Monday, November 7, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968)


Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows

Rosalind Russell as Mother Superior
Stella Stevens as Sister George
Barbara Hunter as Marvel Ann
Susan St. James as Rosabelle
Mary Wickes as Sister Clarissa
Binnie Barnes as Sister Celestine
Dolores Sutton as Sister Rose Marie
Hilarie Thompson as Hilary
Arthur Godfrey as The Bishop
Van Johnson as Father Chase
Robert Taylor as Mr. Farriday
Milton Berle as The Movie Director

Title song written by
Lalo Schifrin, Tommy Boyce, and Bobby Hart
Performed by
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
Written by
Blanche Hanalis
(based on characters created by Jane Trahey)
Directed by
James Neilson

I recently offered up this rave review of the 1966 Rosalind Russell and Hayley Mills film, The Trouble With Angels. I'm not sure as to exactly how successful the film was in the theaters but it did well enough that a sequel was green lighted by Columbia Pictures. Having  become a big fan of the original, I eagerly anticipated a continuation of the story in some manner so at the time I certainly viewed a sequel as a positive and not a negative.

Of course, if I had followed the film business back in those years the way one does on the Internet these days, I probably would have lowered my expectations. But we didn't get Daily Variety delivered to my little house on the banks of the Ohio River although I would go up the local news stand and read their copy that they got in once a week.  Yeah, I was a weird kid.

Ida Lupino would not be back in the directors chair, and neither Hayley Mills nor June Harding would return for the follow up. However, Rosalind Russell did sign on the dotted line to recreate her role as the stern but understanding Mother Superior. Mary Wickes, Dolores Sutton, and Binnie Barnes would also return to St. Francis as Sisters Clarissa, Rose-Marie, and Celestine.

With Mills and Harding out, Susan St. James as Rosabelle was enlisted to team up with Mary Clancy's cousin, Marvel Ann, played in both films by Barbara Hunter.

New to the order of St. Francis was Sister George (Stella Stevens ) as a rebellious nun who is more into protests and peace rallies than going to mass although I imagine she spent a lot of time in the confessional to compensate for those discrepancies.

It is obvious even before the credits are over that the Sister George character was written with the idea that Ms. Mills would return to continue her role so that we could find out whether or not Mary Clancy had the right stuff to make it as a nun. But she didn't return so we get Ms. Stevens pretending to be a nun who is based on a character in the original but really isn't that character at all because the original actress went on to do more adult things like baring her backside for a film called The Family Way.

The movie opens with a snappy little pop song by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart conveniently titled Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. I think the song made it up to number 899 in the Billboard top 1000 pop singles for that year. But that’s just a wild guess. If the song sounds a lot like something The Monkees would have sang,  it's because the duo penned a few of their classic songs as well.  And what better way is there to find out who's playing whom in your movie credits?  Well you could read the ones I put at the top of this page but it’s not nearly as entertaining as watching a video, is it?  This is a real toe tapper…and a one…and a two….and a……

Whether you like the song or not doesn't matter. You're pretty much stuck with it if you watch this movie because Producer William Frye and Director James Neilson (taking over for Ida Lupino) love it enough to use it every chance they get. You'll hear it sung during the opening credits, in a long dance sequence later, and sung over the end credits. And if that's not enough for you, Lalo Schifrin who co-wrote the song with Boyce and Hart, uses the same four or five bars from the song as his entire score.   Maybe they thought they had another Hey Jude or Let It Be on their hands.

It is quite possible though that they only paid Schifrin for the one song because if you know anything about television and film scores you would know that Schifrin went on to pen some of the best there were including Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Dirty Harry, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, and one of my all time favorite haunting scores, Wait Until Dark. His Mission: Impossible theme was given somewhat of a revival with the Tom Cruise films based on that series. Not to mention that you can now buy that entire original series. I would certainly recommend at least trying a couple of seasons.  I own two, would like to own the whole set, but who can afford that crap?

Besides getting a rundown of the cast members while the song is playing,  we also get several scenes of Sister George protesting, picketing, being arrested, and bailed out by Reverend Mother so at least the film wastes no time in delving into what we can expect from Sister Woodstock. We also find out during this sequence that although St. Francis may have had trouble coming up with the money for a new boiler in the original film, they have an unlimited amount of petty cash fund to bail Sister George out of jail.  Maybe they won a few more band competitions since our last visit.  Mr. Petry must be frothing at the mouth.

When the credits do end, St. George, The Dragon Killer, (as she is referred to) is just returning from one of her rallies, very much to the chagrin of Reverend Mother. After a few quick scenic exterior shots to let us know we're back at St. Francis, we go straight to Reverend Mother having a chat with the often talked about but never before seen Bishop who looks remarkably like TV and Radio Icon Arthur Godfrey.

