Sunday, December 31, 2017

My 10 Favorite Films of 2017

First, a note: this list is not exactly scientific. It's just what I enjoyed. (I saw 27 films this year, these are the top ten.)

10) The Case for Christ - (Directed by Jon Gunn) What with writing a blog about churches in films, I have to watch a lot of Christian films. That often means watching a lot of pretty lousy films (looking at you God’s Not Dead franchise), so I really appreciate a simple story well told. Lee Strobel didn’t believe in God, but he used his skills as a reporter to investigate whether Jesus was who He says He was. Sure, it’s a Sunday School lesson. But there are good Sunday School classes, and this is one of ‘em. (Plus it has a Faye Dunaway cameo that's better than her Oscar appearance this year.)
Rated PG for "Thematic Elements".

9) Colossal - (Directed by Nacho Vigalondo)  This rather strange film has Anne Hathaway as a lost woman with a doppleganger -- who is a giant monster. It's a hipster retelling of Godzilla that could go wrong in so many ways, and yet somehow, it works.
Rated R for "Language".

8) It - (Directed by Andy Muschietti) If Dickens was writing about Stephen King, he might write that King's books have made the best of films (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption) and the worst of films (Maximum Overdrive, Dreamcatcher). This is good King: a tale of kids coming together to face real evil (and children do die). Pennywise the Demon Clown is not the only Big Bad in the film; some people are pretty awful as well, but there is hope in community, even if it’s a community of odd kids.
Rated R for "violence/horror, bloody images and language".

7) Get Out - (Directed by Jordan Peele) This is the second horror film in a row on the list, though the Golden Globes nominated it in the Musical/Comedy category (because they are crazy). The movie does have funny moments, but it's definitely a horror film. Unlike all the films where the black guy is a side character killed first, long before Jamie Lee Curtis’ inevitable confrontation with the boogie man, the central character in this film is a black man. (I don't remember this happening since 1968 in Night of the Living Dead.)
Rated R for "violence, bloody images, and language".

6) Wind River - (Directed by Taylor Sheridan) If you can get past the fact that the two lead characters in this film (set on an Indian reservation) are white, you’ll see a very good action film. Jeremy Renner plays a game hunter and Elizabeth Olsen plays a FBI agent investigating the murder of a young Native American woman. It also has some worthy things to say about loss.
Rated R for "strong language, a rape, disturbing images, and language".

5) Spider-Man: Homecoming - (directed by Jon Watts) There were several films I liked this year, but this was the most fun. (Logan was very good, but not “fun.”) Sam Rami’s first two Spider-Man films were also very good, but they were about a “Man,” and it was fun to have the teenager of the early comics on the screen in all of his innocent, smart aleck glory. Plus Michael Keaton was a much better Bird-Man in this film than he was in Birdman.
Rated PG-13 for "sci-fiction violence, some language and brief, suggestive comments".

4) Your Name - (directed by Makoto Shinkai) One of the most successful anime films of all time, this movie actually came out in 2016, but it received a wide release in the States this year. It's a Freaky Friday-like scenario with a boy of one time and place switching with a girl from another time and place. It's funny, but also poignant.
Rated PG for "thematic elements, suggustive comments, brief langauge, and smoking".

3) Lady Bird - (directed by Greta Gerwig) - I wrote about this film for Movie Churches. Like the other two films in the top three of this list, it is said to be in contention for a Best Picture Oscar. If so, the Academy will have done something right.
Rated R for "language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and teen partying".

2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - (directed by Martin McDonagh) It's a film about revenge for deep hurts and petty slights, but in the end, it's also a compelling case for simple kindness as a more satisfying route. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are two of my favorite actors, so watching them together would have been enough for me. But there was much more.
Rated R for "violence, language throughout, and some sexual references".

1 ) Dunkirk - (directed by Christopher Nolan) There are plenty of complaints about this film not providing enough context for the incredible true rescue story of World War II. So if you need context, Google “Dunkirk”. Because the film is about surviving an extreme experience of war when one has no context; when one doesn’t know a rescue is coming, that Hitler won’t win. Ordinary people in an extraordinary event provides the making of a great film. Nolan is one of the few directors today who consistently provides films one can call epic.
Rated PG-13 for "intense war experience and some language".

