)

The 31st Academy Awards, for the film year 1959.  The nominations were announced on February 22, 1960 and the awards were held on April 4, 1960.

Best Picture:  Ben-Hur

  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Room at the Top
  • The Nun’s Story

Most Surprising Omission:  Some Like It Hot

Best Film Not Nominated:  Wild Strawberries

Best U.S. Film Not Nominated:  Some Like It Hot

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #59

The Race: The race was over long before it even began.  MGM had their chariot in the race early with the record $15 million they were spending on their new production of Ben-Hur.  Not since 1939, with the juggernaut that was Gone with the Wind, had the race so clearly been over before it even began.  When Ben-Hur did get released in November, it immediately started shattering box office expectations, eventually settling down at third place in the all-time list.

There was a slight bump when the National Board of Review, getting the first awards in as usual, went with a different religious epic, instead giving their Best Picture to The Nun’s Story, with Ben-Hur coming in second, followed by Anatomy of a Murder and The Diary of Anne Frank.  The New York Film Critics gave their Best Director and Best Actress awards to The Nun’s Story as well, but they started Ben-Hur rolling again with their Best Picture award.  The award contenders were beginning to look set after the Golden Globe nominations were announced in early February.  Up for Best Picture and Best Director were Ben-Hur, Anatomy, Nun’s Story, Diary and On the Beach.  Billy Wilder’s smash hit, Some Like It Hot wasn’t up for Best Director at the Globes but would win Best Picture – Comedy (Ben-Hur would win Drama) and later join the big four of Ben-Hur, Anatomy, Nun’s Story and Diary as a Directors Guild nominee.  It looked like the Best Picture nominees were set.

The Results: They were not set.  Billy Wilder was in but the film was out.  Instead, joining Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, The Nun’s Story and The Diary of Anne Frank in the Best Picture category was British film Room at the Top, which so far, had been mostly relegated to Best Actress, getting nominated at the Globes and winning the NBR.  Room was also in the Best Director race, forcing Anatomy to be a likely also-ran for Best Picture.  But the fact was that everyone was an also-ran for Best Picture next to Ben-Hur.  It had become the first film in 5 years to reach 12 nominations and would eventually win 11 of them (everything but Adapted Screenplay), setting a record that still stands today (though it has been tied twice).

Winner of a record 11 Oscars in 1959 - Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur

  • Director:  William Wyler
  • Writer:  Karl Tunberg  (from the novel by Lew Wallace)
  • Producer:  Sam Zimbalist
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Charlon Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Heston), Supporting Actor (Griffith), Editing, Cinematography (Color), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Sound, Art Direction-Set Direction (Color), Special Effects, Costume Design (Color)
  • Oscar Record:  Most Oscars (11)
  • Length:  212 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Epic)
  • Box Office Gross:  $74.00 mil
  • Release Date:  18 November 1959
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #8 (year)  /  #213 (nominees)  /  #52 (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Director, Supporting Actor (Griffith), Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  Stanley Kauffmann, writing for The New Republic, wrote the following in the December 28, 1959 issue: “Ben-Hur cost $15 million, and in my opinion is worth it.  I wish I owned a small piece of it; it is obviously the best business venture since General Motors.”  There is no question that Kauffmann was correct.  Adjusted for inflation, Ben-Hur, as I write this, still sits in 13th place, a good $1.5 million above the box office “champ” Avatar.  It crushed all comers at the box office, then rolled into the Oscars and walked away with 11 awards, after it had already won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, not to mention the Directors Guild Award.

It is one hell of a production.  Of its technical Oscars, the only one I find any fault with is Editing, but even that isn’t a bad choice; there were simply better choices.  Of its major Oscars, the weakest link is Heston, but it has long been considered that the sweep brought him the Oscar (that and his charisma and perhaps his build).  The Academy made the right choice in not giving an Oscar to the script.  It is the weak link in the film, the reason that while I do give it **** and call it a great film, it doesn’t rise to the top.  It is the religious scenes that drag it down.  The film gets so wrapped up in its own insistence on getting the message across (one of the weaknesses of the original novel) that it becomes far too preachy.  It does better when it keeps the focus on Ben-Hur himself.  This is the best performance of Heston’s career, and even if he doesn’t deserve the Oscar (and he doesn’t), he still is a forceful charismatic presence.

