The Nun's Story - One-sheet poster
Original theatrical one-sheet poster.

The cast underwent months of extensive research to prepare for their roles, with many of the actresses spending time with actual nuns in convents. 

The Nun's Story - Fred Zinnemann and Audrey Hepburn with microscope
Audrey Hepburn examines a microscope to prepare for her role as a nun with a specialty in tropical medicine, while director Fred Zinnemann looks on.

Dean Jagger (an Oscar winner for 1949's Twelve O’Clock High) plays the distinguished Dr. Van Der Mal, who respects but doesn't fully understand his daughter Gabrielle’s desire to become a nun. 

The Nun's Story - Dr. Van Der Mal and Gabrielle (Dean Jagger and Audrey Hepburn)
Dean Jagger and Audrey Hepburn prepare to say goodbye at the convent.

Hepburn's subtle yet powerful performance in The Nun's Story is quite possibly the finest of her entire career.  The constant battle between her strong will and the strict demands of a religious life are etched on her face in nearly every scene. 

The Nun's Story - Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn) in convent
Gabrielle is admonished for running while arriving late to chapel.

The Nun's Story was Audrey Hepburn’s first movie for Warner Bros. She would return to the studio for My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967). 

The Nun's Story - Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn) behind-the-scenes
A striking behind-the-scenes shot.

Director Zinnemann made sure that the rituals depicted in the movie were as true-to-life as possible.  Since the production could not hire actual nuns to act in the film, dancers from the Rome Opera were recruited as extras. 

The Nun's Story - Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) takes her vows
Gabrielle and a fellow postulant take their final vows. After this, Gabrielle will then be known as Sister Luke.  Legendary British actress Dame Edith Evans as Reverend Mother Emmanuel can be seen third from right in the background.
The Nun's Story - Fred Zinnemann and Audrey Hepburn on set
Fred Zinnemann and Audrey Hepburn on the chapel set.

Ben-Hur was filming at Cinecittà Studios at the same time as The Nun’s Story.  In 1960, the movies would be competing against each other for the Best Picture Academy Award, with Ben-Hur ultimately taking the prize. 

The Nun's Story - Ben-Hur - Charlton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet
An in-costume Audrey Hepburn visits Ben-Hur stars Charlton HestonStephen Boyd, and Haya Harareet.

Beatrice Straight plays the nun who oversees the mental hospital where Sister Luke, as Gabrielle has been renamed, is assigned to work. She would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 1976’s Network, and is equally well-known for playing a parapsychologist in Poltergeist.

The Nun's Story - Mother Christophe (Beatrice Straight)
Beatrice Straight as Mother Christophe.

Sister Luke is attacked by a patient after ignoring warning from her superiors, another example of her inability to contain her pride. Surprisingly violent for a 1950s film, Audrey Hepburn performed this sequence herself despite offers of a stunt double.

The Nun's Story - Archangel Gabriel and Sister Luke (Colleen Dewhurst and Audrey Hepburn)
Colleen Dewhurst (in her film debut) as "Archangel Gabriel" blocks Sister Luke from the doorway.
The Nun's Story - Audrey Hepburn publicity
Audrey Hepburn in a lovely out-of-character publicity shot used for promotion of The Nun’s Story.

Zinnemann had originally wanted to only shoot the Congo scenes in color to heavily contrast them with the European scenes, which would be filmed in black & white.  However, studio head Jack L. Warner rejected this idea, and the entire film was shot in Technicolor. One year after the release of The Nun's Story, Zinnemann would release another classic (and his second consecutive Best Picture nominee) for Warner Bros., The Sundowners

The Nun's Story - Fred Zinnemann in Congo
Fred Zinnemann in Congo

After arriving in Africa, Sister Luke is assigned to work with an esteemed surgeon (Peter Finch), who questions some of the harsh conditions she chooses to live by.

The Nun's Story - Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch) and Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn)
Peter Finch as Dr. Fortunati and Audrey Hepburn.

Dame Peggy Ashcroft plays Sister Luke’s superior in Africa.  In 1985, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her wonderful work in David Lean's A Passage to India.

The Nun's Story - Mother Matilde (Dame Peggy Ashcroft)
Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Mother Mathilde.
The Nun's Story - Audrey Hepburn with flowers
Audrey Hepburn in the Belgian Congo.
The Nun's Story - Audrey Hepburn in Congo market
Audrey Hepburn visits a street market in the Belgian Congo.

Like Beatrice Straight, Peter Finch also won an Oscar for Network. His Academy Award for Best Actor was the first such acting award to be awarded posthumously.

The Nun's Story - Peter Finch and friend
Peter Finch with a friend in the Congo.
The Nun's Story - Audrey Hepburn, Fred Zinnemann in Congo
Audrey Hepburn and Fred Zinnemann converse between takes.
The Nun's Story - Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn) publicity
One more look at the astonishing beauty and talent of one of cinema's greatest icons.

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