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Max Reinhardt's tale of a nun who ventures into the world to follow the soldier she loves while a statue of the Virgin Mary takes her place was one of the 20th century's great stage productions. For the 1924 New York premiere, Reinhardt converted the theatre into a Medieval cathedral, transporting the audience back in time. Warner Bros. bought the stage rights in 1942 as a vehicle for Bette Davis and then spent the next 17 years trying to get it on screen. Finally, they transported the action to the Napoleonic wars, with sister Carroll Baker falling hard for British soldier Roger Moore (in a role planned for Richard Burton or Dirk Bogarde). The studio hired an international cast -- including Katina Paxinou, Vittorio de Sica, Carlos Rivas and Walter Slezak -- but canceled plans to shoot throughout Europe, using the argument that they were bringing the international spectacle back to Hollywood. Baker chose the role to escape typecasting after her success as the juvenile temptress in Baby Doll (1955), but was none to please when reviewers referred to her character as "Sister Mary Baby Doll." Divorced from her earlier notoriety, however, the performance survives thanks to her sincerity and conviction in the midst of the almost operatic staging.
By Frank Miller