Then there is of course, the chariot race.  It is a triumph of film spectacle even if it does go on for too long.  But it is well directed, well paced.  We can keep track of all the action and we are at the edge of our seats.  While Ben-Hur might not make it into the top 50 of the Best Picture winners, it is well crafted entertainment.  Kauffmann correctly noticed that from the start and it still holds true today.

Otto Preminger continued to push the limits of the Code with Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Anatomy of a Murder

  • Director:  Otto Preminger
  • Writer:  Wendell Mayes  (from the novel by John D. Voelker)
  • Producer:  Otto Preminger
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, George C. Scott, Eve Arden, Brooks West, Joseph Welch
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Stewart), Supporting Actor (Scott), Supporting Actor (O’Connell), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  160 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Courtroom)
  • Release Date:  1 July 1959
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5 (year)  /  #174 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Stewart), Supporting Actor (Scott), Supporting Actress (Arden)

The Film:  I remembered this as a very good film with a fine performance by Jimmy Stewart and a great performance by George C. Scott.  Going back to it, what I saw was a top notch courtroom drama, packed with great performances all around, including one of the best of Jimmy Stewart’s career, a first class script and a film that functions well as both entertainment and art, one that managed to stretch the limit of the Production Code (a Preminger specialty) and get away with it.

The basic set-up of the plot is this: Ben Gazarra plays a soldier who has killed a man who supposedly raped his wife.  Lee Remick is the wife, who appears early on wearing sunglasses, only for us to discover a badly bruised eye beneath them.  They get Stewart, a former district attorney who was voted out of office, to defend him and he must go up against the man who took Stewart’s job and Scott, a man sent from the state’s D.A. office to try and make sure the case is handled properly.  It all takes place on the upper Peninsula of Michigan, something I wouldn’t have thought about at the time, but after close to a decade of marriage to a Wisconsin native and hearing all the talk about the “Uppers” and how strange they are, and watching the actions of some of the people in this film, I can only comment again that this is a first class script that gets pretty much every detail right.  It’s got believable characters, smart dialogue (especially from Arden as Stewart’s secretary) and great courtroom detail, down to the very minutia (even to the point of asking Joseph Welch, the very man who lashed out at Joseph McCarthy to play the judge).

One of the strangest omissions among the film’s Oscar nominations was Preminger for Best Director, because his films, like Hitchcock’s, often seem more driven by his direction than by anything else.  Yet, I also did the same thing, nominating it for Best Picture (something which it wasn’t at before I re-watched it – this bumped it back into the top 5) but not Best Director.  This is the product of two things.  First, of all of Preminger’s films, this is the one best served by the acting and the script and his direction is not as forceful as in other of his films.  The other is that this year features amazing direction from Billy Wilder, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, four of the greatest directors to ever work in film.  The fifth spot goes to William Wyler, for while I don’t think Ben-Hur is as complete or great a film as Anatomy, I do think the direction is probably the best thing about it, so Preminger misses out.

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), directed by George Stevens

The Diary of Anne Frank

  • Director:  George Stevens
  • Writer:  Frances Goodrich  /  Albert Hackett (from their play, derived from the book The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank)
  • Producer:  George Stevens
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Ed Wynn
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Wynn), Supporting Actress (Winters), Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Art Direction-Set Direction (Black-and-White), Costume Design (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  171 min
  • Genre:  Drama (True Story)
  • Release Date:  18 March 1959
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #6 (year)  /  #177 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Winters), Sound, Art Direction

The Film:  Of all the films ever made, certainly of the 478 films that have been nominated for Best Picture, this is the film I am least capable of writing about on an objective level.  I am utterly incapable of divorcing myself from my personal feelings about it and simply writing about it as a film.

