The White Sister
Release Date: November 24, 1933
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Available on DVD through The Warner Brothers Archive Collection
Gable is Giovanni Severa, a pilot in the Italian Air Force. He meets Angela (Hayes), an aristocratic daughter of a prince (Stone). Her father opposes their romance but they steal moments together anyway. When Giovanni goes off to fight in the 1914-1918 war, Angela waits for him so they can get married. When she learns he has died in combat, she knows she will never love again and joins a convent.
Photoplay magazine, May 1933:
The poignantly beautiful F. Marion Crawford novel , Helen Hayes and Clark Gable reaching new heights in truly great roles–what more could be needed for a memorable picture? Nothing–although superb mounting and Victor Fleming’s outstandingly skillful direction naturally heighten the appeal of this long-favored story.
Probably you will remember the silent version which swept the country some years ago, for it was through playing in that, opposite Lillian Gish, that Ronald Colman won standing as one of the screen’s truly great. If so, any loss of interest will be balanced by the chance to compare two great sets of performances; for here, with Helen Hayes’ wonderfully sensitive interpretation, and Clark Gable giving a wonderfully sympathetic treatment of a difficult role, you may join the many who place their achievement above that of Lillian and Ronald.
If the story is new to you, you can imagine its possibilities for these gifted principals, from the fact that Helen, buffeted by life, and the supposed death of her Italian officer sweetheart Giovanni (played by Clark), seeks peace as a Catholic White Sister, only to have Giovanni reappear. Add to this, superb support by such players as Lewis Stone, Louise Closser Hale and May Robson, and you have plenty of reason for not letting yourself miss this.
Picture Play magazine, June 1933:
Again Helen Hayes discloses the marvel and the beauty of her magic acting and Clark Gable surpasses anything he has done. With that as a beginning it should surprise you to learn that this is an exquisite picture, a thing of pure beauty, tender, honest, and supremely romantic. If you are in the mood to forget the underworld, the wisecrack, the shady lady, here is your chance for perfect escape.
Perhaps you recall the story as Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman played it some years ago, the framework of which remains. I think the modernized version is more effective because it has the advantage of speech. Angela, a girl of modern Italy, daughter of a prince, falls in love with a dashing aviator of no family name. Her father killed while trying to prevent her meeting Giovanni, she goes away to mourn and to forget. He reapperas and they are about to be married when he is called to war. News of his supposed death causes her to renounce the world and enter a convent where she takes her vows as a nun. When Giovanni escapes from a German prison camp and begs her to yield to the love she still feels, Sister Angels refises and eventually her lover dies in her arms.
Far from being insistently melancholy, the story has liveliness, tenderness, and genuine poignance, thanks to tactful direction and superlative acting, not forgetting the extraordinary beauty of lighting and background.
Miss Hayes gives us another of her miraculous characterizations. She achieves a tremulous beauty of feeling and appearance that holds one spellbound in a low bow to the modesty of her genius. Mr. Gable wins admiration for his impudence, the lightness of his acting as well as his earnestness. The superiority of his role, as well as his handling of it, must surely impress those who have been satisfied to swoon at his brutality in the past. In my opinion, this is his best performance.
“Well, what do you think you’re doing?” first line
“Some of my best friends are uncles.”
“I don’t have to be intoxicated to tell you that you’re beautiful.”
“I made a vow to God once too–I vowed if I ever got out of the war I’d make you so happy you couldn’t–I’d make you very happy.”
“Not as long as we’re alive and love each other, it’s not too late!”
Behind the Scenes:
Based on the 1901 novel by F. Marion Crawford.
The film was essentially a remake of a remake, as it had been filmed twice before, in 1923 (with Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman) and in 1915.
Theater veteran Hayes enjoyed working with Gable and commented how he should have done more theater work.