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1966 was the year of "Swinging London," when British pop groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and British films like Alfie and Georgy Girl were hits in the U.S. But one of the most successful British imports was a far cry from the Swinging London image...on screen, at least. Hayley Mills had become an audience favorite playing lively adolescents and teens in Disney films like Pollyanna (1960) and The Parent Trap (1961). By 1965, Mills was 19, and considerably more sophisticated than her screen image. She lived alone in her own apartment, and made headlines by "ordering wine at parties [and] trying to crash a nude floor show in Las Vegas," according to Photoplay magazine. But her audience didn't want to let her grow up. The Trouble With Angels (1966), her first film since the end of her Disney contract, was just as wholesome as her Disney films.
In The Trouble With Angels, Mills once again plays a mischievous schoolgirl, this time in a Catholic school run by nuns and presided over by Mother Superior Rosalind Russell. The film takes Mills and her best friend, played by newcomer June Harding, through three years at the St. Francis Academy, playing pranks and testing Russell's patience, until that patience is finally rewarded.
Producer William Frye hoped to coax Garbo out of retirement to play Mother Superior. When he was unsuccessful, he turned to another MGM alumna. Rosalind Russell had been off the screen since Gypsy (1962). A devout Catholic, Russell was an ideal choice for the nun, not only because of her familiarity with Catholic ritual, but also because of her air of authority and sense of humor. The supporting cast includes character actresses like Mary Wickes and Marge Redmond as nuns, and Gypsy Rose Lee as a teacher. There was another veteran behind the camera as well. Actress Ida Lupino had turned to directing in the 1950's, and had made some well-regarded independent films. After The Bigamist (1953), Lupino began directing episodes of such television series as The Untouchables, The Fugitive, and Bewitched. She was the only woman to ever direct a Twilight Zone episode. The Trouble With Angels was Lupino's first feature film in 13 years, and her final one as a director.
Lupino and Russell became fast friends, and enjoyed working together. The same could not be said about Russell and Hayley Mills. In her autobiography, Russell recalled Mills as "a demon. She used to stick out her tongue whenever I passed (she couldn't stand me) and she was bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality." That sexuality burst forth later the same year, when she starred as a working-class newlywed with an impotent husband in the British comedy, The Family Way (1966). And if that movie wasn't enough of a shock for her fans, Mills also fell in love with the film's director, Roy Boulting, who was 33 years her senior. The couple lived together for several years, later marrying and divorcing.
Most reviews at the time praised the performances in The Trouble With Angels, but dismissed it as a formula film, although Films and Filming called it "funny in a light, warm style...well-served by Rosalind Russell's superb Mother Superior....Ida Lupino's skillful direction confidently treads the dangerous path between farce and pious melodrama, and consistently draws the most from every key scene." And the film was such a hit with audiences that it inspired a sequel, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968), which also starred Rosalind Russell.
Director: Ida Lupino
Producer: William Frye
Screenplay: Blanche Hanalis, based on the book "Life With Mother Superior," by Jane Trahey
Editor: Robert C. Jones
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Costume Design: Helen Colvig, Sybil Connolly
Art Direction: John Bechman
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Rosalind Russell (Mother Superior), Hayley Mills (Mary Clancy), June Harding (Rachel Devery), Binnie Barnes (Sister Celestine), Camilla Sparv (Sister Constance), Mary Wickes (Sister Clarissa), Marge Redmond (Sister Liguori).
by Margarita Landazuri