I read the book in 1988 when I was 14 years old, the same year that I watched Night and Fog, the shattering documentary about the Holocaust made by Alain Resnais (want to know what it’s like to watch Night and Fog at age 14? — well, remember that Francois Truffaut said the following about it: “For a few hours Night and Fog wipes out the memory of all other films.  It absolutely must be seen.  When the lights go on at the end, no one dares applaud.  We stand speechless before such a work, struck dumb by the importance and necessity of these thousand meters of film.”).  I encountered those images of Auschwitz, both the dying workers and the serene desolate abandoned landscape of the Fifties so soon after reading about this lovely young girl.  On 15 July, 1944, Anne Frank wrote the following in her diary: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.  Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”  By the end of the following March, she was dead of typhus.  She had only escaped being gassed at Auschwitz because she had turned 15 a few months before she and her family were captured.  When she died, she was alone, racked with sickness, her mother and sister having already died and having been separated from her father.  The camp was liberated a few weeks later by British troops.  Those poor emaciated souls in Night and Fog?  Anne had been among them at one point.  She had believed in the decency of the human race and the human race had utterly failed her.  Everyone was to blame.  The Germans had killed her.  The Dutch had failed to protect her.  The British and French had failed to stand up early enough to the overwhelming evil of the Nazis.  The Russians had bartered themselves a better deal until they were betrayed.  The Americans had failed to allow people to emigrate to this country to escape what at first was persecution and later was certain death.

So I stopped believing in God.  This was not a crisis of faith, not the kind of thing that politicians like to talk about when they are faced with problems, not the kind of thing that preachers like to rail about from the pulpit.  I had no crisis whatsoever.  I decided, very simply, that if there is a God and that he would allow this amazing girl to die, sick and alone, in the midst of the greatest collective act of evil in human history, that this was not a God I was going to believe in.  It was actually really easy.  I made the choice and I was an atheist.  All the logical arguments, the ideas about how crazy it was to believe that there was some all powerful deity, that some intelligent creature created the world (especially in seven days) and that there was some kind of metaphysical reason to life all came later.  I simply stopped believing and it was reading that one book, specifically that one line, and watching that one film, that did it.  Because Anne believed in that God and that God failed her.

It was only years later when I had come to realize how much Anne Frank had taken hold over parts of my brain.  As I write this, one of the headlines on CNN is about how the tree that Anne used to look at out the window, the “bare chestnut tree on whose branches little raindrops shone” on 23 February 1944 as she sat on the floor with Peter is dying.  They are hoping to give it a sort of eternal life by planting seeds of the tree in various spots around the world, including here in Boston Common.  So, in a sense, that tree will live forever much like Anne lives forever through the people who continue to read her diary.

Will people take Anne with her?  I take Anne with me.  I realized at one point, I believe it was sometime in 1993 when “Life Magazine” did a feature on her including various pictures of her, that I had fallen in love with her across the boundary of decades.  That she had a hold on my soul that could never be released.  I had her with me when I looked at the emptiness of the desert in Manzanar and thought of what my country did to its own citizens.  I carried her with me when I took time on my last day as a Brandeis student to walk to the Holocaust memorial on campus and leave a rock.  That rock, Anne’s rock, was on my mind during those final moments of Schindler’s List, barely a year later, watching all of those lucky descendants of those that Schindler saved placing their own rocks on his grave.  It is a Jewish custom which I have taken unto myself and it seems like every rock is Anne.  She is the weight of history, the weight that bares me down until the next grave where another rock will stay to mark my presence.  Because I am still here to leave the rock and she is not.

Perhaps there is a connection here.  After all, I was 14.  Anne had died at 15.  At the time I was very much in love with a young girl named Deborah Edelman, also my age, also Jewish.  Does that fit into this picture somehow?  Does my love for Anne connect with my love for Deborah?  The probably answer is yes.  There are always connections in life and this seems to be another one.