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Movies Month: 3 Godfathers

3 Godfathers (1948)
So many people don’t understand “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Radio stations play versions by everyone from Bing Crosby to Reliant K to Bob and Doug McKenzie. Something that many people don’t realize is that the first day of Christmas (Partridge & Pear Tree Day) is December 25th, and Christmas goes for the next twelve days, into the new year. The twelfth day (January 6th) is Epiphany, which focuses on the story of the Wise Men visiting young Jesus.

The story of the Magi provides the inspiration for a 1948 Western, 3 Godfathers. It’s the story of three bank robbers who take custody of a baby boy. There’s no clergy in the film and no formal church, but there’s much more Bible than you’d expect to find in your average John Ford directed, John Wayne starring film.

Another unusual thing about the film is that the Duke plays a bad guy in the film. Wayne plays Robert Hightower, a cattle rustler who decides to go into bank robbing with the help of two friends, Pedro (Pedro Armendariz), and William the Abilene Kid (Harry Carey, Jr.). They’re Texans who venture to the town of Welcome, Arizona, to commit their crime. They meet a nice guy, Perley “Buck” Sweet (Ward Bond), who welcomes them to town. Turns out he’s the town’s sheriff.

They rob the bank, but during their escape the Kid is shot (along with their canteen of water). If that wasn’t bad enough, they lose their horses in a desert sand storm. They search for a water hole and instead come across a stranded woman who’s in labor. She’s Perley’s niece, whose bumbling husband got himself killed.The robbers help deliver the child, and she names the baby after them: Robert William Pedro. She dies, but not before extracting a promise from the men to care for her baby. “I want all of you to be my baby’s godfathers. You will be, won’t you?” Along with the baby, William, the Kid, takes the woman’s Bible.

The Kid comes across a biblical passage about journeying to Jerusalem and is convinced he’s found a sign they should go to the Arizona town of New Jerusalem. When he sees a bright star in the sky, he’s convinced it is directing them, just as the Magi were directed by a star. He later finds encouragement from Psalm 137, looking for rescue from this strange land.

Things don’t go well for Pedro and the Kid, and eventually Robert is wandering the desert alone with the baby and the Bible. He had scoffed at the Kid’s reverence for the Bible, but in desperation he turns to it and finds a passage of God’s provision of a colt and donkey from Matthew 21. Miraculously, those very animals appear, guiding Robert to civilization.

Robert turns himself in, hoping to provide for the child. He is given a lenient sentence, and the town wishes him well as they send him off to prison at the train station. The crowd sings “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Shall We Gather at the River?”, conducting a little church service by the rails.

Did I mention the whole film takes place at Christmas time, and Robert brings the child, Perley’s great nephew, into town on Christmas Day? That makes this a most appropriate film to watch on Christmas Day -- or Epiphany.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Movie Churches: Fanny & Alexander

Fanny & Alexander, 1984

When highfalutin’ critics make their list of Christmas films, this film ranks near the top. Originally made for television (312 minutes long, it was shown in four parts). I watched the theatrical version, which was cut to 188 minutes (only about three hours). It won Oscars in 1984 for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, as well as for art decoration and costumes. Ingmar Bergman was nominated for direction and screenwriting.

Bergman is known for his dour, existential approach to filmmaking, so critics and audiences were surprised by the relatively large amount of joy to Fanny & Alexander. Not all of the film is set at Christmas time, but nearly the whole first hour is an elaborate and festive yuletide celebration. Part of that celebration is a Christmas pageant presented by the community theater. Oscar Ekdahl is the director of the community theater, and we follow his family in the film. He and his wife Emilie are the parents of the film’s titular children, Fanny and Alexander.

The theater production is what one might expect from a church program these days. There is a rather elaborate manger scene. We see Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus being visited by Wise Men. A angel warns of Herod (perhaps foreshadowing dangers to come for the children in the film).

The angel then speaks to the audience: “Thus, good people, ends our play. It all ends well this Holy day. The Son of God, saved from the sword, is our Savior, Christ, the Lord. We know that in His mercy mild, He guards every woman, man and child.”

After the play, Fanny and Alexander go their grandmother’s house along with most of the theater company. This is where Sven Nykvist’s work as a cinematographer is highlighted, as the camera tours this elegant Swedish home of 1907. Christmas trees and wreaths and seasonal art decorate the home; elaborate meat and pastry dishes decorate the tables. There are songs and games and a reading from Luke 2. There is much laughter around the tables. Fanny and Alexander share a sleeping room with their young cousins, leading to a happily destructive pillow fight. They pray together, racing through a memorized list of names of friends and relatives.

