Another Classic Film Find

Research for the second Kitty Pangborn novel is taking me places I’ve never been before, just as research should. This is aside from the research I do on generalities of life in the 1930s. I started that a few years ago and it’s ongoing. But, specifically for the very next book, I’ve been doing lots of research on film from that era. And so, every so often, I encounter a real find.

Here’s another that I think qualifies for that descriptor (though one I’ll be able to see): 1931’s The Miracle Woman was directed by Frank Capra, produced by Harry Cohn and stars a youthful Barbara Stanwyck and early 1930s mega-star, the Canadian David Manners.

Stanwyck’s performance was inspired by the story of flamboyant Los Angeles pastor Aimee Semple McPherson (who I did not know until now was also a Canadian. We’re everywhere.). The Miracle Woman is a pre-Code film that likely would not have been released a few years later because of the direct attack it makes on religious hypocrisy. From the David Manners Web site:
The Miracle Woman is one of noted director Frank Capra’s early films. Inspired by the exploits of Aimee Semple McPherson, it stars Barbara Stanwyck as Florence Fallon, embittered daughter of a Christian pastor whose life of service to a local church nets him nothing. Upon his death, she teams up with a fast-talking con man (Sam Hardy) and starts an emotionally charged ministry replete with bogus miracles and fake healings. Becoming something of a mega-star, her life begins to change when she meets John Carson, (DM) a blind World War I aviator and songwriter. As their relationship blossoms and she realizes her impact on his sad life, she repents and her faith in God and humanity is restored.

And, from Movie Diva:

... The Miracle Woman was a flop when it was released. Yet, the corruptibility of hugely successful evangelists is still a hot topic. Capra felt the picture failed because of Sister Florence's ambiguous morality. Does she or doesn't she believe? How guilty is she of fraud? Yet, these subtleties make this expose of the sin racket as relevant now as in 1931.

My copy is already in the mail.


John McFetridge said…
The words "pre-code" really have me looking forward to these Kitty Pangborn books.

I tried to post a comment to your "In a Handbasket" post but Blogger ate it. It was in response to Sandra's comment about a time when people did what they were told and the few protestors became martrys. People forget, never knew, or don't realize what a huge impact the Hayes Code and the HUAC trials had on the content of movies and maybe even more later, on TV.

The past isn't quite what we usually make it out to be. I often wonder what movies would look like if they had continued on the path they were on in the thirties...

So, really looking forward to your books.
Thanks, John!

It seems obvious to me -- and perhaps it is to you, as well -- that the Hays Code had a deep and lasting effect on an entire culture. And, arguably, it laid the groundwork for the creative climate that made the HUAC trials possible.

And I've wondered the same thing: without the Code, modern film would look quite different.

(And sorry Blogger ate your other comment. I hate it when that happens!)

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