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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

THE MIRACLE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA (1952)

John Brahm, a journeyman helmer at various studios (and later tv), probably had his best run @ 20th/Fox in the mid-‘40s, giving good weight on tidy noirs like THE LODGER/’44; HANGOVER SQUARE/’45; and THE BRASHER DOUBLOON/’47. He seems an unlikely fellow for Bryan Foy (Warners ‘King of the Bs’ producer) to tap for this fact-based/faith-based story about three Portuguese kids from the sheep country, whose stubborn belief in a shared spiritual vision affects the whole country. Gilbert Roland is great as a non-believing scapegrace & surrogate uncle to the children, holding onto a nonjudgmental scepticism that helps scrape some of the piety off things. The rest of the cast (including the kids) threaten to cloy as simple, countryside types, but everyone tries to keep the Love, Faith & Charity goo to a minimum. They’re helped by lenser Edwin DuPar who gets unexpected russet tones out of the WarnerColor film stock, even when his ‘yellowed’ Old Masters interiors grow too tasteful by half. Max Steiner also got the message, largely holding back on the heavenly choruses and mostly sticking to Ave Maria variations, mainly Bach/Gounod. But you can’t wondering if the drift toward the oncoming Eisenhower era had a part in grooming this one for easy mass consumption. The story, and the immense shrine whose 1951 dedication undoubtedly jump-started production, point to some uncomfortable tests between faith & logic that need more of a response than the nuggets of wisdom we (supposedly) get from the Lady-in-the-Clouds (revealed as Mary of the Rosary). As told by the three kids, she’s all hellfire & doom, a real Old Testament scold. Meantime, the film tip-toes around the anti-clerical socialist government that ran Portugal at the time. Placing nameless generic administrators up against picturebook generic religiosity was about as far as you could go without causing controversy.

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