One part of the Christmas celebration that is not very Christlike is an adulterous relationship between one of the uncles and a maid. All of the adults seem aware of the situation and find it amusing. Even the wife just sighs and looks disapproving.

Bergman’s work is remembered as bleak and despairing, but the opening of this first hour of the movie is one of the most joyous celebrations of Christmas captured on film. And the quiet center of it all is Oscar, Fanny and Alexander’s father, who says about his theater, “I want to see generosity. My only talent is I love this little world and the people who work in it.” But then dark Bergman returns. Oscar has a heart attack and dies. There is a big funeral at which Alexander curses uncontrollably.

At the funeral dinner, the Bishop spends time with Emilie, the children’s mother. The Bishop is described as the spiritual guide to the parish, and Emilie is concerned about Alexander telling lies at school. She asks the Bishop speak to him.

As the Bishop smokes his pipe, he asks to speak to Alexander “man to man”. He says to him, “Can you tell me what a lie is and what is the truth? We have plenty of time, Alexander. Can you explain to us why you lied at school about being sold to the circus?” The Bishop runs his hand through Alexander’s hair and puts his hand on his neck, which is kind of creepy. He tells Alexander is the truth of gift of God.

Emilie soon tells her children she is marrying the Bishop, Edvard. The wedding comes quickly. The Bishop takes the family in to his house, but he demands that they leave everything behind. The mother must leave behind her jewelry, clothes, all her possessions; the children must leave behind their toys and books. Edvard prays, “May God in His mercy take care of our little family.” He tells the children, “My dearest wish is that we will be at peace with one another. Love cannot be demanded, but respect can.”

It is not a happy home. Edvard doesn’t allow the children to play; they are to live in ascetic solidarity. Alexander defies his stepfather, and Edvard beats him. Emilie soon sees she made a mistake in marrying the Bishop, but when she threatens to leave, he tells her that would be desertion. He would have the right to keep the children.

Spoiler: The Bishop eventually dies, so there is a happy ending of a kind. But in this film the Bishop is
not at all a good representative of the Gospel, so we’re giving him Two Steeples. (The theater in the film does a pretty great job of presenting the Gospel. It probably would have earned our highest rating of Four Steeples if this blog was Theater Churches.)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Movie Churches Double Feature: Christmas Child and The Christmas Candle

Christmas Child (2004)

The Christmas Candle (2013)

Christian writer Max Lucado has written over one hundred books (with 80 million copies in print), and two of those books have been made into Christmas films. And both feature church traditions for celebrating Christmas: in one, a Nativity scene and in the other, Advent candles.

Christmas Child was a 2004 direct to DVD release based on Lucado’s short story, “The Christmas Cross.” The film centers on Jack Davenport (William Moses), a big city (Chicago) journalist going through a personal crisis. His marriage is strained, and he has questions about his identity. His adopted father recently passed away, and he wonders about his past. While clearing out his father’s safety deposit box, he finds a photo of a church in Clearwater, Texas, and decides to go to Clearwater to look for secrets of his past. He leaves a few days before Christmas, which does not please his pregnant wife.

In Clearwater, every cliche about small towns abounds, for, of course, big city fellers have so much to learn from rural life. The only motel in town doesn’t take credit cards. (I worked in a podunk motel twenty years before this film was made, and we took credit cards.) There’s one diner where everyone goes. And the local sheriff is a regular Buford Pusser, harassing Davenport for no clear reason. (Except because Jack is a journalist? From the big city? Because the waitress the sheriff likes flirts with Jack?)

Jack does, of course, discovers good old fashioned values in small town life. Jack goes to the church and discovers the picture was taken by the former pastor, the late Reverend Krauss. Everyone in town agrees that Reverend Krauss was a good guy who played a part in Jack’s adoption, and that the secret of the adoption is somehow tied to the nativity scene in front of the church.

Everyone in the town loves the wooden carved figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. It is a cherished town treasure. There is a mystery tied to the a cross found on the Christ Child’s chest, but I have to say, the figures are (in my humble opinion) awful. I don’t know art (well, I know a little), but I have to say they are hideous figures.

