Friday, 3 December 2010

When Frank met Barbara II: The Miracle Woman (1931)

After “Ladies of Leisure”, the next Capra/Stanwyck was “The Miracle Woman”, the story of a minister’s daughter who, after her father’s death, becomes an evangelic preacher. With the help of a crook, she swindles her followers until she meets a blind veteran (David Manners) whose life she had unknowingly saved.

Clearly an attack on hypocritical evangelic preachers to whom money is the only religion, the film hasn’t had a very successful story. It’s easy to see why it was a flop at the time of release – for 1931 this is quite an attack on the moral hypocrisy, not only of those preaching, but also those seating in the benches (the opening sequence is quite a good example). However, modern audiences probably agree with me that the film doesn’t go far enough. Capra and the script probably toned down the original material as Stanwyck’s character is actually a profoundly religious person, with a deep faith, only going astray through a general disappointment with Mankind – in the end, she resumes the path of virtue and through fire, all is purified.

The film is also hampered by a weak ending that is in effect a huge ellipse: it’s too clean, avoiding any real answers – I mean, how did they all get out of that mess? Did the police never bothered to investigate anything?

On the plus side, despite some excesses in the opening sequence (and I think it may have been this, and not “Forgiven” I mentioned here) the performances are excellent, especially David Manners’. He’s extremely good as an unsentimentalised blind man: self-sufficient, resourceful and definitely not wallowing in self-pity. His suicidal tendencies are more the frustration of not being able to succeed at something (we are clearly told that money is not a problem). I am not sure what to think of the dummy though. The other highlight is Beryl Mercer, as the motherly landlady.

Overall, of all the four films, this is the one who disappointed me the most. It had enough to be an absolute classic, but instead, Capra’s lack of conviction on his attack deliver us a disappointment with some good moments and performances.

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