As you’d expect from someone with a Golden Age of Hollywood blog like Hollywood Yesterday, I love old movies (as well as classic television) to distraction. I’m seldom as happy as when I’m curled up in my favorite chair, raspberry tea in hand, losing myself in a wonderful old movie. If you’re as infatuated with them as I am, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I love ALL watching old movies… even ones I don’t particularly “like.”
For example, Mogambo is possibly one of the worst (only in my opinion, mind you) movies I’ve ever seen. My great love for both Clark Gable and Ava Gardner couldn’t even save this movie for me. And yet…. the time spent watching it was satisfying because, while it was pretty dreadful, it was still an old movie and it still brought old stars of Hollywood into my den.
The White Sister (1933) is nowhere near as bad as Mogambo. In fact, the majority of the movie is a lot of fun. Helen Hayes (Angela Chiaromonte) impossibly adorable and… well.. delightful. I normally don’t think, let alone use, the word delightful – but several times during the movie, I kept thinking, “Helen Hayes, you are delightful as Angela…” Then I’d stop and ask myself, “Did you just use the word delightful?…”
Another plus for the movie is the fact that Clark Gable (a personal fave) is downright lovable in the role of Giovanni Severi. A little trivia – because who doesn’t like trivia – this was the first time Clark Gable appeared in a movie with a mustache.
My problem with the movie is that I wish it had chosen one lane and stayed in it. The movie starts out so light-hearted and fun, you’re left thinking that you’re in for a fun romantic comedy and, if the writing had stayed in this vein, it’d have been a classic.
A few tragic turns and you’re left with something that isn’t romantic or comedic.
Now… again… having said all of that, the movie is still very much worth watching because of the performances of Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, and Louise Closser Hale (a total scene-stealer in the role of Mina). Unlike a lot of movies of the time, the acting in The White Sister was superb. The early days of Hollywood often say, dare we say it, melodramatic performances that can be hard even for those of us who are obsessed with the era to watch. Not one star in The White Sister tries to gnaw or chew on any of the scenery and there wasn’t one single cringe-worthy moment.
Plot: Angela Chiaromonte (Helen Hayes), is the beautiful, overly-sheltered daughter of a Prince. She falls for Giovanni (Clark Gable) and his zest for life, in spite of herself. When he is reported killed in action in World War I, she is consumed with grief and becomes a nun.
The White Sister is directed by Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind), which helps explain why the acting is so superb.
What I love about the movie: Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, and Louise Closser Hale do a wonderful job with their roles. They are excellent. The characters are lovable and you can’t help feeling drawn to each one. The clothes are also very memorable – the wardrobe department outdid themselves.
What I didn’t love about the movie: I’d have preferred it if the entire script had stayed light and romantic. The story was at its best when the characters and viewers were having fun.
Is the movie worth seeing? Absolutely. If you love old movies, Helen Hayes, and/or Clark Gable (and especially if, like me, you adore them all!) – you should see this movie right away. Will it become your favorite old movie of all time? Pretty doubtful.
But Helen Hayes is delightful. Perfectly delightful.
Two-Disk Set on Amazon:
Two legends of “Old Hollywood,”Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes, take the same role of Angela Chiaromonte, 10 years apart in The White Sister 2-disk set.