The pastor currently serving the church, Michael Curtis, is a good guy and very good guitar player (he’s played by Christian singer/songwriter, Steven Curtis Chapman). Curtis even bails Jack out of jail when he is incarcerated, apparently for breaking a local ordinance against being a big city journalist. Everything comes together at the big Christmas Eve service at the film’s end. Though a bad film, the church comes off well in the story.

A more interesting film is 2013’s The Christmas Candle, based on Lucado’s novel of the same name. It’s set in 1890 in the small, fictional town of Gladbury, England, where a legend tells that every 25 years, an angel comes to the candleshop and blesses one candle. Whoever lights that candle and prays will have his or her prayers miraculously answered.

When a new pastor, the Rev. David Richmond comes to town, leaving his former position in the Salvation Army (and an earlier post as a well-known preacher), he casts doubt on the local legend. He is a good preacher, but when he questions the truth of the Christmas Candle from the pulpit, he risks losing his congregation.

He encourages people to answer each other’s prayers and needs. He preaches, “Does your neighbor need a miracle? Why not be that miracle?” He inspires people to serve their neighbors, answering many of their prayers -- but some prayers are not answered, and because of that (and an unanswered prayer of his own), the Reverend openly struggles with his faith.

In time, the congregation comes to see that God answers some prayers through their brothers and sisters in Christ. The Reverend, on the other hand, comes to see that God still does miracles as well. (One thing that threatens this church’s Steeple rating is when the Reverend tries to bring electricity to the old chapel and nearly burns the place down. On the other hand, Susan Boyle sings their Christmas anthems).

And the church carries on the tradition of lighting Advent candles during the four weeks before Christmas. It’s one of my favorite traditions.

Keeping with our generous Christmas tradition, we’re giving the churches in both films Four Steeples.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Movies Month: In Theaters Now: Lady Bird

Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird, a new coming of age story written and directed by Greta Gerwig, opens with a quote from Joan Didion, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Didion was born and raised in Sacramento, as was Gerwig, as is Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, the title character of this critically acclaimed film. (The film is not only making most of the “Ten Best Films of 2017” lists, it has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- with a record high number of reviews.)

This month we’re pushing the definition of a Christmas film here at Movie Churches, but this film not only opens with that quote mentioning Christmas, and we also get to see Lady Bird celebrate Christmas with her family. “Dance of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker is even included in the soundtrack.

And for this blog, it should be noted that there are churches, and there are clergy: priests and nuns. Lady Bird’s family doesn’t appear to be at all religious (Gerwig, who based this story on her own life, was raised Unitarian Universalist). Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is sent by her parents to a Catholic school, not for religious reasons, but for safety’s sake (Lady Bird’s mother repeatedly mentions her son, Lady Bird’s brother, seeing a knifing outside a Sacramento public school.)

They’re not not required to fully participate. Sometimes Lady Bird appears to join in with the  singing and unison prayers, and sometimes she does not. When communion is distributed Lady Bird crosses her arms, which is often a request for a blessing while refusing communion. Lady Bird is also required to attend an anti abortion assembly and is suspended when we she argues against the guest speaker (to be fair, it is probably because Lady Bird uses obscenities in her argument.)

Films featuring Catholic Schools often portray the priests and nuns as being out of touch and clueless, even in films meaning to present them as positive (like last week’s featured film, The Bells of St. Mary’s). In films like Sing Street, the priests are downright mean -- if not outright evil. The teachers in Lady Bird really seem like kind people and good teachers.

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) genuinely cares about her students and presses them academically. She encourages them to read Augustine, Aquinas, and Kierkegaard (warning students that his description of “falling in love with God” will make them “swoon.”) When she chaperones the school dance, she encourages couples not to dance too close together, saying “Leave six inches for the Holy Spirit.” She also monitors skirt length, but not harshly. And when Lady Bird plays a mean-spirited practical joke on Sister Sarah Joan, the nun takes in all in good fun.

Lady Bird and her friend Julie sign up for the school drama program which is taught by Father Leviatch (Stephen Henderson). He obviously loves the theater and enthusiastically leads drama exercises along with his rehearsals. He takes on a very challenging musical, Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. We see students gossiping about the priest, wondering how he came into the priesthood. They say he was married before, and his son died because of suicide or a drug overdose. He seems to suffer great emotional stress which leads to his leaving his position at the school.

Father Walther (Bob Stephenson) takes over as drama teacher, but his experience is in coaching football. His passionate direction of a rehearsal like football practice is probably the funniest scene in the film..

