The Runner Stumbles (1979)

PG | 109 mins | Drama | 16 November 1979

Director:

Stanley Kramer

Writer:

Milan Stitt

Producer:

Stanley Kramer

Cinematographer:

Laszlo Kovacs

Production Designer:

Alfred Sweeney, Jr.

Production Company:

Melvin Simon Productions
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HISTORY

End credits include the following statement: “This film was photographed entirely in the state of Washington with special acknowledgement to the people of Roslyn and Ellensburg."
       The 11 Apr 1979 Var review stated that the play, The Runner Stumbles (New York, 18 May 1976), on which the film is based, was inspired by a 1927 true scandal about a priest arrested for murdering a nun whom he loved.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, playwright and screenwriter Milan Stitt conceived the original stage part of “Mrs. Shandig” for Maureen Stapleton, but he assumed that the role was too small for a theater actress of her stature, and, subsequently, Sloane Shelton played the character on Broadway. For the film adaptation, director-producer Stanley Kramer was keen to finally cast Stapleton in the part. Sister Marguerite Morrissey, a nun as well as an actress, appeared in the role of “Sister Immaculata,” in addition to serving as an uncredited technical advisor for the production. In a 24 Nov 1978 NYT article, Kramer mentioned that his “first choice” for “Father Rivard” was German-Austrian actor, Oskar Werner. When Werner was unavailable, Kramer approached Dick Van Dyke, whose dramatic performance as an alcoholic in the 1974 television film, The Morning After, impressed him.
       Kramer noted in a 12 May 1978 HR interview that he planned to rehearse the cast for two weeks and shoot for five, a schedule which he had established on earlier films.
       As stated in production notes, principal photography began 6 Jul 1978 in Roslyn, WA, whose population was 1,000. As a former mining ... More Less

End credits include the following statement: “This film was photographed entirely in the state of Washington with special acknowledgement to the people of Roslyn and Ellensburg."
       The 11 Apr 1979 Var review stated that the play, The Runner Stumbles (New York, 18 May 1976), on which the film is based, was inspired by a 1927 true scandal about a priest arrested for murdering a nun whom he loved.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, playwright and screenwriter Milan Stitt conceived the original stage part of “Mrs. Shandig” for Maureen Stapleton, but he assumed that the role was too small for a theater actress of her stature, and, subsequently, Sloane Shelton played the character on Broadway. For the film adaptation, director-producer Stanley Kramer was keen to finally cast Stapleton in the part. Sister Marguerite Morrissey, a nun as well as an actress, appeared in the role of “Sister Immaculata,” in addition to serving as an uncredited technical advisor for the production. In a 24 Nov 1978 NYT article, Kramer mentioned that his “first choice” for “Father Rivard” was German-Austrian actor, Oskar Werner. When Werner was unavailable, Kramer approached Dick Van Dyke, whose dramatic performance as an alcoholic in the 1974 television film, The Morning After, impressed him.
       Kramer noted in a 12 May 1978 HR interview that he planned to rehearse the cast for two weeks and shoot for five, a schedule which he had established on earlier films.
       As stated in production notes, principal photography began 6 Jul 1978 in Roslyn, WA, whose population was 1,000. As a former mining community, Roslyn was an ideal setting for the town of “Solona” and also a convenient location for director Kramer, who had recently moved to Seattle, WA, less than 100 miles away. Production designer Alfred Sweeney, Jr., converted Roslyn’s historic saloon, The Brick Tavern, into sets for the courtroom and the jail. The filmmakers also shot in nearby Ellensburg, WA, where the production offices were based, and transformed a warehouse at Central Washington University into an improvised soundstage for interiors of the rectory.
       A 20 Jun 1979 Var article reported that the $2.5 million budget was financed independently by Melvin Simon Productions. During pre-release screenings at film festivals and press events, Kramer noticed that representatives from the Catholic Church had thus far responded positively to the picture and several parish schools asked for study guides. Since the filmmaker did want to market the film strictly as a faith-based story, Kramer was pleased that Catholics “have seen it as a treatise on loneliness, not a religious film.”
       The Runner Stumbles was selected as the opening film in competition at the 1979 Montreal Film Festival where it would screen 31 Aug 1979, as announced in a 14 Aug 1979 DV item.
       A 3 Oct 1979 press release from Twentieth-Century-Fox Film Corp. announced that the studio had purchased domestic distribution rights from Simon Productions, which had originally planned to handle the film’s initial engagements. In advance of the 16 Nov 1979 launches in Los Angeles, CA and New York City, a special benefit premiere was held 28 Sep 1979 at the Seattle Opera House to raise money for the local Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, and the film opened at Seattle’s Town Theater the following day. The studio scheduled early distribution in other select cities, including Cincinnati, OH, New Orleans, LA, and Rochester, NY, before a wider release in early 1980.
       Although Stanley Kramer continued to work on projects in development, The Runner Stumbles marked his final feature film as a director and producer, according to his 21 Feb 2001 NYT obituary. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1978.
---
Daily Variety
14 Aug 1979
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 May 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1979
pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Times
16 Nov 1979
p. 1.
New York Times
24 Nov 1978
Section C, p. 6.
New York Times
16 Nov 1979
p. 8.
New York Times
21 Feb 2001
Section A, B, p. 1, 15.
Variety
11 Apr 1979
p. 21.
Variety
20 Jun 1979
p. 7, 36.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Melvin Simon Productions presents
A Stanley Kramer production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Key gaffer
Still photog
Film processing by
Best boy
Generator op
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop man
Propmaker
Propmaker
Const foreman
Propmaker gang boss
Painter, California
COSTUMES
Key men's costumer
Women's costumer
Men's costumer
Women's costumer
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd eff ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title des and opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod on Broadway by
Prod on Broadway by
Casting
Scr supv
Loc atmosphere casting
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Transportation capt
Secy to prod-dir
Craft serviceman
Asst loc auditor
Asst transportation capt
Cinemobile driver
Catering truck driver
Honey wagon driver
Driver, local
Driver, local
Driver, local
Driver, local film run
Driver, L.A. contact
Tech consultant
Caterer
First aid
Teacher-welfare worker
STAND INS
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Runner Stumbles by Milan Stitt (New York, 18 May 1976).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"My Rumble Seat Gal," lyrics by Jeanette Keller, music by Ernest Gold.
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 November 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 November 1979
Production Date:
began 6 July 1978 in Roslyn and Ellensburg, WA
Copyright Claimant:
Simon Productions, Number 20, Inc.
Copyright Date:
2 January 1980
Copyright Number:
PA53860
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
109
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