So that is the history, my history, Anne’s history.  That is what I took into the film.  There was a six year gap between the 14 year old who read the book and the 20 year old who originally watched the film, locked in a dorm room by himself so that no one else could enter.  I was already well into my Oscar obsession by the time I watched the film, yet here was a film with 8 nominations and 3 Oscars and I still hadn’t seen it.  It was because I knew I would not be able to form any kind of objective opinion about it.  And I didn’t.  For a long time I considered it the best film of 1959, even though I had already seen Some Like It Hot and North by Northwest.  I knew there wasn’t any rational way to explain it, but I stuck to it for a while before finally moving the other films in front and got around to watching Wild Strawberries and The 400 Blows.  But still I wasn’t dealing with the film itself.

So there is the film.  Well, there is Richard Beymer, and how am I supposed to think of him as Peter when I think of him as Tony in West Side Story, one of the most entertaining and enjoyable films ever made, in spite of the tragic ending.  Then there is Ed Wynn, Oscar-nominated in this film, but mostly associated with the scene in Mary Poppins where he laughs so much that he can’t keep himself from flying up to the ceiling.  And there is Joseph Schildkraut, in a role of extreme irony.  Schildkraut’s career, for me (and probably most film fans) boils down mostly to two roles.  One of them is Otto Frank.  The other is Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola, for which he won the Oscar.  Of course, the Dreyfus Affair helped to fuel the Anti-Semitism that would eventually be brought to a boil in the Nazi regime.  They are almost flip-sides of the same coin.  How do we separate people from the roles they have played before?

But let’s make the attempt.  There is Richard Beymer, who seems perfectly cast as Peter, embodying the boy about whom Anne herself would write “Oh, it was so lovely, I couldn’t talk much, the joy was too great; he stroked my cheek and arm a bit awkwardly, played with my curls and our heads lay touching most of the time.  I can’t tell you Kitty, the feeling that ran through me all the while.  I was too happy for words, and I believe so was he.”  There is Ed Wynn, who is quite good as the grouchy dentist who seems to resent the very people who are making sacrifices so that he might continue to live.  There is Schildkraut, who embodies grace and nobility as much in his role as Otto Frank as he did in his Oscar-winning role as Dreyfus.  Then there is Shelley Winters.  If I don’t give her my award, it is not because of any perceivable flaw in her performance, but rather because of the greatness of Bibi Andersson in Wild Strawberries.  Winters is fantastic in her role and she was benevolent outside of it.  In 1938, when Spencer Tracy won his second Oscar for playing Father Flanagan, an overeager MGM publicity man announced that Tracy would be donating his Oscar to Flanagan at Boys Town.  But Tracy complained, saying he had earned it and he intended to keep it, even though he already had one.  Stuck with the possibility of bad publicity, the Academy had another Oscar made and delivered it to Flanagan.  Winters, on the other hand, not even knowing that she would win another Oscar 6 years later, donated her Oscar to the Anne Frank House where it still resides for visitors to see.

Then there is Millie Perkins.  It is hard to criticize her performance.  The producers originally wanted Audrey Hepburn, knowing she had the ability, but Hepburn declined, noting that she was too old, and also, because she was born the same year as Anne Frank and had lived in Holland during the war and felt the film would bring back too many painful memories.  So they went with Perkins.  She is solid, pulls off the lines from the diary quite convincingly and manages to seem not just like a teenager, but the teenager portrayed in the book who feels trapped and wishes to be much older.  She manages to keep the film together at the seams.  Of course, some of that credit must go to George Stevens, one of the great Hollywood directors, who had already won Best Director twice in the fifties.  Stevens oversaw a film that is actually quite good on all levels.  It is well photographed, has very good Art Direction (they didn’t actually shoot in the House itself, because there wouldn’t have been enough room for the camera movements, so it was all filmed on a set except for the opening) and quite amazing sound.  The last aspect is often forgotten for two reasons.  The first is because of the rather cramped setting and the second is because it wasn’t included among the film’s 8 Oscar nominations.  But the sound is quite integral to the film.  Each little sound that the characters make might give them away.  And there is the magnificent scene when they watch the aerial bombardment of the city, the faces lit up by the explosions and they calmly settle down for a nice cup of tea.

