For Reel


Miracles for Sale (1939)
August 6, 2015, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Tod Browning
4 Stars
Miracles for SaleThe debacle that followed the release of Freaks in 1932–in addition to the stricter censorship mandates in Hollywood following 1934–must have put director Tod Browning on watch at MGM. Usually a studio associated with gloss and glamour, Browning’s dealings with the occult and the otherwise macabre threatened both the studio’s raison d’être and the Catholic standards imposed by Joseph Breen’s Production Code Administration. Regardless, Browning was more than able to have his cake and eat it too with Miracles for Sale, reveling in images of corpses in pentagrams and spiritual encounters under the protection of a narrative that deals with illusions. Although the centerpiece seance scene, a remarkable feat of editing (using rapid-fire cuts between reaction shots and an oppressive silence), is later revealed to be staged, the caveat is almost an afterthought, delivered off-handedly in a few lines of dialogue. Now, Browning is brilliantly able to continue his exploration of the morbid as long as it’s followed by the sentiment, “not really.” Miracles for Sale would tragically be Browning’s last film, spending his remaining years as a reclusive widower who would die from throat cancer (as did his friend, Lon Chaney) in 1962.

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