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Come to the Stable (Henry Koster, 1949)

 

     Cornball, even given the standards of its period and genre, Henry Kosterís religious comedy Come to the Stable retains some degree of charm, despite the sense that creating a film as naÔve as it today would be unfathomable. It tells the story of two nuns who wish to thank the Lord for protecting their childrenísí hospital during World War II by building a sister location in New England. The movie takes this simple premise and coasts on the audienceís suspension of disbelief and the relatively minimal charms of its cast. A clear precursor to Lilies of the Field, it unashamedly stacks the deck as its heroines conquer supposedly insurmountable (but never actually doubtful) odds.

     Everyone hams it up here. The two leading nuns are played by a chatty Loretta Young and a mousy, French-accented Celeste Holm. In their quest to erect a monument to their faith, they encounter a doddering postcard painter (Elsa Lanchester), an irascible musician (Hugh Marlowe), a befuddled servant (Dooley Wilson), a stern Bishop (Basil Ruysdael), and a sentimental mobster (Thomas Gomez). Each of them has ample opportunity to showcase their eccentricity, impress us with their charity, and wiggle their way into our hearts. The script is so schematic that itís not hard to predict how each interaction will pan out, but it also becomes rather easy to appreciate how shamelessly and unremittingly it manipulates its audience. Despite any religious concerns, this is Hollywood at its most formulaic. The plot even stalls midway, so would-be matinee idol Marlowe can croon an irrelevant musical number.

     Come to the Stable almost dares you to dismiss it, but itís finally too ingratiating to be considered a complete wash. Whatís most odd about its effect, then, is how the comedy, and the inspirational qualities too, are dependent upon the audience identifying the sisters as meddlesome and vaguely incompetent. If one believes in their self-sufficience, their good fortune is no longer attributable to divine grace, after all. Surely a film that shows both its age and its seams, Come to the Stable nonetheless remains a testament to old Hollywoodís ability to sell anything it put its mind to.

 

54

Jeremy Heilman

02.04.09