The sentimentality runs over a bit in this inspirational film, but THE MIRACLE OF THE BELLS is also a fine film with outstanding performances from all. Press agent and hard guy MacMurray arrives in Coaltown, Pennsylvania, with the body of a young actress. The coffin is taken to a small
church, St. Michael's, where MacMurray tells youthful priest Sinatra his mission. It was the dying wish of the dead woman, Valli, that she be buried in the family churchyard and that all the bells of her home town, which she had left many years earlier to seek fame, ring for the three days of her
funeral. The press agent then begins to tell Sinatra the brief history of the once vibrant and promising actress. We see in flashback how MacMurray, strolling down the aisle of a burlesque house, spots a young chorus girl so inept at dance routines that she is fired. "Give the kid a break," he
asks the stage manager, and his friend complies, saving Valli's budding career. They meet later as Valli climbs the ladder of acting successes, getting one role after another with no little help from MacMurray. She tells him in one scene that she must become a great actress because she comes from
a town without hope, without a belief in the future and if she, a product of that depressed and forlorn community, can become a success on the screen, it will provide hope for the people of Coaltown. So in love with her is MacMurray that he devotes his energies to promoting her into bigger and
bigger parts until Valli is given the lead role of Joan of Arcby movie mogul Cobb. She exhausts herself in the part, so much so that her health fails but she struggles to complete the film, which all consider a masterpiece. Shortly after the production is finished, Valli dies. MacMurray is shocked
and angry to learn that Cobb refuses to release the film, even though he knows it to be great. Cobb's reasoning is that the public either will not respond to an unknown dead woman or will love her so much that they will be angry when they realize they will never see her in another film. MacMurray
tells Cobb he's crazy, that Valli died to make a brilliant film for him, and he is repaying her sacrifice by shelving the film. But nothing can budge Cobb and his decision goes unchanged. MacMurray, with his last few dollars, keeps faith with the dead girl he still loves and takes her home to
Coaltown, asking Sinatra to ring the bells of his church for three days. Sinatra agrees, but when MacMurray asks about the other churches in town, Sinatra tells him that it will cost a great deal of money, especially for the huge churches in the better part of town. MacMurray nevertheless makes
the rounds of the churches, talking to priests, deacons, and pastors of all faiths, giving them checks to make sure their bells ring around the clock for three days. Thousands of dollars are written on MacMurray's checks, which are all rubber as he well knows, but it's a weekend and, before the
banks open on Monday, well, perhaps a miracle will happen.
It does, but not in a way MacMurray or anyone else would expect. The bells alert the town and draw the curious to the funeral at Sinatra's little church, all coming to the services for a dead girl none of them know. As the bells continue hour by hour, the press picks up the story and MacMurray
pumps up the reporters with tales about Valli, retelling her brief life story. The wire services pick up the story and soon Valli's life is front page news. Readers of papers and radio listeners hearing the story begin to pour into tiny St. Michael's until it is packed night and day. Then, on the
last day of the ringing of the bells, churchgoers gasp in shock, as do MacMurray and Sinatra who are present, when they see the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Michael, large stone figures flanking the coffin of Valli, turn slowly, grinding loudly on their granite pedestals, as they
uniformly come to face the coffin. The faithful swoon, faint, cross themselves, and proclaim it a miracle. Reporters race to phones to report the phenomenon while Sinatra grabs a flashlight and goes to the basement of the church. There he investigates the underpinnings of the old church and later
reports to MacMurray that the beams holding up the floor were placed under too much stress by the crowds in the church and these shifting beams put strain on the pillars on which the statues rested, causing them to turn. MacMurray begs the priest not to announce that story to the worshipers and
the world, to let the dead Valli have her miracle, reminding him how such a marvelous event will bring a glow to the hearts of everyone in miserable Coaltown and make their community something they never thought they or Valli would be--special and blessed. But Sinatra tells him he cannot
perpetuate a hoax. In his announcement he points out the moving beams and pillars and then says that higher authorities must determine whether or not a miracle occurred. For the believers, however, there is no doubt. A miracle has happened in their eyes, and soon thousands stream into the town and
the press spreads the story. Cobb, irritated but impressed by the publicity campaign MacMurray has mounted, appears and, although he has fought the campaign all along, decides to release Valli's film as well as cover MacMurray's debts. The battle has been won; Valli's great performance will be
seen and loved by the world at film's end.
Pichel, normally a program director, excels here with a quickly constructed story, inventively conceived, and shot with great care. The Hecht-Reynolds script is terrific, full of great lines and touching scenes which never get syrupy or sloppy, thanks to MacMurray's sharp projection of a cynical
press agent who opens his heart to Valli and Valli's deeply sincere portrayal of the immigrant actress. She is exceptional and her small readings of the Joan of Arc scenes are stunning. De Grasse's lensing is also outstanding, as is Harline's score. Sinatra sings one simple song, "Ever Homeward"
(Kasimierz Lubomirski, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn), in his understated and very effective performance as an empathetic priest who wants to believe more than most in the miracle he can too easily explain.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The sentimentality runs over a bit in this inspirational film, but THE MIRACLE OF THE BELLS is also a fine film with outstanding performances from all. Press agent and hard guy MacMurray arrives in Coaltown, Pennsylvania, with the body of a young actress.… (more)