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Case Number 27132: Small Claims Court

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The Miracle Woman (1931)

Sony // 1931 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // March 24th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Daryl Loomis will pretend to be a gimp for next to nothing.

The Charge

A rebuke to anyone who, under the cloak of religion, seeks to sell for gold, God's choicest gift to humanity: faith.

The Case

Movie preachers tend to get a pretty bad rap. Either you have the crazy nut, such as Robert Mitchum's amazing Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter, or the corrupted zealot, like Robert Duvall's Sonny Dewey in The Apostle. Either way, it's not such good news for the men of faith on the screen and the women, though less frequently shown as members of the cloth, get only slightly better treatment. As we see in The Miracle Woman, even with initially noble intentions, there's no way in Hollywood around the fact that the clergy is a deeply corrupt and cynical group that will do anything to bilk money from the faithful.

Pastor Fallon is writing his final sermon before he leaves his parish when he falls dead in his daughter's arms. Florence (Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve) comes out to deliver the sermon, along with one of her own. She tells them of their hypocrisy and berates them for their treatment of her father, but they don't care. They walk out, leaving her to preach to empty pews, but one man stays behind to listen. His name is Bob Hornsby (Sam Hardy, King Kong), he's a shyster, and he's impressed with Florence's speaking skills. He sells her on the idea of a church where she'll work "miracles," using shills as her cured masses. She goes along with it for some reason and starts making a lot of money, but when she really does heal the spirit of blind John Carson (David Manners, Dracula), her own hypocrisy slaps her in the face, but Hornsby's not so keen to let his star performer go.

The Miracle Woman, at first glance, looks terrible. From the heavy handed opening title card to the utterly absurd way Florence falls into the scam, the first few minutes of this thing were drastically disappointing, and I watched with the hope that Barbara Stanwyck, whose talents I have extolled many times here, would at least give me something in one of her earliest dramatic role. She did, and that's no surprise, but the movie itself became a whole lot more interesting as it went along.

Instead of being some kind of ham-fisted religious screed, The Miracle Woman is basically a Svengali story combined with a simple scam plot, and watching the scam collapse turned out to be pretty fun to watch. The tense chemistry between Stanwyck and Sam Hardy is strong, and while the romance is a little obvious, David Manners does a good job with it and is more charming than he was as Jonathan Harker in the original Dracula.

This is a relatively early Frank Capra (Meet John Doe) production, but his distinctive storytelling style is already apparent, with all its realizations and redemptions, but there's really nothing visually interesting about the movie at all. It's mostly good enough to watch Stanwyck work and, incidentally, the movie contains the first-ever scene of someone flipping someone else off that I know of, and flipping people off is fantastic.

The Miracle Woman comes to DVD from Sony, via their Choice Collection. The results are what I've come to expect from on-demand services, which is perfectly fine for a bare-bones disc. The image suffers a bit from age damage, but the full frame transfer, overall, is fairly strong. Contrast is decent and the damage isn't all that bad. The sound is about as average as you can get; there's no noise and clear dialog, but no dynamic range at all. No extras on the disc.

The Miracle Woman is a nice showcase for Barbara Stanwyck and, while neither her nor Capra's best work, is an enjoyable drama that fans of the early sound era will enjoy. Recommended.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 86

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1931
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Drama
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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