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  Change of Habit Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
Year: 1969
Director: William A. Graham
Stars: Elvis Presley, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair, Jane Elliot, Leora Dana, Ed Asner, Regis Toomey, Robert Emhardt, Doro Merande, Ruth McDevitt, Richard Carlson, Nefti Millet, Laura Figueroa, Timothy Carey
Genre: Musical, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Three nuns, led by Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore), embark on good deeds in the community by working as nurses in the inner city practice of Dr John Carpenter (Elvis Presley). They want to be seen as women first, rather than just nuns, so they dress in civilian clothes and keep their religious vocation a secret from everyone, which leads to complications for them all - especially Sister Michelle, when romance blossoms between her and the doctor...

Jesus or Elvis? Jesus or Elvis? Jesus or Elvis? King of Kings or King of Rock 'n' Roll? That's the tough decision facing Mary Tyler Moore in this well-meaning social drama. Written by James Lee, S.S. Schweitzer and Eric Bercovici from a story by John Joseph and Richard Morris, Change of Habit featured Elvis in his last dramatic role before he gave up Hollywood and settled down in Las Vegas. 1969 had already seen two Elvis movies, and the sheer volume of them throughout the sixties was impressive. But it was time to call it a day, and so this final effort had him paired with another American icon: sitcom queen Moore.

Painfully sincere, the film packs in as many social concerns as it possibly can in an hour and a half, as if to show Elvis as a man with his finger on the pulse of current affairs. The inner cities are rife with crime and poverty, and Dr John is doing his bit to stem the flow by looking after the victims. The nuns represent three separate problems: Michelle is the place of religion in modern life, Sister Irene is the racial issue, and Sister Barbara is the protest movement. Despite raising the topic of women's place in modern society at the outset, not much is done with it for the rest of the story.

As for that religious angle, there are interesting parallels between Elvis and Jesus here. Like Jesus, Elvis goes to live amongst the poor, heals the sick and is not short of wise words. He also drives out the moneylenders and even performs a miracle when he cures an autistic child - is it no wonder Sister Michelle is confused? However, she's not being entirely honest with him, and when Dr John finds out she's a nun, he feels betrayed. And probably a bit frustrated, too.

As with most Elvis movies, there are musical numbers, starting with the rollicking "Rubberneckin'", but you have to wait a good three quarters of an hour before the next one, and it's cutesy rubbish performed on a merry-go-round, hardly worth hanging around for when you knew what the King was capable of, even in the occasional number of his latter pictures. The only other song, apart from the title track, is a so-so religious one at the end - not having Elvis sing a few of his gospel songs seems like a missed opportunity.

By the end, things have changed. When Dr John first met the nuns, he joked that it's a tough neighbourhood, and his last two nurses were raped - one of them against her will (ahem). But now everyone has the benefit of experience, and he has to accept that Sister Michelle has given her vows to God, just as the other two nuns have found something out about themselves (no, they're not lesbians). Yet that last scene sees Sister Michelle undergoing a crisis as images of Christ on the cross and the rockin' Elvis flash before her eyes - who will she choose? Alas, we never find out. It's one of the great mysteries of film history. Another is why Timothy Carey was hired and given so little to do - Presley was apparently a fan, however. Music by William Goldenberg.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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