- Movie Rating -

The Runner Stumbles (1980)

| November 16, 1979

Stanley Kramer’s The Runner Stumbles feels about fifty years out of date, maybe sixty.  I’m not being glib, I’m just observing that every emotional display of this film from the dialogue, to the staging, to the music, to the lighting feels like it belongs in a movie from around 1955.  That style, placed in a modern setting, feels awkward and artificial.  That is especially true when dealing with a budding romance between a dedicated priest and lovesick nun. 

Very loosely based on true events, the movie is set in a quiet area of Michigan around 1911 and tells the story of that priest, Father Brian Rivard who as the movie opens is going to pick up his parish’s newest addition, the fresh-as-a-daisy Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan) who has just arrived by train.

Father Rivard and Sister Rita are immediately smitten with one another.  She seems to be a forward-thinker while he is a man of tradition, discipline who once thought as she does.  Almost immediately, she raised eyebrows and tempers as she begins doing things outside of the church’s permissiveness, like teaching secular songs the local children.

The bond between Rivard and Sister Rita gets even more complicated (not to mention scandalous) when he asks her to move into his place to be separated from the other nuns who have contracted tuberculosis.  Everyone is aghast about this arrangement, from Rivard’s housekeeper Mrs. Shandig to the parish Monsignor Nicholson (Ray Bolger).  And, of course, the whole thing ends in a court room trial with Rivard on trial for the Sister’s murder (I’m not giving this away, it’s in the advertising) where we get even more overwrought acting, shouting of parlayed plot points and stage acting of the HIGHEST CALIBUR!!

Look, I like Stanley Kramer.  His films, like Judgement at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind, The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner always had a heartbeat of social commentary.  Even when they didn’t work, you could feel Kramer’s passion bubbling under the surface.  The Runner Stumbles is not one of his great films.  It’s too broad, too big and ultimately just too much.

Reviewed March 5, 2021

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized