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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Classic Film Review: The Trouble With Angels (1966)

The Trouble With Angels stars Hayley Mills and June Harding as Mary and Rachel, two girls sent to a convent school who aim to drive the nuns round the twist with their pranks. Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) heads a collection of individual nuns with their own little quirks, two of whom are no strangers to viewers of nun films - Portia Nelson as Sister Elizabeth (recognisable as Sister Berthe in The Sound of Music (1965) and the fabulous Mary Wickes as Sister Clarissa (known to many as Sister Mary Lazarus in the two Sister Act films). It's no exaggeration to say that I knew I was going to enjoy this film as soon as I saw Wickes in the cast but she was more than matched in performance by the rest of the actors.

Mary is full of 'scathingly brilliant' ideas which Rachel goes along with. Through the course of the film they set someone's head in plaster, give tours of the nuns' private rooms, have the fire brigade called out by accident when they're smoking in the cellars and, my personal favourite, replace the nuns' sugar with bubble bath which is one of the funniest scenes of the film. But, as time goes on, Mary's brash nature is assailed by seeing the truth about how the nuns live and, after being given another chance by Mother Superior, she turns things around most unexpectedly. Perhaps the best thing about Mary's evolution is that it isn't sudden. She still performs pranks as she's coming to her realisation but there are a couple of quiet moments that are all the more poignant for being rare.

Rosalind Russell is, of course, outstanding as Mother Superior. She makes a work of art out of twitching as lemon juice is accidentally squirted in her face and the film is peppered with her expressions and comments about the behaviour of the two girls. The rest of the cast is equally as enjoyable and, for film obsessives, there is a brief appearance by Gypsy Rose Lee as Mrs Phipps (Russell played Lee's mother in the retelling of her life four years earlier).

This isn't a film with pretensions to be anything but a family comedy and, as such, is highly entertaining.

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