How awkward this scene must have been for any London audiences.  There would have many there who remembered the Blitz, the utter terror of the planes, never knowing where the next bomb might drop.  But to the Franks, this was the sound of impending life and liberation.  Likewise, when American audiences watch the first half-hour of Saving Private Ryan, see all the death and destruction in the desperate struggle to establish a small toehold on the beaches with which to eventually liberate an entire continent, they are horrified and pained.  But to the Franks, this was the only chance to live.  “Would the long-awaited liberation about which so much has been said, but which still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy tale, ever come true.  Could we be granted victory this year, this 1944?  We don’t know yet, but hope lives on; it gives us fresh courage, it makes us strong again.”  Those were the words that Anne wrote on D-Day itself after listening to Dwight Eisenhower on the radio: “This is the day.  Stiff fighting will come now, but after this the victory.  The year 1944 is the year of the complete victory, good luck.”  When the film was released in 1959, Eisenhower was President.  Anne, who had been a week short of her 15th birthday on D-Day would not live to see her 16th.

So where does the film stand now?  I still rank it as a four star film, still considered it a great film, well written, well directed, with very good acting and good technical aspects.  It no longer makes my Best Picture list, but it is just outside it in sixth place.  It is where it will continue to sit because there is no way I can ever bring myself to watch it again.  It bears the weight of too much history for me.

So that leaves us with what we have learned.  In William Styron’s masterful novel about the Holocaust, Sophie’s Choice, he presents us with a question: “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?”  It was essentially the same question I had asked myself when I learned about all of this at 14.  I did not know about the question back then.  Nor could I have known that the book provides an answer.  “And the answer: ‘Where was man’?”  That seems to be the answer I attempt to deal with.  God no longer enters the picture when I ask questions like this.  I don’t bother with wondering how God could have let such a thing happen.  That’s the liberating power of atheism.  I no longer have to struggle with such metaphysical questions.  I ask myself why man let it happen.  Because the history of man is the history of letting things happen.  Bad things happen because good men fail to act.

I have already written about this once before.  The question is, how do you deal with a horrible event?  Do you step in to help?  I know my answer because 12 years ago, I watched someone fall on the ground and crack his skull open.  Of the 20 people in line inside the restaurant, three of us went outside.  I kneeled there, pressing napkins against his head, this man I didn’t even know and tried to stop him from bleeding to death before the ambulance could get there.  I was not successful.  He died in the ambulance.  But I did what should be done.  I tried to save that life.

I come now to the end of the film.  I don’t know what information the screenwriters had on hand when they were working on the script about the actual arrest, or what they put in their original play.  I do know, from reading Otto Frank’s testimony, that what is shown on film is not what happened in real life.  In actuality, Otto was upstairs with Peter, giving him his English lesson when the soldier came into the room, holding a gun.  They were then lead downstairs where Anne and Margot and Edith were all standing with their hands up.  In the film, they know the arrest is coming, they can hear the sirens approaching.  They all stand together, waiting for their fate.  And Anne and Peter have one final kiss, a final protest against the sweep of evil and history.  It is not what happened, but it is a better fit on film.  It is perhaps how we would like to think they exited their hiding place.  With their strong fondness for each other, pushed into love by the pressure of being confined in close quarters, surely this is what the two of them would have wanted in a final moment together.  Instead, history swept them apart and into death.

I know I would have kissed her.  Instead I carry the weight of her history.  I find it a better fit than faith.  Given the sweeping arc of history, of war and genocide, of terror and inquisitions, I have made my choice.  I have no use for God.  I’d rather believe in Anne.

