The Nun's Story
The life of a Belgian nun who serves as a nurse in the Belgian Congo and then has a crisis of faith. Hepburn is very impressive as a nun and this is one of her best roles.
"The nun is played by Audrey Hepburn with such complete understanding of the full content of each scene that her performance will forever silence those who have thought her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child-woman. In The Nun's Story, Miss Hepburn reveals the kind of acting talent that can project inner feelings of both depth and complexity so skillfully you must scrutinize her intently on a second and third viewing of the film to perceive how she does it. Her portrayal of Sister Luke is one of the great performances of the screen. So is Dame Edith Evans as the Superior General. Dame Edith's face, her bearing, her voice and her movements are without flaw, and, even more important, they are imbued with the art that becomes when, to perfected techniques and an emotional understanding of the role, there is added a player's own assent to the lines he must speak. Peter Finch has never played any role better than that of Dr. Fortunati. Finch's animal face and cerebral voice suggest the very dichotomy his role in The Nun's Story requires. The care Zinnemann exercise in casting even in bit parts is only one of the directorial accomplishments he here displays." - Henry Hart, Films in Review
"Turning a famous book into a film, Director Zinnemann makes The Nun's Story a hauntingly beautiful, tragic account of the battles that raged for seventeen years in one nun's soul. To help, he has a movie cast to perfection and a superb performance by Audrey Hepburn. "The story, first told in Kathryn Hulme's book, is based on the experiences of Sister Luke, a Belgian girl who mistook a desire to nurse the sick for a religious vocation and joined a nursing order of nuns. She was a fine nurse, but after seventeen years of trying to be a good nun, she failed and was officially released from her vows. The film details her failures with compassion and wonder." - Life
According to Barry Paris, "MAKING THE NUN'S STORY was a daring decision both for Audrey Hepburn and for Warner Brothers in the year 1958. The narrative seemed better suited to documentarythan to big-feature treatment. Moreover, the complex spiritual problems of its heroine were sure to disturb the Roman Catholic Church and many of the faithful. Some ecclesiastical officials charged that Hulme's novel exaggerated and sensationalized such aspects of convent life as flagellation and that its "negative" ending reflected pejoratively on all nuns. Two things were essential to pulling the film off: a director of great finesse, and the presence of Hepburn. She was the only major star with sufficiently credible "purity," untainted by any scandalous behavior on- or offscreen. Director Fred.Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here To Eternity, Oklahoma! would provide the finesse. The book had been sent to him by Gary Cooper, "who thought I might find it interesting. He was right. Unhappily, my enthusiasm was not shared by any of the studios.... But when Audrey said she wanted to do it the studios suddenly became intensely interested. The previous great "Catholic film"-The Song of Bernadette, fifteen years earlier-had been uplifting and devoid of controversy. Kathryn C. Hulme's Nun's Story, on the other hand, was a bestselling novel that treated its religious material with respect but also with severe realism and a sad ending.
It was the true story of Belgian nun Marie-Louise Habets ("Sister Luke"), whose devotion is ever at war with her vow of obedience. She is sent to work as a nurse in the Belgian Congo, where her inner struggle unfolds through a series of medical crises and an intense relationship with the surgeon she serves. The backdrop is World War II and her moral dilemma is compounded by the ques-tion of whether to assist the Resistance after her father is killed by the Nazis.
The film, like the book, had to work simultaneously on multiple levels - dramatic, spiritual, political - with a disturbing relevance to Hepburn's own war experience. Author and subject had met in 1945 at a UNRRA camp for dis placed persons in Germany. One day, Hulme remarked on the long hours Habets spent at her nursing work. "You're a saint, Marie-Lou," she said, to which Habets reacted with great upset. "I was a nun once," she later confided to Hulme, "but a nun who failed her vows."
The two women became soul mates as well as housemates. Habets came to the United States in 1951, moved in with Hulme and worked in a Santa Fe Rail-road hospital in Los Angeles, caring for Navajo track walkers, brakemen and porters. Nun's Story had sold three million copies and been translated into twelve languages by the time film production began, when Zinnemann arranged for Audrey to meet the real-life Sister Luke at Hulme's home near Los Angeles.
"She didn't really want to meet me," Habets later said. "She felt the story was too much of my private life. She just sat there and looked at me and didn't ask any questions."On subsequent visits, Hepburn got less tongue-tied and ended up working so closely with Hulme and Habets that people referred to them collectively as "The 3-H Club." Audrey consulted the ex-nun on every detail of her character-from the proper donning of a habit to the correct kissing of a crucifix. Habets also familiarized her with an operating room and helped demystify the world of microscopes and Bunsen burners in a medical laboratory.
The Nun's Story opened at Radio City Music Hall on July 18, 1959, and made more money for Warners than any of its previous films. It cost $3.5 million and grossed more than $6 million then-and much more since. Hepburn was named Best Actress of 1959 by the New York Film Critics and its British equivalent. "Her performance will forever silence those who have thought her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child/woman," said Films in Review. "Her portrayal of Sister Luke is one of the great perfor-mances of the screen." The Nun's Story won none of the eight Oscars for which it was nominated. Audrey was a candidate for Best Actress (her third nomination in six pictures) as was Katharine Hepburn for Suddenly Last Summer-rival nominees for the first time. Both Hepburns lost to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top, and MGM's epic Ben-Hur swept away the competition in virtually every other category.
Audrey Hepburn: Gabrielle Van Der Mal
Peter Finch: Dr. Fortunate
Edith Evans: Mother Emmanuel Superior General
Peggy Ashcroft: Mother Mathilde
Dean Jagger: Dr. Van Der Mal
Mildred Dunnock: Sister Margharita
Patricia Collinge: Sister William
Beatrice Straight: Mother Christophe
Rosalie Crutchtey: Sister Eleanor
Ruth White: Mother Marcella
Barbara O'neil: Mother Katherine
Margaret Phillips: Sister Pauline
Patricia Bosworth: Simone
Colleen Dewhurst: Archangel
Niall MacGinnis: Father Vermeuhlen
Eva Kotthaus: Sister Marie
Molly Urquhart: Sister Augustine
Jeanette Sterke: Louise Van Der Mal
Director and Executive Producer: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Henry Blake
Screenwriter: Robert Anderson
Cinematographer: Franz Planer
Editor: Walter Thompson
Art Director: Alexander Trauner
Set Decorator: Maurice Barnathan
Music: Franz Wazxman
Costumes: Marjorie Best
Running time: 149 minutes
Best Editing: Walter Thompson
Best Director: Fred Zinnemann
Best Cinematography: Franz Planer
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Best Adapted Screenplay: Robert Anderson
Best Score: Franz Waxman
British Academy Awards
Best British Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Best British Film: Fred Zinnemann
National Board of Review of Motions Pictures
10 Best Films
New York Film Critics Circle Award
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Best Direction: Fred Zinnemann
Outstanding Merit Award
San Sebastián Film Festival
Fred Zinnemann - Golden Seashell