Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Come to the Stable (1949)

NetFlix N/A
YouTube Link
IMDB 7.2/10
My Rating: 9/10
Sincerity Factor: 10/10
Treacle Factor: 4/10

Two nuns from a French convent travel to New England to found a children's hospital, but their lack of money, connections, and local resources propels them into encounters with church officials, landowners, and mobsters.

Part of the Kentucky Fried Popcorn Christmas Review Series.

Here's a tragedy - A movie that's been virtually forgotten, yet which should really be a bone-fide holiday classic on par with the Wonderful Life titles that everyone knows by heart.   Come to the Stable hasn't seen a commercial release since a VHS tape in the 80's, and it now seems lost in the public domain wasteland - That's why I posted the YouTube link above, where the movie can be seen in its entirety.  It's also floating around the usual torrent networks, if one prefers that route.  It can be found in DVD form at a few small online companies, but those are just transfers from the VHS version repackaged on DVD.  Hopefully someone will get smart and release a proper restored DVD edition of this!   But this film is the epitome of what I try to do with Kentucky Fried Popcorn, which is to bring unknown to light.

The story is very simple - Our heroines are Sister Margaret and Sister Scholastica, two nuns come to the US after World War 2 to fulfill a promise made during the war.  They ran a children's hospital in France, and prayed as the armies converged on their town that the generals would let them evacuate their charges.  They did, the kids all escaped, and now the good sisters are determined to do right for their faith by founding a new children's hospital in the states. 

Unfortunately, they face a few not-insignificant problems - They have no money, no support from the local arch diocese, no land to build on, and are complete strangers to US life and customs.  Unless you have a heart of stone, however, you can't help but grin and cheer for them as they barrel from one encounter to the next, borrowing what they need, following their instincts and charming a den of gangsters.  The land they want is owned by a city mob boss who they must "convince" to donate it, and they're also unknowingly up against the neighboring landowner Robert Masen (left), a music composer who has no desire to have a noisy hospital bordering his idyllic country home retreat.

A lot of the fun of this is in the humor - It's a much funnier story than you'd expect and the cheery nuns put an upbeat spin on everyone they meet.  The humor hasn't dated in the least, too...  It's largely in the form of witty banter and the occasional bit of slapstick, and the whole film feels as fresh as if it had been filmed yesterday. 

But expect to get a little misty, too.  Even the hardest of Grinchy hearts are likely to tear up at couple of places, especially the ending.  It isn't a movie that hits you over the head with its morality, but it's perfectly balanced enough to make one reflect on our own ideas of what we think we deserve versus the needs of others.  Robert Masen isn't a bad guy at all - He is nothing like the Scroogey anti-Christmas misers of so many other films, he's just a fellow who wants a little peace in a quiet little home he worked hard for.  It makes the conflict of the film much more ambiguous and indeed, more relatable.

One factor I've had to deal with head-on during this holiday movie marathon was the issue of religion in Christmas films - Where it belongs, where it doesn't, and the many ways in which it can be presented well and presented terribly.  I am not a churchgoer, myself, and am prone to take issue with movies that wag their fingers at me or try to hit me over the head with their spiritual message.  For me, the reason Come to the Stable works is because it has equal meaning for believers and non-believers alike - The religious can look at it and see the hand of god moving events and touching hearts, and the non-religious can view it as a parable of human goodness, of ordinary people doing remarkable things and showing generosity beyond expectations.  Like the best films, it's open to interpretation and even though the church is the center of the story, there aren't any fluttering angels or divine interventions.  Ultimately, it boils down to the central question we all face - Do we jealously guard our own comfort, or sacrifice for those in need?

And on that note, this wraps up the Kentucky Fried Popcorn holiday movie blowout for this year!  I hope everyone has enjoyed this wacko change of pace from my usual cinematic selections - I certainly have, and I look forward to doing this again next year... Especially because of all the films I didn't have time to write up this time out, such as Rare Exports, One Magic Christmas, and that oddly spooky modern movie, The Polar Express.  Until then, Happy Holidays to all, and to all a marvelous New Year!