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Film / The Miracle Woman

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A God among the plebeians.

The Miracle Woman (1931) begins with Florence Fallon (Barbara Stanwyck) embittered and angry: after serving the church for many years, her father dies heartbroken, knowing that he's being turned out, poor and all, just because the congregation wants to replace him with a younger preacher. Florence calls them out for the hypocrites that they are, making them leave in disgust.

Left with nowhere to go, she meets Con Man Bob Hornsby (Sam Hardy) who is impressed by her command of stage and presence. He tells her she can get her revenge and a few bucks too, thus inspiring the creation of a church, The Temple of Happiness. She becomes the main attraction; she is a healer, a miracle woman. Undoubtedly, this is a sham to greedily gain money, and the men and women that she “cures” are paid, unbeknownst to the audience.

Feeding on ignorance and blind faith, her words are strong enough to bring in crowds of believers. Over the radio, John Carson (David Manners) hears Florence’s convincing sermon right before he decides to end it all; he's a failed musician and was recently made blind. He's therefore happy to find a new purpose in searching out to meet Florence. Amidst all the greed and corruption, lies and deceit, she is quite taken aback by someone so full of faith and so blind (no pun intended) to the sham that she really is.

Together, they are both catalysts; ridding one of blind faith and restoring faith in another.

This is the second collaboration between director Frank Capra and Stanwyck. The film’s credits open with this line: "The Miracle Woman" is offered as a rebuke to anyone who, under the cloak of Religion, seeks to sell for gold, God's choicest gift to Humanity —— FAITH.” Powerful words for 1931.

This film contains the following tropes:

  • As the Good Book Says...: Florence quotes the Bible while she chews out the congregation.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted: Florence is very beautiful which probably helps people believe that she's all goodness, but in reality, she's screwing them over.
  • Blackmail: Hornsby threatens Florence: he'll tell the newspapers that she embezzled the church's money and murdered their employee—all of this, of course, has been done by Hornsby, not Florence— if she doesn't go to the south of France with him.
  • Blind Musician: Unfortunately, all of John’s attempts to sell some of his music ends in rejection. One of the leading factors to his suicide attempt.
  • The Corrupter: Hornsby manipulates Florence into thinking that yelling at the churchgoers wasn't enough; she needs to get even with them. How will she do this? By making her own church, by becoming rich and famous, proving that she's better than them all. A pastor's daughter now sells religion to the gullible. He only does this because he sees that he can make quite a bit of money, but only with Florence's help.
  • Corrupt Church: The Temple of Happiness. Oh, boy. Times one-thousand.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: A twist on the usual purpose of such a note. Florence sends cut-and-paste letters to John so that John, who is blind, can read them with his fingers.
  • The Cynic: Horsby is this to the max.
    Hornsby: Religion is great if you can sell it, no good if you give it away.
    • Again, more cynicism:
    Hornsby: You think you beat those people, don't you? Well you didn't. There's only one way to lick a mob, sister, join them. You're not a hypocrite if you admit it. Most of the trouble in this world comes from people who have beliefs. The answer is: don't have any! If you have none, you can assume the ones that happen to pay.
  • Demonic Dummy: John's dummy is freaky looking.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: John used to be an aviator and he loved to fly, but his accident—that led to his permanent blindness—leaves him unable to fly.
  • Flipping the Bird: This is The Pre-Code Era after all, so a worker raises the finger to Hornsby.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: Inverted. Florence dresses in simple, white clothing to evoke the image of goodness, purity, and an angelic quality. All the things she isn’t.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: John writes a suicide note, and since he's blind, it's written sideways and off the page.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: After stopping his attempted suicide, John is happy to have a new purpose: find Florence Fallon.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "I suppose there will be a couple of dicks around to see us." (Detectives, that is.)
  • Interrupted Suicide: John is about to jump out his window when Florence’s sermon over the radio stops him from doing so.
    Florence Fallon: [over the radio] The trouble with most people is they're quitters; they're yellow. The moment they're put through any sort of test, they cave in. The difference between a man and a jellyfish is the fact that a man has backbone. What did God give them a backbone for? To stand up on his feet; that's what real men do. Beethoven wrote his greatest symphony when he was deaf, Oscar Wilde wrote his greatest poem in jail, and Milton, a blind man, gave a paradise lost. It's easy to forgive sinners, but it's hard to forgive quitters. [John is awed at the last remark, laughs ,and closes the window]
  • Inspired by…: The film, and play that it's based on, were inspired by the life of Aimee Semple McPherson. Check That Other Wiki for info on her.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Mrs. Higgins picks up John's mail, and helps send his songs to publishing companies.
  • Nursery Rhyme: As a gift to Florence, John gives her a toy that tinkers out an old nursery rhyme (The Farmer In the Dell). Florence loves it, because it evokes the innocence she's lost and the sweet innocence that fills John.
  • Only in It for the Money: Hornsby is a drifter looking to a few quick bucks.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Florence gives a huge one to the churchgoers:
    Florence Fallon: What God? Whose God? Yours?! This isn't a house of God, this is a meeting for hypocrites [...] Some of you have listened to my father for twenty years and you can't remember one word he said to you, but you will remember this! You subscribed to temperance, and I can tell you the name of you bootleggers; you pretend to be decent, and I know which of you is cheating, wives and husbands. Shall I call out your name? What are running away from, are you afraid of the truth? Is that why you got rid of my father? You are thieves, killers, adulterers, blasphemers, and liars, six days a week. And on the seventh day, you are hypocrites. Go on, get out all of you! Get out, all of you, so I can open some windows and let some fresh air into this church.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Hornsby gives a short but sweet lecture to Florence about how idealism is dumb. See The Cynic above.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: Florence says this word-for-word, as a joke, during her dinner party with John.
  • Ventriloquism: Very much a Capra motif (loser-ish oafs with quirky hobbies), John sometimes uses his dummy to voice his feelings about Florence. It's dorky and sometimes cringe-worthy, but John sells it pretty well.
  • You Have Failed Me: Hornsby hires different goons who pretend to be healed by Florence. One of his guys pretends to be a cripple, but he comes to the shows so drunk that he misses his cues. Once Hornsby finds out that he was also trying to tell the truth about the church to the newspapers, he has him promptly killed.