Thursday, December 23, 2021

Is it Christmas, though?

Come to the Stable (

To be honest, even with the title “Come to the Stable” and the setting in Bethlehem and a nativity scene, I’m not sure this is really a Christmas film. The Bethlehem in the film is Bethlehem, Connecticut. The nativity scene has been arranged by a woman who paints religious art using locals as her models. And the title isn’t about coming to the place of Jesus’ birth but rather a barn some folks use while they're working to build a children's hospital.

Perhaps I’m not being altogether clear. Let me start with the theme of the month and then get to the film.

This is Christmas month here at Movie Churches. We're always on the lookout for Christmas films featuring churches and clergy because most don’t. Elf and White Christmas and The Grinch and A Christmas Story and Die Hard are completely clergy-free. We’ve already featured most of the Christmas films that include a church (or clergy) -- such as The Bishop’s Wife (and The Preacher's Wife), The Bells of Saint Mary's, The Holly and the Ivy, Home Alone, and Prancer.

So, when I learned about this film titled Come to the Stable and saw that it featured nuns -- well, I assumed it would work well in a December slot.  It tells the story of two nuns from a French order who come to New England to build the above-mentioned children’s hospital. (The screenplay by Oscar Millard and Sally Benson was based on a story by Clare Boothe Luce for which Luce earned an Academy Award nomination.) The director, Henry Koster, was the director in 1949 (Koster secured his place in film history by being the man who brought Abbott and Costello to the screen.)

During World War II, Sister Margaret (Loretta Young) ran a children’s hospital in Normandy. The Americans were going to invade the region and the nun pleaded with an American general to spare the place. He did spare the hospital, at the cost of his soldiers' lives. Which led Sister Magaret to vow to construct a children’s hospital in America.

Sister Margaret, American-born, is joined on her quest by French-born Sister Scholastica (Celeste Holm), another member of the Order of the Holy Endeavor. They choose the location for their hospital in Bethlehem because a painter of religious works, Amelia Potts (Elsa Lancaster) lives there. One of her paintings was called “Come to the Stable,” so come they do -- to the stable where the artist works. They burst in upon the artist, unannounced, as she is working on a representation of the nativity. Local children and a couple of adults and sheep and a cow recreate the scene. (Though there is snow outside, there is no indication the nuns have arrived at Christmas time. Could be February for all we know.)

The barn where Amelia works is owned by Bob Masen (Hugh Marlowe), a well-to-do composer. The nuns convince Masen to let them stay in the barn. They also ask him for money to support their hospital project, which he gives. They borrow his jeep and drive it recklessly and get parking tickets that Masen must pay. They know he sleeps late in the morning, but they wake him up again and again as he tries to sleep. Sister Margaret particularly is so focused on her hospital dream, she treats Masen in a demanding and thoughtless fashion. Really, Sister, manners are important in ministry.

The sisters go to the local Bishop (Bael Ruysdael) to share their plans with great enthusiasm. After meeting with the nuns, he talks with a Monsignor (Regis Toomey.) The Bishop says, “Sometimes the simple blind faith of such sisters is…” 

“Disturbing,” says the Monsignor, trying to fill in the blank.” 

“No,” the Bishop says, “Sublime.”

Sister Margaret wants to build her hospital on a hill she saw in another painting by Potts, but she learns the property is owned by Luigi Rossi (Thomas Gomez). When she asks where to find the man, she is told to ask any police officer and they’ll know. Sister Magaret doesn’t seem to catch the hint that Rossi is a crook. When she meets him, she also doesn’t follow the bookie’s references to race tracks. (She assumes Santa Anita is a saint she doesn’t know.)

The nun pesters the crook until he does agree to donate the land for the hospital on the condition that she installs a stained glass window in honor of his son that died in the European theater of WWII.

That hillside, though, is across the way from Masen’s property. He won’t admit it to the nuns, but he doesn’t want a hospital for a neighbor. So behind the scenes, he works against the hospital being built.

Sister Margaret sends a message to the rest of her order (eleven nuns and a priest) to come from France to America to stay in the barn. She does this without consulting the owner of the property. Or Amelia Potts, who finds herself without a studio and sharing her very small home with all the nuns.

The nuns eventually get the children’s hospital built and for that, they earn Three Steeples. If they'd had more consideration for those who help them, they would have earned four. 

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