After Florence Fallon's father is fired from the church where he preached for many years, she becomes embittered and loses faith. She teams up with Horsby, a con man, and performs fake miracles for profit. But the love and trust of a blind man restores her faith in God and her fellow man.
Barbara Stanwyck ... Florence 'Faith' Fallon
David Manners ... John Carson
Sam Hardy ... Bob Hornsby
Beryl Mercer ... Mrs. Higgins
Russell Hopton ... Bill Welford
Charles Middleton ... Simpson
Eddie Boland ... Collins
Thelma Hill ... Gussie
The Miracle Woman was amazing, and far better than 99% of our modern movies!
Stanwyck is awesome as a disillusioned preacher's daughter who falls prey to a con-man who sets up a phony church with "Sister Fallon" (Stanwyck) as the main preacher. At first Stanwyck is OK with this set-up, as she's bitter towards the hypocritical church-goers at her father's church where he died. But, her conscious eventually gets to her and she wants to get out of the racket. Her boss, a really well-played bad guy, threatens her with jail if she tries to leave -- you see, he's managed to put everything in her name, so at the very least she could go to jail for fraud and perhaps even murder (the boss murdered the accountant but has "evidence" that links Stanwyck to it).
Along the way, Stanwyck has fallen in love with David Manners, who plays a blind ex-aviator. Her love for him was quite touching and believable, however I found Manners's character rather one-dimensional and not very compelling. Nonetheless, that did not detract from the story and I was rooting for Stanwyck and Manners to end up together (such was the power of Stanwyck's performance).
One final note, not really a spoiler but more of an interesting trivia point: In one scene, the boss issued a thinly veiled threat to Stanwyck's chauffeur and asked the chauffeur if he got his drift. The chauffeur said yes, then walked out of the office and closed the door. Then, from behind the closed door, we see what the chauffeur really thinks of the boss: the chauffeur FLIPPED OFF the boss and said "and your black derby too" (the boss was wearing a black derby). I nearly fell out of my chair and had to rewind the Tivo a few times to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. I don't think I've ever seen someone flip someone off (this was a full-on middle finger flip-off) in a movie prior to say the 1970s or maybe even the 1980s. Then I remembered this was a 1931 movie -- 3 years before the Production Code went into full-force effect. It was just a tiny moment in this fantastic movie, but I loved the heck out of it!
By the way, I'm normally not a Frank Capra fan, but I found this to be a very good movie of his. Towards the end of the movie it appears that it will end quite tragically, and being that this was 1931 I was afraid it might. (Happy endings are a trademark of the post-Code days, not the pre-Code days.) A tiny part of me was rooting for Frank Capra to pull off one of his usual feel-good endings (even though that's what I hate about most Capra flicks). He did, and it wasn't as maudlin and saccharine as most of his movies' endings are. In fact, except for the happy ending, you'd never know this was a Frank Capra movie. If his later movies make you sick like they do me (with the exception of It's A Wonderful Life, which I fall for like a huge sucker every time!), then please don't let the fact that he directed this keep you from watching this fantastic movie.
This film is a reminder that there were a few directors in the early days of sound who wanted to overcome the stiff, theater inspired, broad acting style and form a new mode of story-telling that would soon become standard fare for sound films.
Subtly acted, imaginatively lit and filmed, and with dialog that sounds like it may very well have come from real life.
The great director that Capra would become is strongly hinted at here. One particular scene that stands out for me is one that is shot entirely through Stanwicks dressing room mirror. Her expressions tell far more then 3 or 4 pages of dialog could say about the scene that is taking place behind her.
Inventive visual touches such as this are sprinkled tho this finely paced, human drama that still rings true.
A young – and gorgeous – Barbara Stanwyck steals the film as a fire-and-brimstone evangelist whose initial cynicism at the hypocrisy of the churchgoers who discarded her elderly preacher father for a newer model is eroded by the love of a blind man (David Manners). The story is one that couldn't have been told in the manner it is a couple of years later when the code was enforced, which is partly why the film is so fascinating: so few pre-code films are broadcast on TV these days – the vast majority of films shown on TV today are no more than 20 years old – that they are intriguing to watch to discover why the censors got so worked up about them.
The film is a bit talky in parts, especially in the scenes shared by Manners and Stanwyck, but the subject matter is strong enough to overcome these moments. Capra's work is assured and the script is good. While the film may not appeal to a modern audience, it stands as a fine example of superior studio product from Hollywood's golden age.
In a pure "pre-code" moment, we see sister Fallon's chauffeur, Lou, give Horsby "the finger" (out of Horsby's sight) immediately after Horsby warns him about what he must do to keep his job. This scene surely would have been nixed by the Hays Office had the movie been made after 1934.
SPOILER: This film was made before the days of process screen photography, so few special effects were employed. In a testament to the actors' bravery and dedication to their craft, David Manners recalled that he and Barbara Stanwyck had to work near live lions, separated only by invisible netting. The actor said: "I could smell their breath". Similarly, during the climactic fire scene, Stanwyck had to stand amid real blazing fires, swirling smoke, and falling timbers.