We see that Lady Bird is not exactly devout. She and Julie steal the communion wafers for snacking (but before they are consecrated). She mocks the priests and nuns, but when she goes off to college, we see that her days at Catholic school had an impact. Belief in God means something to her, as does church. The school may not have made her a Catholic, but she has been changed.

If this blog was for evaluating films, I’d happily join all the other critics in their praise of Lady Bird. Instead, I’ll praise the nuns and priests in the film, giving them the highest Movie Church rating of Four Steeples.

(Rated R for language and sexual content)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Very Special Post #250

Christmas Lists
Most of us have traditions related to Christmas films. We watch Miracle on 34th Street the day after Christmas to kick off the Yuletide season. TBS runs a 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story every December 25th, and they wouldn’t keep doing it if people didn’t watch. For the last several years, NBC has been running It’s a Wonderful Life just after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas.

But sometimes you want to add something new. I thought I’d revisit some Christmas films (movies that include churches and/or clergy, of course. A blog’s gotta have focus) that we’ve written about over the last couple of years. You might find something new to add to your rotation tradition.

We wanted to list films that are worthwhile, but we also warn you about films to avoid. Start with Candy Cane treats, then -- if you dare -- go on to Lumps of Coal to avoid. (Each film summary is linked to the review here at Movie Churches.)

Candy Canes:

Home Alone - Okay, this is not new to most people, but you might not remember offhand that along with the live action cartoon violence, there are sweet scenes of the church as a sanctuary.
(This was an early Movie Church review which also looked at While You Were Sleeping, not a bad film to find under the tree.)

Brooklyn - This is a wonderful film about the American immigrant experience, and though Christmas is not central to the plot, it is there.

Black Nativity - This retelling of the Christmas Story in the setting of an African American family in New York is definitely worth seeking out.

Joyeux Noel - You might have missed this touching true story about a moment of peace on the front lines during World War I.

Lumps of Coal:

The Bishop’s Wife and its remake, The Preacher’s Wife are beloved by many, but not me. Adulterous angels (even when it’s just an emotional affair) never have fit into my idea of Advent.

The Miracle of the Bells is a very corny film with the odd topic of a Hollywood death. And miracle bells.

Simon Birch  is the result of  John Irving’s classic novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, being ruined.

A Merry Friggin’ Christmas, a foul mouthed family comedy, is not one of the prouder parts of Robin Williams’ legacy.

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas is the film for you if you want cannabis to play a more central role in your family traditions.

Christmas with the Kranks  is evidence John Grisham should stay in the courtroom.

Midnight Clear  is just a bad Christian Christmas film.

I’m sure Hallmark has many films that would this category, but there are limits to what I’ll watch for this blog.

(As noted in the headline, this is the 250th Movie Churches post and we thank you for your faithful, or occasional, whatever, readership.)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Movies Month: The Bells of St. Mary's

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
I’ll happily argue that Gremlins, L. A. Confidential, Lethal Weapon, and The Apartment are more Christmassy films than The Bells of St. Mary’s. The former films quite explicitly take place at Christmas time, while The Bells of St. Mary’s happens to have a scene where a Chrsitmas play is rehearsed. That scene is in the middle of the film, a story that takes place over an entire school year. Nevertheless, the film is in the rotation of Christmas films, and it has a place on top Christmas film lists. A version of the film’s theme (the St. Mary’s school song) can be found on Christmas albums. When George Bailey runs through the streets of Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve in It’s a Wonderful Life, we can see that The Bells of St. Mary’s is playing at the local movie theater, because the title’s up on the marquee.

PR w/o clerical collar or habit
So I figure all this is good enough to give the film a place in Movie Churches’ Christmas films, and it certainly has a church and clergy -- and a little bit of Christmas.

The film is a sequel to Bing Crosby’s hit, Going My Way, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. In The Bells of St. Mary’s, Bing again plays Father O’Malley, the good natured priest, this time going to serve in a parochial school run by nuns led by Sister Superior, Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). The film follows a school year, and in the midst of that school year, there is a rehearsal for a Christmas play.

There is a shot of St. Mary’s covered in snow and we see Father O’Malley playing “Come All Ye Faithful” on the piano as he sings in Latin, surrounded by a group of students. Sister Mary Benedict comes in and complains that the noise is interrupting the kindergarten’s rehearsal for the Christmas program.

