...Celeste Holm in Come to the Stable (1949)
approximately 53 minutes and 51 seconds
roughly 57% of film's total running time
In the role of Sister Scholastica, Holm is charged with three main tasks:
A) To be plausibly naïve/culturally clueless/idiotic enough to justify Sister Margaret's many expository sermonettes;
B) To be adorably enthusiastic, permitting her bright face to beam with beatific joy from the confines of her wimple; and
C) To play a mean game of tennis.
To her credit, Holm acquits herself gamely on all three counts. Which is somewhat impressive as the role has no use whatsoever for what is, perhaps, Holm's greatest gift: the slyly nuanced line-reading. Instead, Holm is saddled with chirpy, mostly monosyllabic dialogue which she delivers in a nearly shrill "Fifi" accent. This incongruity of Holm -- who nearly radiates sophistication and integrity -- in the role of a wimpled French ditzball? It can be tough to swallow (especially with the smarmy Young jabbering right next to the usually silent Holm).
Holm is at her best when "beaming beatifically." Holm's Sister Scholastica is especially vivid -- her facing registering empathy and gravitas with undistracting warmth at precisely the right moments -- in the film's single, genuinely moving sequence in which the Sisters visit a shady underworld figure named Luigi Rossi (Thomas Gomez in a startling, emotionally textured performance).
Holm is also adept at conveying genuine, infectious enthusiasm, all of which makes her Sister Scholastica pretty adorable.
This wimpled adorableness is on full display when Holm's Sister Scholastica takes to the tennis court in a quid pro quo gesture that feels dangerously close to a wager. The scene is played for comedy -- I kept thinking that Sister Scholastica has all the makings of a 1960s Disney feature, The Nun Who Wore Tennis Shoes -- before it is revealed -- spoiler alert! like you care! -- that Sister Scholastica was a French tennis champion before she entered the religious life. (Imagine that!)
Celeste Holm is entirely adequate in the role of Sister Scholastica, surviving both her miscasting and her costar with a witty, empathetic grace.
The part of Sister Scholastica -- a co-lead by most measures -- is nonetheless a supporting role that would have likely escaped Oscar's notice, were it not for the inexplicable nomination surge for this picture (7 nominations! WTF!?) and for Celeste Holm being one of Oscar's most reliable WIDOs of the period. (I tend to count the other Supporting Actress nomination from this film "a coaster" but we'll get into that in the coming weeks.)
An entirely decent performance by an actress on whom Oscar was sorta stuck in the later 1940s.