Nun such

Forget the bunnies, maids, witches, nurses, etc,  when it comes to fetishized female role modes, nuns beat them all (and given their knack for corporal punishment, beating might be one explanation for their appeal). Lady Gaga was no fool when she donned nasty habits for her new music video for "Alejandro;" good Catholic school girl that she is, she knows a well-turned black hem and a pair of sensible shoes is the key to every bad Catholic school boy's libido.


Troy Patterson in "Slate" recognizes this and takes a tour of some of the most provocative nuns in cultural history, and it includes Ken Russell's zesty, zany "The Devils" (1971). I had included Russell's blasphemous epic in my own list of sexy screen sisters in an essay titled "Habit-forming" that I wrote for the National Society of Film Critics' anthology "The X-List."  Though the film was indeed X-rated, I compared it unfavorably to seemingly tamer personal favorites, Leo McCarey's  "The Bells of Saint Mary's" (1945) and John Huston's "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957).

As I note in the essay, in "Bells" Ingrid Bergman might be the hottest thing in a wimple as Sister Mary Bridget, and the film's studio RKO seemed aware of this when they distributed it with the tagline "Ingrid Bergman has never been lovelier, hubbahubbahubba," the latter being Latin for "say three Hail Marys for penance." Even uptight McCarey has a winking appreciation of his erotic commodity, and smooth crooner Bing Crosby as Fr. O'Malley seems to have met his celibate match. As a housekeeper wonders aloud when O'Malley and Sister Mary are about to first make their acquaintance, how will the good father react "when he's up to his neck in nuns?" (an image evocative of "The Devils"). Answer: he promptly sits on a kitten. Then the pussy crawls into O'Malley's hat. Freud might have some insight into what's really happening here.

Less symbolic is "Mr. Allison" with Robert Mitchum's beefy Marine trapped on a Japanese-held island with Sister Angela, played by Deborah Kerr, who was already in the habit going back to  Michael Powell's "Black Narcissus" (1947). I won't go into detail about the frustrations and delights of this overlooked gem, but let's just say that the censors of the time must have been thankful to the Imperial Navy, and "I had to get you out of them wet clothes, ma'am" remains one of the sexiest lines Mitchum ever said.

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