The discussion is regarding a rally out west that Sister George would like for the outstanding students of St. Francis to attend. It is as described: Interfaith, Interracial, and co-educational. After telling Reverend Mother to have more patience with Sister George then he had with Julius LaRosa, the Bishop convinces her to agree to the trip. And no sooner does she do so than there is a blast from one of the upstairs windows at St. Francis.

It is then that we meet Rosabelle (Susan St. James) for the first time and catch up with Mary Clancy's much maligned and once plastered cousin  Marvel Ann (Barbara Hunter). It seems that Sister George was giving a lesson regarding the dangers of household chemicals and how with the right mixture they could be used to cause all kinds of bombings and mischief.

At a meeting with the sisters, Reverend Mother clearly spells out the ground rules for the trip: junior or senior girls, B average or better, co-operative attitude, and reasonable hygiene habits.

Although the chances of them being picked are slim to none (Marvel Ann flunks on all categories, Rosabelle is straight A's but isn't up to snuff on the other requirements), Marvel Ann and Rosabelle decide to hold dance parties in the restroom and charge the girls to attend. It is never fully explained why the rest of the girls would have to pay to dance in their own restroom or why they would want to do so. You just have to take it for granted that they would. You will find that with this film, you always have to just take certain things for granted.

Of course, they get caught by Reverend Mother, who quickly pulls the plug on the scheme. Still all is not lost. When Reverend Mother is told that the school bus is too antiquated to make a cross country trip, she finagles Marvel Ann’s father George Clancy (William Lundigan taking over this important role) into donating a new bus in exchange for taking his daughter on the trip.

What bothered me the most about this whole business with the bus is that in the first film, Reverend Mother was so disgusted with Mr. Clancy and his "secretaries" that she pulled the plug on expelling his niece because of it. Here, it is pretty much played as nothing more than an inside joke between Mother and Mr. Clancy.  “Yes, Mr. Clancy, you buy us a brand new bus and I'll light a candle for you and forget you’re pretty much a worthless son of a bitch.”

The trip finally gets underway, minus Rosabelle only not really. Do you really need me to tell you that she manages to make the trip? But I'll leave it to you to discover how she manages that trick.

If you haven't seen The Trouble with Angels, then you might like this quickie fast food sequel as throwaway entertainment. Unfortunately, for those of us who did see that gem, this one pales mightily by comparison. While we do get some returning characters, we get none of the charm, zero amount of the depth, and a story that does nothing more than move from one gag to the next. It's almost as if they only watched a third of the first film, and decided for some reason to just duplicate that and the heck with the rest of the story or creating a story with any real meaning or purpose.  And worse yet, the gags are just not funny.  I guess Rosabelle and Marvel Ann are lacking in scathingly brilliant idea skills.

Rosalind Russell does okay with what she has to do here which is basically catch Rosabelle (Susan St. James) and Marvel Ann on a couple of occasions and to argue with hip Sister George (Stella Stevens) before, after, in between, and during rest stops. In other words, they argue through most of the movie.

Just don’t expect the antagonism between Rosabelle and Mother to be anything remotely resembling the conflict that Mother Superior had with Mary Clancy because there is none. Just a few set ups for some sight gags.

We also have a major problem from the beginning with the fact that the Marvel Ann character is still attending St. Francis. First, when Mary was sent to the school at the beginning of the original film, it is made abundantly clear that Marvel Ann had been at the school for some time already. So surely she should have graduated.  And I’m sorry, but while Susan St. James’s Rosabelle is at least somewhat likable, Hunter’s Marvel Ann continues to be what she was in the original:  an obnoxious self loathing whiny little shit.  I just don’t like the character, and she is really giving nothing in the way of redeeming qualities in the sequel to make us even remotely care.  But that’s mostly the fault of the writer, who felt it was pointless to explain why and how she might have become the girl everybody would run from as fast and as far away as they could.

Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing Marvel Ann at the graduation ceremony in the original film so maybe she was just a terrible student which doesn't at all explain why Rachel was able to graduate when she was supposed to be the worst of the lot. Did I miss something? And if there's one thing I abhor about sequels, it's when they are completely inconsistent with what went on in the previous film(s) or act as if they didn’t matter or even happened.

Late in the film Rosalie and Marvel Ann get into a little spat that threatens to break up their friendship. It's such a minor incident as compared to what came between Rachel and Mary, that we just sort of shrug are shoulders. We know they will resolve this one easily enough. To be perfectly honest, I never got the feeling that the friendship between these two girls was that deep and if they ever somehow managed to graduate, they probably never saw or heard from each other again. Or maybe I just didn’t give a damn. I doubt that you will either.

