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As rains flood Norfolk County, England, Sister Mary Bonaventure is busy running the hospital ward at the Our Lady of Rheims Convent with unfailing correctness. When Nurse Phillips rebels against Mary's exactitude, the nun berates herself for being inflexible and reveals to the Mother Superior that she has not felt peace since she discouraged her sister from marrying a corrupt man, and her sister committed suicide. Soon after, the roads are washed out, and police Sergeant Melling is forced to sequester convicted murderess Valerie Carns and her guard, Pierce, in the convent until they can reach the prison to carry out Valerie's death sentence. The townspeople have also crowded into the convent seeking shelter, and although they protest Valerie's presence, Mary tries to comfort the desperate young woman. Valerie slowly warms to Mary and informs her that she is innocent of poisoning her brother, the ailing pianist Jason Carns. The head of the hospital, however, Dr. Edward Jeffreys, informs Mary of the facts of the case: he was Jason's physician while Valerie was caring for her brother, and heard her state that she wished Jason was dead. At the trial, his testimony and other circumstantial evidence suggested that Valerie had administered a fatal overdose of her brother's medicine on the day he died. Mary, who understands feeling guilt and dismay over a loved one's death, feels drawn to Valerie and believes in her innocence. That night, Mary researches the trial with the help of her friend, Sister Josephine. They leave a photograph of Jason on a table, and when Jeffreys discovers his ill, distraught wife Isabel staring at the picture, he rips it up and gives her a sedative, warning her not get involved. Valerie later begs Mary to bring her fiancé, Sidney Kingham, to the convent. The Carnses' faithful half-wit servant, Willie, finds a rowboat to transport Mary to Sidney's town, and she goes even though she knows it is forbidden for her to help Valerie. Along the way, Willie reveals that Jason was a sadist, and that Willie stole one of his letters to punish him for mistreating Valerie. When they find Sidney, Mary convinces him to believe in his girl friend's innocence and delivers him to the convent, where he embraces Valerie passionately. The next morning, Melling discovers that Willie has destroyed the rowboat so Valerie cannot be taken to the prison, and presses charges against Mary for not stopping him. Against the Mother Superior's orders, she gives Willie's stolen letter to Valerie, and although it is clearly a love letter from a married woman to Jason, Valerie cannot guess who the writer might be. After an unknown assailant strikes Willie over the head that evening, the Mother Superior finds and burns the letter, stating that Mary's stubbornness is only hurting others. In the next room, Isabel asks Jeffreys if he retrieved her letter, and he tells her that if she keeps talking about her "dreams" he will have her committed. The phone wires are fixed, and Sidney, realizing that Valerie will soon be brought to the prison, begs Mary to help them. She at first refuses, but when Josephine brings more press clippings about the trial, they notice that the pharmacist, Abel Harmer, was inconsistent in his testimony. Jeffreys eavesdrops as they go to Harmer, who quickly realizes that someone tampered with the key to the medicine cabinet on the night of the murder. As she passes Isabel's room, Mary, hearing Isabel protest that Jeffreys is oversedating her, confronts her. Isabel weakly reveals that she was Jason's lover and that the older man was going to help her escape her husband when Jeffreys discovered the affair and killed Jason, then pinned the murder on Valerie. Mary tries to drag Isabel to Melling, but Jeffreys intercepts them and tricks Mary into accompanying him to the bell tower. There, he tells Mary he would do anything to keep Isabel's love. Jeffreys then attacks Mary, who rings the bell, alerting Sidney. Sidney rushes to her rescue and the two men fight until Sidney overpowers the doctor. As Jeffreys is arrested, Valerie and Sidney kiss, and Mary explains to the Mother Superior that she knows now that God chose his servants to help mankind.
Leslie I. Carey
John J. Devlin
Russell A. Gausman
Ted J. Kent
Commander K. D. Iain Murray
Hans J. Salter
Joan St. Oegger
The working titles of this film were Written on the Wind and Bonaventure. According to a February 15, 1947 Los Angeles Examiner item, the film was originally to be based on the 1932 scandal in which torch singer Libby Holman was suspected of having murdered her millionaire husband, Zachary Smith Reynolds. Los Angeles Examiner reported in February 1947 that the story had been changed substantially "in order to forestall any possibility of legal trouble" with the Reynolds family. (For more information, see the entry for the Universal picture Written on the Wind, below.) According to a July 23, 1946 Hollywood Reporter item, Joseph Sistrom was to produce the film, and a April 7, 1948 item in Hollywood Reporter noted that Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster were to star, but production would be delayed until January 1949 in order to accomodate Fontaine's pregnancy.
Thunder on the Hill marked the American feature film debut of Australian-born actor and director Michael Pate. Although Hollywood Reporter news items add Ethel Ince to the cast and report that Claudette Colbert's stand-in, Carol Deane, played a nun, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. When a scene from this film was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre's "Movie Time, U. S. A." program on September 24, 1951, Claudette Colbert and Ann Blyth reprised their roles. Colbert again played "Sister Mary" in a November 9, 1953 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, this time joined by Barbara Rush, while Phyllis Thaxter and Beverly Garland starred in the Lux Video Theatre version which aired on May 26, 1955.
Released in United States Fall September 1951
Shot in November and December 1950.
Released in United States Fall September 1951