Hollywood sequels nearly always fail (“The Godfather: Part II” one of the few and best exceptions) at many levels. So does “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” two years after “The Trouble With Angels.” It’s not that it is terrible or simply a throw-away effort to cash in on the popularity of the original (although it is the latter), it’s just that the characters are stereotypical and Hollywood-friendly … that being acceptable to a mainstream, conservative audience. Despite this, you’ll find a couple of nice performances and it is kind of endearing when viewed through glasses of naiveté. I truly enjoyed the original in my pre-teen days and the sequel is watchable. You can’t say that about all sequels.
‘Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows’
(1968; 93 minutes; rated G; directed by James Neilson and starring Rosalind Russell, Stella Stevens, Mary Wickes and Susan Saint James)
A CHANGING CHURCH IN A TIME OF CHANGE
(NOTE: I expanded this review with a little more opinion, a couple of pieces of trivia and the updating of links on Oct. 3, 2016.)
I know that “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” is saccharine, portrays clean-cut kids taking the conservative audience track to radical ideas in the 1960s and ties everything up neatly at the end. Despite these potentially fatal flaws, “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” is easy to watch and an acceptable sequel to one of my favorite films as a youngster – “The Trouble With Angels” (click here for my review).
It is still fun to watch as a family-friendly film and it’s especially neat to see what Hollywood did on one side of the radical ’60s: for a mainstream conservative audience they let clean-cut kids kind of experiment with rebellion without being long-haired, unwashed or making all kinds of assaults on the bastions of tradition (that was left to independent filmmakers telling a more factual tale). It’s kind of like “Wally” and “the Beaver” go to a peace rally.
Actually, it is a bit more than that with the philosophy of a changing Catholic church in the face of the social upheaval of the time (this film was released in 1968) handled in a low-key, but somewhat effective way. Toss in life lessons such as facing down motorcycle dudes or expanding the boundaries of the real world and your intelligence isn’t insulted (but the scenes are nowhere near any form of reality). In the final analysis, it shows that fluff films of the ‘60s have at least some depth while the vapid entertainment today (especially the execrable mess of reality TV) has none of that intelligence.
As to the story, the convent/girls school of St. Francis has moved along after the original and now has a popular nun who is at the epicenter of the “happening” protests at the time. She’s cool, but she’s still a nun. She also is somewhat mentoring two girls (one from the original and the other a 22-year-old Susan Saint James) and, naturally, rebelling against the conservative views of Rosalind Russell (who plays “Mother Simplicia” and was “Mother Superior” in the original).
The central plot is that the school is going across country to an interfaith peace rally and the adventures found on the bus trip – including a stop at a boys Catholic school (scandalous!). You don’t ever get to see the rally, but the ending has some progressive change for St. Francis as the nuns literally change their habits. Ha! Pun intended.
Most interesting is the conversations between Russell and Stella Stevens, who plays the popular and progressive “Sister George.” Russell makes some excellent points, especially in one discussion about an older nun (played by Mary Wickes). Russell scores a bulls eye in pointing out that the nun, who, 20 years before began driving the St. Francis bus, was a trail blazer at a time when it wasn’t politic to do so (just like Stevens was in the film). So, as I’ve already written, it’s a nice touch of intelligence where it could have just been a sop to the times.
Here’s a rundown of the principal cast:
- I really enjoyed four-time Oscar nominee Russell’s work in the original and she grades out only slightly less effective here. Russell, who died of breast cancer at 69 less than a decade after “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows,” is effective as the commanding leader of the convent and the girls. She also has an uncanny ability to convince you that she is a nun – something that Stevens couldn’t do. Russell’s first Oscar nomination was for “My Sister Eileen” in 1942.
- Golden Globe winner Stevens is appropriately energetic and motivated in changing the church and relating to the kids. Of course there’s a life lesson here, too, but I’ll leave that to you to examine. Stevens gets solid marks for this one, but it is impossible for her to best Russell. She, too, is convincing in her role. Stevens was also in “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Nutty Professor.”
- I cannot plagiarize myself, so I’ll let my review of Mary Wickes’ work in the original stand for her effort here: “Mary Wickes, who plays Sister Clarissa, who drives the school’s bus and teaches physical education … has a good time in the role and went on to play another nun in Whoopi Goldberg’s “Sister Act” and its sequel. Wickes had a prolific career and notched 138 acting credits, according to IMDb.com, right up to her death in 1995. She was known for her physical comedy, sharp tongue and distinctive voice. Wickes did a “Love Boat” episode, too.”
- Saint James as “Rosabelle” and Barbara Hunter as “Marvel Ann” are the school girls with a penchant for getting into trouble. They both do a good job here but neither effort is a career-maker. Saint James would go on to three Golden Globe nominations and was in TV’s “McMillan & Wife” and “Kate & Allie.” Hunter, who returns from the original, had only 10 credits in a brief Hollywood career including TV’s “Leave it to Beaver.”
A quartet of “in” characters in the film (people who normally would be stuff-shirts but who are progressive in the film) are:
- The legendary Arthur Godfrey plays the progressive “Bishop” and is smooth and this wasn’t much of a challenge to his talent. He’s affable and soothing to Russell’s ruffled feathers. Of course, few church bishops would have been this way at the time … but you never know. He had only 10 acting credits in his entertainment career and I liked him best in “The Glass Bottom Boat” with Doris Day (click here for my review) and his episode of “The Love Boat” (click here to read my analysis of the show).
- Van Johnson plays “Father Chase” and is the head of the boys’ school where the girls stay on their cross-country trip. He, too, is smooth and affable and like so many authority figures is only a figment of what that kind of person was at the time. Johnson was much better in “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart (click here for my review) and it was a crime he wasn’t nominated, much less win, an Oscar for that one.
- Another legend, Milton Berle, plays “the Director” and is shooting a western when the girls’ bus barges in on an action scene. It’s a small role an he dispatches it with ease, but there’s no special work here for him. “Uncle Miltie” as he was known was in the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
- Robert Taylor as “Mr. Farriday” is the owner of a ranch where the girls get to meet some cowboys. Taylor’s work is forgettable here and he was in “Quo Vadis” in a career spanning six decades (that film was nominated for eight Oscars). He died of lung cancer at the relatively young age of 57 the year after “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” was released.
The single most fun thing with “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” is that its title song was written and performed by Boyce and Hart, the songwriting duo best known for writing most of the hits for The Monkees. It is a catchy tune and was used at the “happening” dance in the film.
“Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” didn’t crack the top 20 of films in 1968 and I couldn’t find a reliable total for sales for the film. At No. 1 for the year was “2001: A Space Odyssey” with $56.7 million and the 20th was “Bandolero!” with $12 million. Other top films of the year included Disney’s “The Love Bug” (No. 3 with $51.2 million) and John Wayne’s controversial Vietnam war story “The Green Berets” (No. 13 with $21.7 million) and the Steve McQueen cop-and-chase classic “Bullitt” (No. 5 with $42.3 million).
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com and my own research):
- The girls ride the “Thunderhawk” at Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. It is still in operation today and you can click here to read about it.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Milton Berle’s performance as the ‘Director’ is a parody of John Ford, with the eye patch, the sunglasses, and the style of hat, as well as the fact that he is directing a western movie.”
- The signature building of “St. Francis Academy” didn’t play as big a role in the sequel as it did in the original. Today it is Mary’s Villa for Families and Children in Ambler, Penn., and you can click here to read about it.
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