‘You know what nuns become in the director’s eye’ (Barthes)*. It crops up in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes: there is a nun nursing the bandaged patient, but somehow the picture is troubling; the audience senses there is something wrong. And then our heroine spots that the nun is wearing high heels: so – an impostor! The action goes from there.
Did the idea stimulate John Ford (with a Catholic upbringing like Hitchcock) when he made the ‘1921’ episode of The Rising of the Moon (1957)? This is a three-part film of which the last part is set during the Irish Troubles of 1921. Sean Curran is in prison awaiting hanging by the Auxiliary Royal Irish Constabulary, better known as ‘The Black and Tans’. Two ‘nuns’ arrive ostensibly to give him final solace but in fact to rescue him by a ruse, viz. one nun and Curran swapping clothes in order to get him out of the prison, where he is rushed to the local theatre and made up as an itinerant balladeer. The spuriousness of the nun is given away as she leaves the prison, both to us and to a watching constable, by sight of her high heels and sexy stockings. The constable sees but does not act. No informer he, unlike Gypo Nolan in Ford’s earlier The Informer, who enters on a Calvary.
The Informer was tragic, but Rising of the Moon is comic, forming in Ford’s career an opposite arc to that traced in WB Yeats’s ‘Easter 1916’ concerning the start of the Revolution in Ireland:
“He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He,too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.”
* For more on nuns, and monks, in the cinema, see ‘The New Filmgoer’s Guide to God’ pp. 197 sq.