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.
by Karl Williams synopsis