During 1927, in the sleepy, former mining town of Solona, the local Catholic priest, Father Rivard, is arrested for the murder of Sister Rita, a young nun at his parish. Toby Felker, the appointed defense attorney, visits Rivard in jail and listens as the priest describes Rita’s initial arrival at Holy Rosary parish. Unlike the two elderly, crabby nuns, Sister Martha and Sister Immaculata, Rita was enthusiastic and vivacious. Rivard, who had become cynical and lonely in the small community, was unaccustomed to exchanging ideas with someone and was startled by Rita’s lively conversation, but soon became rejuvenated by her presence. When the priest admits that he is still preoccupied by the young nun, Toby warns Rivard that he sounds guilty. Declaring that he did not kill Sister Rita, the priest states that she was alive when he left the parish that evening. The attorney informs Rivard that Mrs. Shandig, the parish’s illiterate cook and housekeeper, cannot vouch for him at the moment. According to police, she became emotionally unstable after the murder and has been hospitalized. After Toby leaves, Rivard continues to remember Sister Rita: At the parish school, she leads the children in a catchy song, “My Rumble Seat Gal,” instead of the typical Latin hymns taught by the other nuns. While shopping at the general store, Rita suggests Rivard plant flowers in the churchyard. Meanwhile, Shandig is dubious about the young nun’s influence, but, nevertheless, welcomes Rita’s help in teaching her how to read. One day, Rivard invites Rita to join him for his regular walk. He thanks Rita for teaching Mrs. Shandig ... +


