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|Index||15 reviews in total|
Tod Browning's final feature length film is a dandy. It seems someone
is killing off New York City's prestidigitators, and one of them, Mike
Morgan (Robert Young) wants to know why; plus he may be the next
victim. As Red Buttons used to say, "Strange things are happening."
Murder victims disappear; murder victims reappear as apparitions. Never
fear. Police Inspector Marty Gavigan (Cliff Clark) is hot on the case
with his at times able assistant Detective Quinn (William Demarest).
A mysterious blond, Judy Barclay (Florence Rice), dashes from a taxi cab seeking sanctuary in Mike Morgan's abode of tricks and treats. Who is after her? Why is she interested in Mike Morgan? What is her relationship to the other magicians of New York City? The plot thickens as one by one some of the questions are answered, but not all until the very end. Mike Morgan is a topnotch magician who doesn't believe in the hocus-pocus of fake mediums out to scam innocent citizens. Yet so much is cloudy and mysterious he and the Inspector contact spiritualist Madame Rapport (Gloria Holden). Even though rapport with her is lacking, they hope to flush out the killer and uncover the motive behind the crimes.
With Tod Browning's circus background, the magic tricks and other special effects sequences are given an authentic presentation. Given the technological limitations of the day, some of the feats of magic shown are amazing. Another positive note, all the ethereal occurrences are explained through reasoning by Mike Morgan.
Robert Young shines in the lead role. Later, he became typecast twice. First as the perfect father, Jim Anderson, in "Father Knows Best" and then as everybody's perfect family doctor, "Marcus Welby, M.D." Many of the present generation don't realize that he had a long, successful screen career previous to his TV roles. He made many good movies, in particular the noir thrillers "They Won't Believe Me," and "The Second Woman." Florence Rice too turns in a fine performance. She failed to survive the 1930's because critics claimed she was in films as a result of her father's (Grantland Rice) influence. That's a pity since she showed so much promise.
For some reason, mystery movies of the 1930's required a dumb detective, most of whom acted so stupid that they became annoying rather than funny. This time around the supposed nitwit turns out to be the great character actor William Demarest. As always, he really can deliver the laughs.
The prestidigitator Tauro is played by Harold Minjir who usually overacts in his many supporting film appearances. This time, maybe because Tod Browning keeps him in check, he turns in an effective performance.
And, oh, yes, look for Charles Lane the indefatigable as the Fleetwood Apartments desk clerk, still alive at 101 and still available for work.
I understand this was the famous Todd Browning's final film; well, he certainly picked a good one to go out on. MIRACLES FOR SALE is a murder mystery with a twist: all the suspects are either magicians or oculists. This naturally makes for a very spooky and atmospheric thriller, which is well handled by Browning and the cast. Robert Young is perfect as the glib magician hero, Florence Rice is appealing as the frightened heroine, and Frank Craven and Cliff Clark supply some hilarious dialogue. Unlike many murder mysteries of this vintage, though, MIRACLES doesn't fall into unsuspenseful slapstick by trying to ape the Thin Man films--it gets positively creepy in parts. Also refreshing is the fact that Young's character doesn't deny the existence of the supernatural: he just thinks that the murder in this case is the work of humans. As you would expect in a magician murder mystery, there are several tricks and illusions in the plot, one of which took me in completely. My brother, an amateur magician of sorts, also passed this one on the accuracy of its depiction of the magic profession. Check it out; you won't be disappointed.
The first time I ever saw Florence Rice, that I know of, was in Four
Girls in White. I fell in love with her immediately! Don't let one of
the other reviews fool you, Florence was a talented hard working
actress with a natural appeal, the girl next door type. She also had a
comedy streak in her. She and Robert Young create some real "magic" in
Miracles for Sale. (pun intended)Tod Browning brings his directorial
good sense to the proceedings. Miracles for Sale is a delightful slice
of a bygone era.
