The Nun and the Sergeant
Cast & Crew
During the Korean War, U. S. Marine Sergeant McGrath and his Korean guide Pak are assigned to a critical mission which offers little chance for survival. Rather than sacrifice good fighting men, McGrath falsifies orders and takes along a motley assortment of men from the brig. Dropped behind enemy lines, the men encounter a nun and a group of Korean schoolgirls whose bus has been destroyed by a bomb. Fearful that the nun, whose leg has been injured, may reveal their position to the enemy, McGrath orders the women to accompany him. As they approach their destination, McGrath gradually wins the admiration of the nun and the girls as well as most of the men. One exception is Dockman, a burly coward who tries to rape one of the schoolgirls while McGrath is away from camp; he is stopped by the other soldiers who turn against him and refuse to participate in an escape attempt. When it becomes apparent that the nun will die from her leg wound unless she receives immediate medical care, McGrath permits the girls to carry her to a nearby village. Confident that his men will follow him, he leads them into action.
Valentin De Vargas
Norman Du Pont
Gregori F. Kris
Bartlett A. Carré
Woodruff H. Clark
Harold N. Even
The Nun And The Sergeant
The Nun and the Sergeant, set several years later in the Korean War, has a decidedly less romantic appeal to it, with plot elements that would get a lot more mileage a few years later in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Robert Webber plays the sergeant of the title, the proverbial grizzled GI, who chooses the worst soldiers in the company for a suicide mission behind enemy lines. When they reach their target, however, they discover an injured nun and her stranded schoolgirl charges. The inevitable complications ensue, including an act of heroism that garners the men's respect for their once-hated sergeant and an attempted rape of one of the girls by the one unregenerate soldier in the bunch.
The nun is played by Anna Sten, the Swedish-Ukrainian beauty brought to America in the early 1930s by Samuel Goldwyn as his hoped-for answer to Garbo and Dietrich. This was her last feature film, although she lived another three decades, largely forgotten, until her death in New York at the age of 84 in 1993. Her Hollywood pictures never did very well, but she achieved immortality in a line from Cole Porter's song "Anything Goes," which referenced her inability to speak English when she first came stateside: "When Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / Instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / Anything goes."
Although Robert Webber never achieved major stardom, his face is certainly familiar to audiences who may not even know his name. In television and movies since 1950, Webber lent expert support to a number of high-profile productions, including 12 Angry Men (1957), The Sandpiper (1965), as a general in the aforementioned The Dirty Dozen, and as the sexually harassing Col. Thornbush, given his come-uppance by Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin (1980). It was television, however, that gave him his most steady employment; he appeared in more than 100 series, mini-series, and made-for-TV movies between 1950 and 1988, a year before his death at age 64.
The would-be rapist is played by Leo Gordon, a menacing screen heavy once described by director Don Siegel (no shrinking violet himself) as "the scariest man I have ever met." Apparently, Gordon's persona wasn't just a screen image; he once served time for armed robbery in San Quentin prison. Also a popular TV actor, beginning with his first role in 1952 and continuing through dozens of small-screen shows, Gordon was seen in his later years as Joe the Blacksmith in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) and as real-life General Omar Bradley in the mini-series War and Remembrance (1989).
Another face in the platoon familiar to film buffs is Valentin de Vargas, who terrorized Janet Leigh in a sleazy border-town motel room, hovering over her and flicking his tongue like a snake, in Orson Welles's film noir classic Touch of Evil (1958). He made his debut, uncredited as a Latino student, in Blackboard Jungle (1955) and worked steadily on film and television until 2011, just two years before his death.
Director Franklin Adreon had been a Marine himself during World War II, rising to the rank of major in command of the Marine Corps Photographic Unit in Quantico, where he likely did not have much interaction with nuns. He began in films in 1935 and was a reliable second feature director, producer, and screenwriter, largely at Republic Pictures. He also frequently worked in television, primarily Western series, although he also directed many episodes of the series Lassie in the late 1950s.
Here's a fascinating bit of pop culture lore: The Nun and the Sergeant screenplay was written by Don Cerveris, who was musician Frank Zappa's English teacher. Cerveris secured a music scoring gig for Zappa on a B Western Cerveris wrote, Run Home Slow (1965). With the money he earned from that job, Zappa was able to purchase a recording studio where he cut "Freak Out," the first album with his band The Mothers of Invention, released in 1966. Run Home Slow and The Nun and the Sergeant are the only two films Cerveris has to his credit.
The most famous contributor to this film is neither an actor nor director but the composer of the score Jerry Fielding (1922-1980), one of the top composers in American film and television in his time, particularly the 1970s. This was his first feature film job after a decade on television. He went on to Academy Award nominations for The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971)--two of the five movies he made with director Sam Peckinpah--and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).
Director: Franklin Adreon
Producer: Eugene Frenke
Screenplay: Don Cerveris
Cinematography: Paul Ivano
Editing: John Hoffman, Carl Mahakian
Art Direction: Robert Kinoshita
Original Music: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Webber (Sgt. McGrath), Anna Sten (Nun), Leo Gordon (Dockman), Hari Rhodes (Hall), Robert Easton (Nupert), Valentin de Vargas (Rivas)
By Rob Nixon