Bing offers to play for the Christmas program, saying, “You can’t have a Christmas play without ‘O Holy Night’ or ‘Adeste Fideles’.” But Sister Mary Benedict tells him the kids have the program covered.

She takes him to see what Bobby and other kindergarteners are doing. The very small Mary and Joseph go from place to place asking for lodging. Each time, they’re asked, “Do you have any money?”

They say, “No” and are sent away until someone finally offers the stable.

Sister Benedict says, “Bobby made the play up. It’s a little not good.”

Finally, the “baby” (a two year old) is “born,” and the children sing “Happy Birthday to You.”

Father O’Malley says, “Their simplicity is beautiful; I wouldn’t change a word of it.”

Sister Benedict says, “But they will. They do it different every time.”

I should note that the Christmas story presented in church Christmas plays and Christmas cards is off. We always see Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem alone, but people in that day usually travelled in groups. All of Joseph’s family were required to report to Bethlehem for the census, so they probably traveled with family, not alone. The little kids in the movie take things a litttle further from the true story when the innkeepers reject Mary and Joseph because they have no money -- that’s not in Scripture. (Perhaps it’s a juvenile attack on capitalism.)  But their play is darn cute.

But we need to remember that  the purpose of Movie Churches is to examine ministries in films, so how they do Father O’Malley and Sister Benedict do? Let’s just say some of the practices at the school are...problematic.

One of the odd things about their work with the kids shows ups when we see Father O’Malley taking a special interest in one of the girls in the school, and Sister Benedict is a special supporter of one of the boys.

When two school boys fight, Father O’Malley expresses his admiration for the boy who beats up a kid named Tommy, saying, “That boy knows how to handle himself.” Tommy had been trying to practice the teachings of Jesus (turning the other cheek) that he’s learned from Sister Benedict. When she sees that her instruction led to Tommy beaten up, she decides to teach him to fight. She gets a book by boxer Gene Tunney and schools Tommy in the pugilistic arts -- because obviously that guy Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.

Father O’Malley takes an interest in a thirteen-year old girl named Patsy. Patsy’s parents have been separated since the girl was two (but not divorced, because that wouldn’t be the Catholic thing to do). When O’Malley is asked about the girl’s situation, he tries to fudge over the facts for fear the girl won’t be admitted. But she is. She comes to O’Malley for help with her school work, which he provides by teaching her songs.

When Patsy fails the test for eighth grade graduation (intentionally, we later learn), Father O’Malley encourages Sister Benedict to overlook the test scores. The Sister insists the school must maintain standards, but Father O’Malley seems to believe kids should be graduated without regard to their academic performance. He seems to think this is the compassionate thing to do, but I’m not convinced it’s a good idea to move kids through the system whether they’ve learned or not.

The main plot of the film, as with many movies about churches made in this period, is about finances and real estate. St. Mary’s is supposedly in ill repair and could be condemned at any time, though the viewer is shown no evidence of this. Sister Benedict is covetous of the new office building next door to the school built by Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers). Obviously, he is greedy for wanting to keep the building he made for his business instead of giving it to the Church for the school’s use.

Sister Benedict makes it her prayer project that Horace will give the building to them. She doesn’t talk about praying for Horace’s salvation or for him to be blessed, but that he’d give her the building.

When Father O’Malley talks with Horace’s doctor, he mentions the sister’s prayers for the building. The doctor says, “Does she really believe Bogardus will give her the building? I haven’t encountered such a thing since I was a little boy and wished for something for Christmas.”

O’Malley does some finangling, asking the doctor to urge his patient to give away the building because it will be “good for his heart.”

Horace, does, of course, give his building to St. Mary’s because it’s “for the kids.” (There is never any discussion in these films about how businesses provide work for parents who need jobs to care for their children.)

The clergy in the film don’t talk about the Bible much, though Father O’Malley does at one time quote “The epistle of St. Peter, ‘Be sober and watchful’... or was it St. Paul?”

At the end of the film, there is a health crisis causing Father O’Malley to struggle to decide if honesty is the best policy.  Sister Benedict must deal with her own issue of bitterness, and their problems are resolved in a godly manner.

So in the Spirit of Christmas (even though there isn’t much Christmas in the film), I give the pastor and the nuns of The Bells of St. Mary’s Three Steeples.