Sometimes being born privileged is a drawback. Was Florence the victim of petty Hollywood jealousies keeping her from being the huge star that she showed promise of being? Forty seven movies in ten years, OK they weren't all epics but she worked with some pretty heavy hitters. Perhaps in this day of DVD/VHS and our fascination with nostalgia, Florence Rice can be re-born into the STAR she should have been.
I am no scholar of Tod Browning. Therefore, it's not clear to me why
his career seems to have ended so early and with this movie. It's a
mystery, with a bit of comedy and quite a bit of romance.
Robert Young is excellent in the lead role, and he is not an actor I ever liked much. The supporting cast is superb. The spooky looking Gloria Holden is especially effective, though listed way down in the credits.
This man directed Dracula, a very famous movie, and Freaks, a unique and endlessly fascinating movie. Why did his career end within the same decade as those two? This is, despite its name leads, a programmer. The late 1930s and the 1940s were filled with hybrids like this. Not much of a swan song, I'd say.
This was Tod Browning's last film and it got a good send-off. The
budget was in the B bracket and the movie itself was somewhat
stage-bound, but that's what the plot required and besides, Browning
wasn't an "outdoor director" anyway. A few things to the credit of this
film: Robert Young's role was to uncover fake mediums seeking to
defraud others without denying the possibility of the supernatural.
Also, the "explanations" for the hocus-pocus were saved to the very end
and were really rather ingenious. Browning wasn't a director to move
his camera very much if at all, but the editing was well executed and
the action didn't remain glued to any of the sets. The movie has dated
a bit but it's still quite amusing. I'm glad I caught it.
Back in the 1930s and 40s, a bazillion B-mystery movies were made. Some
were quite good, others rather cheap and indifferent. Despite his
status as an occasional A-film actor, Robert Young was given the lead
in this MGM B--and with very satisfying results.
Young plays a debunker and magician named Michael Morgan. His character is a lot like today's Amazing Randi--and not surprisingly, psychics dislike him because he often is able to expose their trickery. He wanders into a strange situation where the trickery is so good that he seems almost ready to believe that these psychics MIGHT be real--especially because their tricks are amazing. How amazing is apparent after a murder occurs--and LOTS of weird things occur, such as folks dying and then seeming to come to life!
The film, despite the magic angle, is at heart much like a Charlie Chan, Falcon or Boston Blackie picture. However, its writing is just a bit better as are the rest of the production values. In fact, it's done so well that it really sucks you into the story. Well done all around and a film I nearly gave an 8. And, incidentally, this is director Tod Browning's final film. Although he lived another 23 years, he directed no more films and I'd sure love to know why since so many of his films are brilliant.
Clever variation on the amateur sleuth movies so popular at the time.
Morgan (Young) is an expert magician who devises tricks for other
illusionists, and also arbitrates between greedy tricksters and genuine
psychics. In fact, the script goes to some lengths to allow for real
psychic experiences, probably so as not to offend believers. Anyway a
dislikable trickster is murdered under mysterious circumstances, while
fetching ingénue, Judy Barclay's (Rice) life is threatened. But why,
and by whom. Now Morgan has to play amateur detective and unravel the
various strange happenings.
MGM produced, so no production corners are cut. This shows up in several fairly elaborate sets. The magician theme cries out for noirish touches that are occasionally present, but not enough to create real atmosphere. Nonetheless, there are enough spooky twists to keep up a good level of moody suspense. The plot's pretty involved, as might be expected with all the tricks going on. So you may need the proverbial scorecard. Still, a couple scenes are really jarring, especially the splayed bodies inside diabolical designs.