During 1927, in the sleepy, former mining town of Solona, the local Catholic priest, Father Rivard, is arrested for the murder of Sister Rita, a young nun at his parish. Toby Felker, the appointed defense attorney, visits Rivard in jail and listens as the priest describes Rita’s initial arrival at Holy Rosary parish. Unlike the two elderly, crabby nuns, Sister Martha and Sister Immaculata, Rita was enthusiastic and vivacious. Rivard, who had become cynical and lonely in the small community, was unaccustomed to exchanging ideas with someone and was startled by Rita’s lively conversation, but soon became rejuvenated by her presence. When the priest admits that he is still preoccupied by the young nun, Toby warns Rivard that he sounds guilty. Declaring that he did not kill Sister Rita, the priest states that she was alive when he left the parish that evening. The attorney informs Rivard that Mrs. Shandig, the parish’s illiterate cook and housekeeper, cannot vouch for him at the moment. According to police, she became emotionally unstable after the murder and has been hospitalized. After Toby leaves, Rivard continues to remember Sister Rita: At the parish school, she leads the children in a catchy song, “My Rumble Seat Gal,” instead of the typical Latin hymns taught by the other nuns. While shopping at the general store, Rita suggests Rivard plant flowers in the churchyard. Meanwhile, Shandig is dubious about the young nun’s influence, but, nevertheless, welcomes Rita’s help in teaching her how to read. One day, Rivard invites Rita to join him for his regular walk. He thanks Rita for teaching Mrs. Shandig and reveals that the housekeeper arrived at his doorstep having escaped from abusive men at a mining camp. After hiring her and converting her to Catholicism, Shandig has been devoted to him and the parish. Later, back at the rectory, Rivard is busy writing when Shandig interrupts to suggest that Sister Rita would be a good candidate to discuss the theological ideas in his forthcoming book. Yet, the pious housekeeper believes it is inappropriate for the father to have dinner with the young nun. Sometime later, Dr. McNabb diagnoses Sisters Martha and Immaculata with consumption. The doctor says that Sister Rita could continue to live in the convent and avoid infecting the school children if she undertakes certain precautions, but he advises instead that she move into the rectory. Rivard reminds McNabb that holy laws do not permit such arrangements. However, with Rita’s encouragement, Rivard writes to Monsignor Nicholson for permission. Later, while on a walk through town, Rivard and Rita are stopped by a local prostitute, who warns the priest that he should not encourage town gossip by walking alone with the young nun. Although Rita is not concerned, the priest is cautious about perceptions in the tight-knit community. Later, at the convent, the bed-ridden nuns voice their disapproval about Rita living in the rectory. In response, Rivard angrily reminds the two sisters that Monsignor will make the final decision and adds that Rita has improved the school since she arrived. When the reply letter from Monsignor finally arrives, Rivard announces that his request has been approved. However, Shandig later finds the letter while cleaning and discovers that the Monsignor actually refused permission. In tears, Shandig confronts Rivard about his deception, believing that Rita’s move to the rectory is wrong. In an attempt to reassure the housekeeper, the priest states that Monsignor does not understand that the convent poses health risks for Rita and the school children. Although Shandig never completely approves of the arrangement, she begins to enjoy Rita’s presence at the rectory as the two women work on the garden together. One day, Monsignor Nicholson pays a surprise visit, and Rivard hastily asks Shandig and Rita to conceal the fact that the sister is not living in the convent. After Monsignor leaves, the priest is distraught about the lie and admits that Rita’s move to the rectory was a mistake. Although he does not want Rita to leave the parish, he insists that they ignore each other, even in passing. After awhile, Rita requests a private conversation with Rivard, but he refuses, suppressing his tormented feelings toward the nun. The tension between the two escalates. During a discussion one night about praying, Rita advocates for acceptance of emotions and tolerance in religion. Rivard asks Mrs. Shandig to leave the room as he reminds Rita that she cannot “bend” the Church. When Rita questions whether the father is human, he cuts his palm with a knife and smears blood on the nun’s face. Later, during the murder trial, Rivard protests when the prosecutor tries to discredit Rita’s devotion to Catholicism, and the priest is sent back to his jail cell. There, Toby advises him that they do not want the jury to realize that he loved Rita, which gives the prosecutor a “crime of passion” motive. The priest thinks back to the night when a fire destroyed the convent: After he and Rita rescue Sisters Martha and Immaculata, the young nun becomes trapped in the flames. The stairs collapse and Rivard is helpless to save her, but Rita manages to jump to safety. In the aftermath of the near-deadly incident, Rivard and Rita are alone in the rectory and declare their affection for each other. The priest kisses Rita and says he loves her, but insists he must leave the parish to find his penance, while encouraging Rita to stay within her order. After he walks away, Rita cries out that she loves him. Rivard does not turn back, but Shandig overhears. Later, at the trial, Shandig, who has been released from the hospital, recounts that evening on the witness stand. The housekeeper tells the courtroom that, after the priest departed, Rita collapsed in agony on the flower garden, which had been razed by the fire trucks. While looking at the young nun in the ditch, Shandig received a sign from God. As Rita began to move, Shandig says she struck her with a shovel as if she was a snake and covered her up in the garden because “she was too evil to bury in the cemetery.” The confession shocks everyone in the courtroom. After the trial, the freed, but defrocked priest lays flowers at Rita’s grave in the cemetery. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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