Review: Socially Aware 'Change Of Habit' Totally Watchable on BLU

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 20, 2021

Elvis Presley as an inner-city doctor (with such good hair and sideburns). Mary Tyler Moore as a spirited nun (who may or may not have feelings for him).

The 1969 movie "Change of Habit" would be Presley's 31st feature film. And his last. It would also be Moore's last theatrical film until "Ordinary People," over a decade later.

The film's questionable quality didn't really have much to do with the above. Or did it?

Presley's box office appeal had begun to wane, and he found more popularity (and money) was to be found on television — although he was almost coaxed back to motion pictures with the Barbra Streisand "A Star is Born," in 1976, but that fell through.

Moore almost immediately went on to star in one of the most successful TV comedies in history (seven seasons and numerous Emmys) when "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" bowed one year later. TV became her life.

The film meant well, although it is a very bizarre concoction. Really. Wikipedia describes it as an American crime drama musical! I would also throw in socially relevant, and a comedy. Mix. And Bake.

Dr. John Carpenter (Presley) works in clinic in an underprivileged community. He is assigned three nurses (Moore, Barbara McNair, and Jane Eliot, in her film debut) who are really nuns, almost ready to take final vows. But... and here's the rub... they're undercover as, well, do-gooder women in street clothes, because inner city folks might be apprehensive about taking help from nuns (???) Even Dr. Elvis hasn't a clue. And when he begins to hit on Sister Mary, well... you can imagine...

Each nun has their own socially relevant plot line. McNair fights the mob, as well as faces her own race identity. Eliot (who went on to decades as the deviously delicious Tracy Quartermaine on "General Hospital") takes on ethnic injustice at a local grocery store, and Moore, along with Presley, helps an autistic girl.

The film's tone is all over the place, with comic scenes coming too close to a near-rape that seems to leave no scars. Oh, and Elvis gets to sing a fun ditty on a carousel with Moore and the autistic child. Ed Asner has a très comic cameo as a looney cop.

Moore is actually very good here. It's a strange part to navigate, and she does well, given the limitations of the script and the lack of strong direction (by William A. Graham).

Presley tries, but feels unwilling to get himself too dirty (again, that hair and those sideburns). It seems that his image trumps any real immersion.

Eliot is the standout. I just wish they'd given her more of a role to play.

Kino Classics has done a great job with the Blu-ray visuals, and the audio rocks — especially in the few musical numbers (be aware this is not a musical — there are very few songs).

"Change of Habit" gets props for wanting to be socially aware. And it's a very watchable sit, if you don't mind a very mixed genre blend.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English Subtitles


    "Change of Habit" is available on Blu-ray on October 19, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute