THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S (Olive Films Blu Ray $29.95 or DVD $19.95, December 2019). Original Release: RKO, December 1945. B&W. Not Rated. 126 minutes. Region 1/A. 1.37:1
https://olivefilms.com/product/the-bells-of-st-marys/ (The Blu Ray Release is the version used for this review).
The holidays are here, so I won’t make this a very long review, only to make sure that I say
that if you love the Christmas season, you need to add OLIVE FILMS ‘SIGNATURE COLLECTION edition of
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S.
The story to some may now seem a bit cliched, with Bing Crosby’s priest character parodied endlessly in various television shows (including THE SIMPSONS (Fox,1989- forever ). However, when you return to the original classic film, you see how well it stands up, and makes you laugh and cry with ease, ending with an unexpected feeling of joy in humanity.
Released by RKO on December 5,1945 in New York at Radio City Music Hall, the film was an immediate hit both with critics (with a few Scrooges) and audiences alike, becoming the highest grossing 1945 release and RKO’s most profitable film in its erratic history.
St. Mary’s Parish is one that caters to the poor. The Church is trying to decide as to whether it is worth keeping open or close it. The school attached is in disrepair as well, with many feeling it too needs to close and the students transferred to a more modern school.
Enter Father “Chuck” O’Malley (Bing Crosby, reprising his Oscar winning role from GOING MY WAY, RKO ,1944). His job is to access the situation. The barrier he faces is Sister Superior Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman, who, the opening titles informs us, appears by arrangement with David O. Selznick). Sister Superior and her fellow Sisters all feel that things will soon turn around and that God Will Provide.
The Father and the Sisters then spend the rest of the film dealing with a local businessman donating to the Parish, troubled students and various incidents both funny or/and touching. Bing even manages to squeeze in six songs (both singularly and with a choir), four of which were later released as popular singles.
The film was nominated in several categories ,including Best Actor (Crosby , the first actor to be nominated a second time for portraying the same role), Best Actress(Bergman),Best Director(Leo McCarey, DUCK SOUP, Paramount ,1933)Best Editing, Best Music, Best Song ,but only winning for Best Sound Recording (Stephen Dunn, two years after he won for THIS LAND IS MINE, RKO,1943).
OLIVE FILMS SIGNATURE FILMS are always the best of the best when it comes to restoration as well as extras, and this package is no exception.
The film has been given a brand new 4K restoration. The movie has never been out of public view and the previous releases on tv, video and DVD have all been fine. This new release, however, is so sharp, that it looks like a film shot this year, and not 74 years previously.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono sonic has been given a marvelous boost as well, showing why it won the Oscar. There is nary a pop or hiss to distract from the sound effects, dialogue, and of course, music in this classic.
As to extras:
Audio Commentary : Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins (A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS Back Bay Books, 2002) has an informative and pleasant running commentary about the production and reactions to the picture. It is astonishing to discover what a Nativity scene with a bunch of children was nearly cut because there was fear that it might offend Catholics!)
FAITH & FILM: Sister Rose Pocotte, film critic and founding Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in L.A., brings a combined critical as well as faith-based point of view to the classic.
HUMAN NATURE: LEO McCAREY & THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S : Film Historian Steve Massa (LAME BRAINS & LUNATICS, Bear Manor 2013) discusses the career of the director, from his works in comedies to more serious themes in his work after a car accident influenced his world view.
BEFORE SEQUEL-ITIS: THE ORIGINS OF HOLLYWOOD FRANCHISES : Professor Emily Carman of Chapman University discusses the need to see more of certain popular characters.
VINTAGE RADIO ADAPTATIONS :Radio adaptations of popular movies were quite common from the 1930s up to the early 1950s. Both recordings heard here were on the popular Screen Guild Theater radio series (August 26, 1946 and October 6,1947). Both Bergman and Crosby repeat their roles in these 30-minute abridgements. I used to own these on a 1981 vinyl LP release from the old-time radio specialty company Sandy Hook Records, so it was nice to hear them again.
Booklet : an 8-page illustrated booklet with an essay by Film Reviewer Abbey Bender gives a nice overview of the picture.
The holidays are now upon us, so if you want a perfect gift for people who love
Then this is the perfect stocking stuffer for them—or you (go on -you’ve earned it!).
MERRY CHRISTMAS and thank you to Olive Films Signature Series.
Previous releases include
A NEW LEAF
Review by Kevin G Shinnick
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