The conflict that simmers throughout the film between the Rev. Mother, who is set in her ways, and the radical Sister George is not very convincing. This might have played better if there was any reason at all to be understanding and sympathetic toward Sister George. Reverend Mother seems to at least be trying, but gets nothing in return. Sister George is such an obnoxious ass that we only find her to be more irritating with each second of screen time. If they had made her play the part as Mary Clancy, it might have helped even if it is a different actress. It’s not like that hasn’t been done before in other films. 

Yes, I know it isn't the same but it's not like it couldn't have been done. It just doesn't help one bit that Sister George's method of trying to change the way the sisters think and feel about the outside world is to look upon them with total disdain most of the time, and to ridicule them the rest of the time.  Between Marvel Ann’s constant whining and Sister George’s ranting, raving, and just plain bitching, it’s a lose/lose situation for us. What a mess!

I don't entirely fault Stella Stevens, well yes I do, but I couldn't help but imagine that having Hayley Mills in the role would have gone a long way to making the character much more digestible. Stevens tries I suppose, but like everything else in this film, the script doesn't believe in giving us any depth to her at all. Here, she’s even more of a shrew than when she was Ernest Borgnine’s wife in The Poseidon Adventure. It's hard to believe that both The Trouble With Angels was penned by the same writer of this one, Blanche Hanalis.  But perhaps Jane Trahey’s book was  better source material.

Adding to the problems, journeyman James Neilson's direction is totally uninspired, directing the film as if it were a TV movie. Understandable when you take a look at many of his other directing assignments, not understandable when you look at his film, The Moon-Spinners. But then again, having Walt Disney looking over your shoulder giving his input probably inspired him.

In the first film, the outsiders were also there for the specific purpose of moving the story along no matter how brief their tenure at St. Francis. Here, we get Milton Berle, Van Johnson, and Robert Taylor, are here as celebrity guests when the school bus carrying the girls needs to make a pit stop. And the fact is that most of what goes on when the bus does stop is just plain dull and boring.  Time to twiddle your thumbs.

Oh look, it's nuns at an amusement park! Oh look, it's nuns and girls at a school for boys! Oh look, it's nuns at a dude ranch! Frankly, they could just as easily have stopped at the Dairy Queen, McDonalds, and Sears and it wouldn't have changed the story much. In between these stops we also get a lot of footage of the bus traveling down the road. In fact, if they had cut the scenes of the bus rolling on down the highway they probably could have knocked twenty minutes off the running time.  But according to one story I read, they received the bus in exchange for advertising it in the movie.  If that story is true, then that bus company got their money’s worth and then some.  

Worst yet, there is one totally weird sequence involving the bus and an oncoming train that seems to have been thrown in for no reason at all. It certainly isn't funny. It adds nothing to the story and has absolutely nothing to do with anything else that happens in the film. You can only wonder, “what the hell were they thinking?” It’s a real downer.  No word on how the bus manufacturer felt about this scene.

If all this wasn't bad enough, what kind of a big finish do we get?  We get the dreaded voiceover by Rosalind Russell telling us how everything turns out instead of a real ending. This is the ending they give you in movies when they can't figure out any other way to wrap things up without spending any more of the studio's cash. I felt like I'd been screwed, especially the first time I saw it when I actually paid my hard earned lunch money I had to save to go see the damn thing. 

If you have never seen The Trouble with Angels, you might enjoy this once if you deposit your brain at your doorstep so you can stomach the marshmallow plot, and the cookie cut out characters. If you have seen The Trouble with Angels think of it as being the Mona Lisa and Where Angels Go Trouble Follows as the kindergarten finger painting equivalent. And if you can do no more than finger paint I have no choice but to give you my grade which is a C-.

“Where Angels Go, Trouble follows” is available to buy or to rent from Netflix on DVD. The format is the usual crappy pan and scan. It is also now available on Netflix Instant Streaming (11/05/2011), with the usual caveat of streaming today, but maybe not tomorrow. However, the widescreen version can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies during those times when they have the film is in their library.  If you watched the original you’ll probably watch this film at least once, just because of the curiosity factor, and to maybe see a teen-age Susan St. James before she became Mrs. McMillan or before she became “Kate” to Jane Curtin’s Allie, or before she became Peggy Maxwell of Name of the Game. At least we know that better days were ahead for Ms. St. James and that she made it out of St. Francis unscathed. (Susan St. James was in fact, an old 22 when this film was madeBarbara Hunter was 20)  As for Barbara Hunter, well I don’t know. Maybe she joined her cousin Mary in the convent. 

As for you, if you just can’t get enough of it, here’s Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows by Boyce & Hart once again.  This is the “souped up” party version.  Dance the night away y’all.