The Runner Stumbles (1979)
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Director Stanley Kramer ended his career with this absorbing drama, adapted from the play by Milan Stitt and based on a real-life event from 1927. Dick Van Dyke stars as Father Rivard, an intellectual priest in a small, impoverished mining town in the state of Washington. A lonely man with low self-esteem, Rivard is depressed by the arduous and dreary lives of his flock, until the arrival of Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan), a bright, spirited young nun who joins his parish to teach at its school. Rita appreciates Rivard on a level that few others in the community can, and soon the priest falls in love with her. But when Sister Rita is murdered, Rivard's infatuation is revealed and the love-struck priest is put on trial. Only Rivard's housekeeper, Mrs. Shandig (Maureen Stapleton), knows the truth about Sister Rita's death. Kramer broke up the staginess of his source material by structuring The Runner Stumbles (1979) into three acts that unfold not sequentially but simultaneously, revealing Rivard's developing relationship with Rita, his prison stint, and his murder trial all at the same time. … More
as Father Rivard
as Sister Rita
as Mrs. Shandig
as Monsignor Nicholson
as Sister Immaculata
as Sister Martha
as Sister Martha
as Matt Webber
as Dr. McNabb
as Fire Chief
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Critic Reviews for The Runner Stumbles
The main problem with the film is that inherent to most play adaptations: it's too talky and static, with most of the responsibility for story development left to explanatory dialog.
Throughout, the film is paced by fine performances, especially Van Dyke as Father Rivard, Quinlan as Sister Rita and Maureen Stapleton as Van Dyke's housekeeper.
Deadly earnestness over Van Dyke's tortured celibacy becomes risible long before the Perry Mason conclusion and a final scene of indescribable bathos.
Mr. Van Dyke's performance, though extremely sympathetic, is hard to assess. He worries and suffers, but the film finds nothing vital in his ordeal.
In its relentlessly old-fashioned way, The Runner Stumbles has a sort of dramatic persistence: It's not great, but it's there.
The Runner Stumbles is an exceptionally fine film about the exigencies of a religious calling and a critique of the legalism within Christianity.
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