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Granting her final request, a Hollywood press agent brings the dead body of an actress, who died after making her first and only film, back to her hometown for burial. To arouse public interest, and to get the reluctant studio head to release the film, he asks all the local churches to ring their bells for three days. Written by
Albert Sanchez Moreno <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Maltin's "guide", which should be called a "MIS-Guide", oh so generously bestows this film with a whopping star and a half. The truth is this is a fine piece of film-making, a tad unwieldy at times and perhaps 20 minutes overlong, but made with a high level of care and craft. There are many moving, poignant scenes, particularly one set early on at Christmas time. MacMurray and Valli unexpectedly run into each other and proceed to share a relaxed and blissfully unrehearsed Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant that they have all to themselves (not unlike in the more recent A Christmas Story). The chemistry between the two and the restaurant's benevolent Asian owner is nearly heavenly.
The film has that irresistible Citizen Kane-ish structure where a character is gradually revealed and only truly understood AFTER their death. It also is refreshing in its positive depiction of religion and the important role it plays in so many people's lives. And it does so without insulting those in the audience who may not happen to be a member of that faith (Catholicism) or suggest that because they are not, that they're going to hell. If only more of today's film-makers had such courage and insight.
Performance-wise I was most impressed with Fred MacMurray who clearly invested a lot emotionally in his character. Valli is fine as the angelic aspiring actress and Lee J. Cobb is commanding as always as a studio mogul with more integrity than one might expect. Frank Sinatra as a devout small town priest? He's not bad but he hadn't yet been influenced by Montgomery Clift's method acting style in From Here To Eternity, and he comes across as a mite green for the part.
Quality work. Maltin's off by a star or two once again.
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