Recommended Further Reading:

  • The Films in My Life by Francois Truffaut
    • 1994, Da Capo Press, ISBN:  0306805995
    • pages 303-304 contain his review of Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard)
  • Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy by Richard L. Rubenstein and John K. Roth
    • 1987, John Knox Press, ISBN:  0804207771
    • pages 78-95 contain various descriptions of the legacy of Anti-Semitism from the Dreyfus Affair to Nazism
    • Roth is a professor at Claremont McKenna who taught both of my sisters
  • The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition
    • 1989, Doubleday, ISBN:  0385240236
    • all of my quotes from the Diary come from this — it also has various critical sources and includes Otto Frank’s description of the actual arrest

Controversial and banned: Room at the Top (1959)

Room at the Top

  • Director:  Jack Clayton
  • Writer:  Neil Paterson  (from the novel by John Braine)
  • Producer:  John Woolf  /  James Woolf
  • Studio:  Romulus  /  Continental
  • Stars:  Laurence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Heather Sears, Hermione Baddeley
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Harvey), Actress (Signoret), Supporting Actress (Baddeley)
  • Length:  115 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  30 March 1959
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #17 (year)  /  #274 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Signoret), Supporting Actress (Baddeley)

The Film:  While Anatomy of a Murder pushed the limit of the Code, it still got approved.  Room at the Top did not get approved.  It ended up banned in some cities and released without Code approval in others.  But it brought a new level of realism to film.  It dared to show that people really did sleep with each other, that people acted on lust and then acted on greed.  It showed that the angry young man of Britain could be torn between the loins and the pocketbook.  It finally established Simone Signoret in the States and made a star out of Laurence Harvey (for better or for worse).

Though filmed in 1958, it is set in 1947 and the events of the war still hang over these characters.  Laurence Harvey’s Joe Lampton can’t escape the classism that ruled his life during the war (he has an impressive speech about how he had need to try to escape from a prison camp, as in there he had finally found some peace).  At one point he returns to his childhood home and all we can see is rubble and we can almost see Lampton rising from that rubble to try to seek revenge against the upper class, both by marrying into it and by forcing them out of his way.  Of course, what happens in the middle is his relationship with Alice Aisgill, the alluring woman played by Simone Signoret in a performance that rightfully won the Oscar, BAFTA and NBR.  But in the end, she stands between him and his ambition and he will force himself to the top.

Signoret’s forceful performance is matched by the short (in fact, the shortest performance ever nominated by an Oscar) performance by Hermione Baddeley as her friend.  Harvey himself gives what easily ends up being the best performance of his career, one that he is never able to match.  The script is smart and snappy and the film itself is well made, which explains how it managed to rise up and somehow knock Some Like It Hot out of the Best Picture race.

Now it can be told. The Nun's Story (1959) is boring.

The Nun’s Story

  • Director:  Fred Zinnemann
  • Writer:  Robert Anderson  (from the book by Kathryn Hulme)
  • Producer:  Henry Blanke
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Hepburn), Editing, Cinematography (Color), Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Sound
  • Length:  149 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Religious)
  • Release Date:  18 July 1959
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #56 (year)  /  #439 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Hepburn)

The Film:  There’s no question that I have considerable contempt for the Catholic Church as an institution.  I don’t try to hide it.  But it doesn’t really affect me when trying to take a step back and analyze something.  For god’s sake, my e-mail has a postscript from Bobby Kennedy.  So just because I have no liking for the Church and considerable disdain for it, doesn’t actually affect my view on the film The Nun’s Story.  I can, with a clear conscience, say that it’s incredibly boring.

There are definitely fans of the film out there.  It won several awards when it was first released and though it didn’t win any Oscars, did receive 8 nominations, including all of the biggest categories.  I’m at a loss to explain why.  Watching it the first time close to 20 years ago, I couldn’t understand what people thought was so good about it.  It had a solid Audrey Hepburn performance, though nothing near as good as she had already done (Roman Holiday) or would do in the future (Breakfast at Tiffany’s).  But there really isn’t anything more than that.  We have the story of a woman who becomes a nun and through the course of the film it eventually becomes clear that it is not her calling, that she needs to find her own life outside of the church.  And though it takes her years in the course of the story, it takes us close to two and a half hours, time that seems to stand still as we go through the same kind of scenes over and over again.

There are those who are religious who find this film to be illuminating, to cast a light on the kind of life that some people choose to take.  Does my negative opinion of the film stem from the fact that I am not even remotely one of those people?  I’d say no, but you can watch the film and make your own decision as to whether you think it’s worth the two and a half hour journey.

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