For Reel

The Miracle Woman (1931)
July 6, 2012, 6:27 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Capra

One of Barbara Stanwyck’s most interesting performances of the pre-Code era was as an opportunistic evangelist preacher in The Miracle Woman. Her co-star, David Manners, plays a blind man who, on the day that he was to commit suicide, hears Stanwyck’s disingenuous preachings on the radio and finds a new lease on life. When the two meet at a particularly eccentric ceremony (Stanwyck performs in a cage of lions), they strike a relationship that makes Stanwyck question the ethics of her line of work. Despite apparently being born again, there is little to suggest that Manners has become a holy man – he speaks little about his faith or any of the fundamental Christian concepts. Instead, his ideology is best summed up when he ponders, “I never thought much about God before but I do now. He must be fine and wonderful if she believes in him.” The woman is his God – in fact, at an early moment in the picture, he receives a life-size statue of her head in the mail. Though he possesses it for the purpose of “seeing” her (that is, feeling the curvature of her face), one can’t neglect the supposition that it serves as an icon of worship. In this assessment, one can see the film as not only a condemnation of blind faith (no pun intended), but as a suggestion of a woman’s ability to turn a man into a zealot. That the woman is Stanwyck makes the theme all the more palpable – one might interpret The Miracle Woman as a precursor to The Lady Eve, in which she similarly has control over the ever-so-obedient Henry Fonda.

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