In the lead, Young is super-smooth and likable, while spook girl Holden (Madame Rapport) gets to look other-worldly. There's some humor, but thankfully it's not clownish as was common for these amateur sleuth films. Anyway, the 70-minutes amounts to an imaginative little B-entry for a studio that did not specialize in them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Producer Joseph Judson Cohn (who rarely took a credit for his work) was once asked how long he had been working for M.G.M. He replied, "I came over with Columbus!" And that was virtually the case. He joined M.G.M. as soon as the studio was set up and remained with M.G.M. until his mentor, Louis B. Mayer, retired. Alas, despite this movie's classy credits, and its comparatively short running time (71 minutes), it's something of a chore to sit through. Director Tod Browning seems to have lost his touch. On this occasion, he fails to grip his audience. Or maybe the unbelievable script was to blame. Promising ideas are often negated by faulty writing. And the acting is not what you would call "charismatic" either. Or maybe the players had already lost faith in the script before shooting had even commenced. Anyway, despite its innovative subject matter, the story is a feeble one at best, and what's worse, it doesn't make a good deal of sense.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As I've watched more and more of MGM's B pictures, courtesy of TCM,
I've noticed that quite often they were mostly talk and no action. This
is a case in point. Oh, it's not a bad film, but somehow it reminds of
some of the series like the Charlie Chan pics and the like -- not a lot
This was director Tod Browning's last film, and although he was quite respected for this genre, what does it say when a director retires 23 years before his death and never makes another film? The cast here is headed by Robert Young, who plays a former magician who is out to expose fakery in the occult; he does rather nicely. Florence Rice plays a woman who is involved in some way with the occult...and this is where the writers kind of jumble around trying to tell a good story. It's nice to see Frank Craven as Young's father...a fine character actor. As is Henry Hull as another magician. Lee Bowman once again portrays a character actor part that simply isn't very interesting. There are other character actors you'll recognize who do fine here, but the one you'll most notice is William Demarest.
I'm not sure TCM is doing us a service by playing this pretty much only during Halloween season, because it's really more of a whodunit and how, than horror. Not very substantial, but pleasant enough a diversion...if you have a fair amount of time to divert!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Miracles for Sale" still attracts interest because it was the last
film directed by cult figure Tod Browning. (He contributed to one
screenplay after this film, but didn't direct it.)
"Miracles for Sale" is SO CLOSE to being a good film. The action takes place at a convention of magicians, and we meet one of each type: there's a card-trick specialist, an escape artist, and so forth. A magician gets murdered in an "impossible" way: obviously, one of the other magicians committed the murder, using some kind of conjuror's trick. But whodunnit, and how?
This film violates the most basic rule of magic: never do the same trick twice for the same audience, unless you do it two different ways. In one scene, sitting at a breakfast table, Robert Young casually waves his hand and makes a sugar bowl vanish into thin air. We didn't expect it, so we don't see how he did it. He orders another sugar bowl from the waiter, played by the annoying bit-part actor Chester Clute. When it arrives, Young waves his hand again and makes the second sugar bowl vanish too, by the same method. This time we're expecting it, so we see how he does it ... and you'll be as disappointed as I was.
One scene is very eerie for a few seconds, when Young discovers a typewriter busily typing out a death threat ALL BY ITSELF, with no human operator. We see the typewriter's keys moving, with nobody touching them. Spooky! But then we notice that the keys are moving IN SEQUENCE from left to right, so the typewriter can't be typing out any message except QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL. I wish that MGM's special-effects department had worked a little harder on this scene, and made the typewriter keys move randomly.
Frank Craven (the original Stage Manager in "Our Town") gives a decent performance here. He has some funny lines about how much he hates New York City, and what a lousy place New York City is. The payoff for this schtick is vaguely amusing. A funnier bit occurs near the end, when Craven gets caught in a Rube Goldberg contraption which forcibly dresses him in a ridiculous costume.
Florence Rice, the love interest in this film, is blond and pretty but not very talented. Her father was Grantland Rice, a very popular (and powerful) sportswriter in the 1930s, and her brief film career was largely due to his influence.
At one point in "Miracles for Sale", one of this film's cast members appears (in heavy make-up) disguised as another cast member, and we're supposed to be fooled. I spotted the disguise, which helped me solve the mystery. You'll probably spot it too.
I give "Miracles for Sale" 6 points out of 10, and one of those points is merely a tribute to Tod Browning.
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