Conspiracy of Hearts

Conspiracy of Hearts is a 1960 British Second World War film, directed by Ralph Thomas, about nuns in Italy smuggling Jewish children out of an internment camp near their convent to save them from the Holocaust. It stars Lilli Palmer, Sylvia Syms, Yvonne Mitchell and Ronald Lewis, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding at the 18th Golden Globe Awards in 1961.

Conspiracy of Hearts
Original British cinema poster
Directed byRalph Thomas
Produced byBetty E. Box
Earl St. John
Written byRobert Presnell Jr.
Based on"original material" by "Dale Pit" (Adrian Scott)
StarringLilli Palmer
Sylvia Syms
Yvonne Mitchell
Ronald Lewis
Albert Lieven
Music byAngelo Francesco Lavagnino
CinematographyErnest Steward
Edited byAlfred Roome
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (UK)
Paramount Pictures (USA)
Release date
Running time
113 min
CountryUnited Kingdom


In 1943 Italy, nuns hide and protect Jewish children who have escaped from a concentration camp. The Italian camp has been taken over by German forces with a colonel ( Albert Lieven) and his sadistic lieutenant (Peter Arne) in command. When the colonel and lieutenant threaten to execute some of the nuns, including Mother Katharine (Lilli Palmer), for helping the Jewish children to escape, the Italian soldiers block the execution and shoot the Germans dead. The Italian soldiers then leave the camp to join Italian partisans in the nearby hills.


TV Production

The film was originally a teleplay credited to Dale Pitt, a writer who was acting as a "front" for blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Adrian Scott.[1] This teleplay was set in 1946 and concerned nuns helping Jewish children to get to Palestine. It aired in 1956 as an episode of Goodyear Playhouse directed by Robert Mulligan.[2]


The film version was written by Robert Presnell Jr., who set the story in 1943. Presnell was reportedly a front for Dalton Trumbo. The script was optioned by Albert C. Gannaway in 1958, but he could not get financing to make the picture.[3]

Betty Box became enthusiastic about the movie and wanted to make it. She took it to the Rank Organisation. Box says Rank did not want them to make the movie but allowed her because of the success of the Doctor in the House series. "They said, 'It's religion, it's nuns, it's wartime, who wants to know? Tell you what, make us another Doctor and you can do it!"[4] Box and Thomas made Doctor in Love (1960) as a pay off for Rank financing the movie.

The film was shot on location in Italy and at Pinewood Studios in London. Some filming took place at La Certosa di Galluzzo monastery near Florence.[5]


The film was a financial success, being the 5th most popular film at the British box office in 1960.[4] (Doctor in Love was even more popular.)

US rights were bought by Barney Balaban of Paramount. Thomas says Balaban paid the largest amount Rank had received for a picture until then.[6]


  1. Obituary of Dale Pitt at Los Angeles Times
  2. Conspiracy of Hearts 1956 TV Version at IMDb
  3. Bernard F Dick, Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten, p 202
  4. Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Metheun 1997 p86
  5. Picture Filmed in Italian Monastery Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 05 June 1960: G5.
  6. Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema 1997 p 559
  • Box, Betty, Lifting the Lid, 2001
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