Monday, November 9, 2009

The Return of THE SINGING NUN

Here's a post a ran about two years ago, but newly enhanced with some new pix to accentuate my points! Maybe it's because I attended 13 years of Catholic school (that includes kindergarten), and got to know so many nuns on a personal level, but I've always been fascinated by movies about "brides of christ".

THE SOUND OF MUSIC, AGNES OF GOD, NASTY HABITS, CHANGE OF HABIT, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS...just to name a few - are always required viewing in my house.
As a child, THE FLYING NUN was one of my favorite shows, and I can recall asking several of my nun teachers if they could secretly fly. None of them could - but some could really SING!

Now, the true story of THE SINGING NUN is something that would make a fascinating film. The real Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile), who wrote and sang the worldwide hit song "Dominique" lived a very much different life than what Hollywood would have led us to believe.

Born Jeanne Deckers in Belgium in 1933, she joined a Dominican convent, taking the name Sister Luc-Gabrielle. She became popular among the other nuns for her beautiful songs and was encouraged by to record an album in 1963. The song "Dominique," (about an evangelist and saint who figured prominently in Belgian history) made her an international celebrity, and she adopted the stage name of Soeur Sourire . She performed in concerts and even appeared on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW in 1964. Imagine if a nun appeared on AMERICAN IDOL today!"Dominique" sold more than 1.5 million copies, and following the success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, a movie about her starring Debbie Reynolds, was made. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't cover the later years of her life. Around the same time as the film's release, Jeanne stopped performing, Soon after, in 1967 she left the convent and recorded her second album, titled "I Am Not a Star in Heaven". Though she was deeply religious, she grew increasingly vocal and critical of the conservatism of the Roman Catholic Church and she became an advocate of birth control (and reportedly gay rights as well). She even recorded a song entitled "Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill ." Wow.

She later opened a school for autistic children in Belgium with a "friend", Annie Pescher. By the early 1980s the Belgian government began claiming that she owed back taxes almost $50,000. Desperate to raise money, she released an updated dance music version of 'Dominique' in 1983 (need to find it on iTunes) but it failed to set the charts on fire. In 1985, she and Pescher committed suicide together by overdosing on barbiturates and alcohol, and were buried together in consecrated ground.

There is a recent film version which delves into these details. I look forward to seeing it one day.Meanwhile, getting back to the movie at hand - I'd been curious about the film for years - I mean a "true story" about nuns starring Jewish-convert Debbie Reynolds her "best friend" Agnes Moorehead and everyone's favorite sexy 1970s MD - Chad Everett!!! Plus we get pre-FANTASY ISLAND, WRATH OF KHAN and Chrysler Cordoba Ricardo Montalban and a cameo by Ed Sullivan himself! How could things go wrong?

Directed by war movie veteran Henry Koster , things do go terribly wrong. Well, Debbie does as well as she can as the unsinkable Sister Ann, the spunky nun who who can sing like an angel, but has a lot to learn about doing good things and butting in where she doesn't belong. She is always riding around on her motor scooter with her guitar ("Sister Adelle"), playing soccer with the boys and trying to stop peasant girls from becoming strippers - what a scamp! Moorehead is effectively bitchy as "Mother Endora" - a senior nun, who is not amused by Sister Ann's frolics.Sister Ann's real dream is to move to the African Congo to work with children, but in the meantime she befriends a lonely local little boy, Dominic, whose mother has died and whose father is an alcoholic. I think his sister (Katherine Ross) is kinda whore-ish too. Sister Ann doesn't care about the saint like the real Sister Smile, so decides to write a song about the little boy instead. Go figure.

The song goes something like this:
"Dominique, nique, nique
 I will tell of Dominique 
His goodness to acclaim
 And I pray the song I sing
 Will some simple pleasure bring
 That the world shall know his name!"
I think something got lost in the translation.

When Father Clementi (Montalban) hears Sister Ann's song, he see dollar signs and enters her in a talent contest. Before you know it, old friend Everett, apparently channeling Clark Gable, shows up and signs her to a record deal and the whole world is soon listening to her silly light-hearted songs!

The album has become a sensation, and "The Singing Nun" is soon making appearances at parties and engagements, even appearing on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW on CBS! Ironically, while preparing for the show, the nuns explain that they're forbidden to wear makeup-even though the actresses portraying them are clearly wearing lipstick and false eyelashes! Huh?

Everything seems wonderful and magical, only Sister Ann is unprepared for her new found fame-and her attraction to Everett! This is just like Sister Bertrille and Carlos - I mean what was the deal with those two? And what of the tragedy that soon befalls Dominic and his slutty sister? Does a poor Catholic girl really need to resort to stripping to pay the rent on her cockroach infested shack?

So, if you are curious to see how sugary and fictional a Hollywood biopic can get - see THE SINGING NUN. I'll give it 6 out 10 "Huhs?" because just the thought of bawdy Debbie Reynolds (Miss Burbank 1948) and rumored lesbian Agnes Moorehead as nuns is comedy enough for me!
For the record, Reynolds explicitly denied to film historian Robert Osborne that Moorehead was gay, describing her as "terribly religious." That's not what Paul Lynde had to say about her! Hmmm...

1 comment:

Davelandweb said...

That wax statue of Debbie Reynolds looks very much like her...but the eyes are downright creepy!