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Lon Chaney (left) and Joseph J. Dowling.
Frame enlargement: Silent Era image collection.
 
The Miracle Man
(1919) American
B&W : Eight reels
Directed by George Loane Tucker

Cast: Thomas Meighan [Tom Burke], Betty Compson [Rose], Joseph J. Dowling [the patriarch], Lon Chaney [‘The Frog’], J.M. Dumont [the dope], W. Lawson Butt [Richard King], Elinor Fair [Claire King], F.A. Turner (Fred A. Turner) [Mr. Higgins], Lucille Hutton [Ruth Higgins], Frankie Lee

Mayflower Photoplay Corporation production; distributed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation [A Paramount-Artcraft Picture]. / Produced by George Loane Tucker. Scenario by George Loane Tucker, from the play adaptation The Miracle Man by George M. Cohan of the novel The Miracle Man by Frank L. Packard. Assistant director, Chester L. Roberts. Cinematography by Philip Rosen and Ernest Palmer. Art titles (intertitles artwork) by Ferdinand Pinney Earle. / © 9 August 1919 by Mayflower Photoplay Corporation [LP14072]. Invitation preview 26 August 1919 in New York, New York. Released 14 September 1919. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format.

Drama.

Reviews: [The North American (Philadelphia), 20 October 1919, page ? (as reproduced in Motion Picture News, 8 November 1919, pages 3361-3363)] A MIRACLE PICTURE / In the largest auditorium in the city, on Saturday afternoon, a great crowd of men and women watched in silence the last scenes of a pictured drama. The music of an orchestra died away, the paling vision on the screen faded into darkness, and there breathed from the still throng a half-suppressed sigh. It lasted but a moment. Then the spectators streamed out into the sunlight, in a strange quietude, but with eyes that shone. Curious effects, one would say, to follow what is called an entertainment — at best, no more than a fancied tale, told thru the cunning combination of human and photographic mimicry. Yet the mood was something finer than the mere exhilaration or contentment that may be created by any appealing exhibition of artistry. These people were not only impressed; they were genuinely moved. None of them, we think, will deem it strange that we turn for a day from the stirring or momentous or tragical themes of material existence to glance at this unique product of imagination. For it has the distinction of being an artistic and moral achievement. The photoplay is called “The Miracle Man.” It is a miracle picture. / Its elusive yet unforgettable quality is revealed in the fact that the story may be told in two sentences, yet might not be conveyed in words filling as many pages. A gang of tenderloin criminals hear of the strange powers of a “patriarch” in a remote village, whose beauty of life and faith have helped to bring health and peace of mind to the suffering; assuming innocence and belief, they surround him, and stage a pretended “miracle,” thru which they plan to exploit the sightless healer as a business enterprise. Their cunning succeeds beyond all their hopes. But unconsciously they fall under the spell which they had sought to use — they are themselves transformed, lifted by faith from depravity to a cleansed, ennobled manhood and womanhood. / That is all. A theme of elemental simplicity, yet as complex as the human heart; as modern as yesterday’s news, yet as old as the hills of Galilee. It is the simplicity of the story and its telling that makes the picture’s success so striking. It has none of the magnificent settings and ingenious theatrical illusions of those spectacles which have evoked acclaim and wonderment. Its subtle power is comparable only to that of one other production, “Broken Blossoms.” And that searching drama has the special appeal of an idealized foreign atmosphere, of a suggestion of livid horror which stirs be sheer pain the depths of feeling. But the magnetism of this story lies in its scenes of beauty and tranquility no less than in those of sordidness and ferocity. Its passion is masterful, but its quietude is irresistable. It steals into the heart like an exquisite poem, lives in the memory like a haunting song. / Artistic photography is today no exceptional thing. Acting which the magic of the camera can translate into visualized emotion is not unusual. But here the arts of human and mechanical representation have been blended by genius into a new accomplishment. The makers of this picture have all but photographed human thought. One sees portrayed upon the screen the spiritual conflict between good and evil which is the essential drama of the soul and of all human existence. / Thus the magic of the camera produces effects for the description of which words alone provide no effective medium of expression. There are episodes in the Chinatown dens which would be memorable by reason of their appalling realism. Like glimpses of a dehumanized world are [ . . . ] those contortions of the pretended cripple, whereby he preys upon the mercy of passersby; the cold villainy and rapacity of the leading criminal, who plans to debauch goodness itself; the feral cunning and depravity of the girl who is the lure. Yet these things pass from the mind as the panorama carried the vision to scenes of gentleness and innocence. / Masking their purpose with studied similitude of meekness and appealing need, the four creatures from the underworld insinuate themselves into the life of the “patriarch.” Speech and nearing and sight gone, his spirit is already half withdrawn from the world, and he is easily made the instrument of their design, altho even thru the silence and darkness that envelop him there reaches his soul some haunting sense of the evil that envelops him. He has no armor against it save his purity, no weapon save his faith. Yet with these he overcomes. / The pretended “miracle,” adroitly wrought before the eyes of a bewildered crowd, is a triumph of spectacular falsehood; as the loathsome “cripple” crawls painfully up the cottage path to the motionless figure of the old man, then slowly wrenches himself, with feigned convulsions of anguish, into human shape, one thrills to the emotions of the rapt throng. / But even while the creature fawns in a simulation of gratitude his face stiffens in line sof amazement and terror. He sees toiling toward him another victim, not listed in the criminals’ drama of deception — a tiny village child, with twisted limbs and crutched arms that can barely support the frail little body. He has seen the “miracle,” and believes. Faith touches his childish soul and draws him forward. His gaze fixed upon the uplifted face of the patriarch, he drags himself, like a wounded bird, up the narrow path. The pitiful little figure falters, lurches on, halts again; drops one tiny crutch and all but topples over — then see! the other crutch falls, the child stumbles, rights himself and runs forward with wavering steps to clasp the outstretched hand. A mere trick ofcleve stage play when told in words, the pictured scene is reality itself to the spectators; thru the darkened theater there runs the thrill as of a soundless prayer of thanksgiving. / Here might easily have been fashioned a climax from which the succeeding episodes would drop away in fatally diminishing conviction and appeal. The triumph of the story is that what follows seems to give authenticity and still deeper significance to the audacious conception. To those under the spell of the picture the incredible has become real — they have seen physical infirmity yield to the power of faith; yet no less enthralling, no less miraculous, is what they witness now in the sway of that power over minds diseased and natures perverted by criminality. The supreme heights of the drama are reached as it portrays the silent conquering of hardened wills, the physical and spiritual regeneration of those who had thought to debase and exploit the loftiest instincts of humanity. / Those who contributed to the creation of this miracle picture have earned all the rewards ot may bring them, for they have revealed potential values in the photoplay which only genius might develop. The acting itself could have no higher praise than the statement that it gives reality to scenes which might easily have been made ludicrous or offensive. Thomas Meighan as the master criminal, Lon Chaney as the repulsive “cripple” and Joseph Dowling as the patriarch give portrayals that realize the very spirit of the theme. One would like to know the name of the boy whose lameness was reflected, as one sees it in real life, even in his drawn, smiling face. But perhaps the most appealing bit of portraiture is that of Betty Compson. The transformation which she shows — from the feline creature of the tenderloin to the awakened and purified woman of the end — is far more than a trick of make-up and manner; she suggests the cleansing of the girl’s whole being. The subtleties of pantomime art have had few finer manifestations than that which appears in the fleeting changes of her expression; one sees the mask of innocence, assumed at first in mocking masquerade, become the outward sign of a veritable transfiguration within. / Yet to give expression to the admirable work of these artists there was needed the creative genius of a master direction. This was the contribution of George Loane Tucker. Its most striking evidence is the investing of a tale of daring fancy with the searching power of verity — the literal picturization of the miraculous. But hardly less notable is the restraint and discrimination with which the subject is handled. There is no false idealization of vice, no mawkish pretense that it is not essentially cruel and corrupt and treacherous. Nor are the episodes of regeneration made offensive by degrading sacred themes to the uses of theatrical interpolation. / It is precisely because of this spirit of high-minded artistic endeavor on the part of the producer that one must deplore the marring of the harmony by a stupid censorship. Not only have scenes of vital significance been cut to satisfy arbitrary rules, but titles which expressed essential characteristics have been altered so as to obscure the story they are supposed to illuminate.Having seen the picture in its first public state, before it passed under the heavy-handed editing in this state, we can affirm that except for one picture — shown only momentarily and later eliminated, we believe, by the producer himself — there was not a single episode or line to detract from the wholesomeness of the story. Not the least proof of the genius of the production is that its beauty and power shine even thru the disfigurements perpetrated by official ineptitude. / When this picture was first shown in New York one newspaper critic made the profound observation that it might interest immature minds but would have no appeal for “the sophisticated audiences of Broadway.” Yet it filled a theater on that highly intellectual thorofare for three weeks at $2 a seat, and is still being shown at cheaper houses in the same cultured territory. The picture derives its reality from the fact that it expresses unuttered feelings and aspirations of the multitudes who witness it, emotions and sentiments which lie deep in the hearts of men and woman everywhere. Its appeal is sentimental; but so is the human mind. / It has been shown that thru the magic of the motion picture the people can be dazzled by pagentry, thrilled by magnificent spectacle and the simulation of dramatic perils. But they become sated with these mechanical ingenuities and extravagances. It is when the secret places of the heart are opened to them that the response is greatest, as to this revelation of the silent power of faith and purity, in a story unfolding in the beauty and fragrance of a flower. / We would not envy the man or woman, however intellectual, who could see this simple drama unmoved, who would not confess deriving from it a new sense of kinship with humanity and a deeper understanding of the spiritual forces of existence.

Survival status: The film is presumed lost : Approximately three minutes of footage survives.

Current rights holder: Public domain.

Keywords: Children - Crime: Fraud - Deaf persons - Miracles

Listing updated: 4 May 2010.

References: Baer-Film p. 65; Bardèche-History p. 201; Bohn-Light p. 78; Brownlow-Parade p. 510; Edmonds-BigU pp. 36, 83, 97, 109, 112; Everson-American pp. 63, 146, 297, 323, 370; Fell-History p. 86; Lahue-Collecting p. 62; Lahue-Gentlemen pp. 47, 51, 150, 151; Manchel-Terrors p. 45; Marrero-Vintage p. 20; Parish-Gangster p. 33; Ramsaye-Million p. 134; Schuchman-Hollywood pp. 32, 32a, 110; Spehr-American p. 100; Steinbrunner-Encyclopedia p. 305; Thompson-Lost pp. xix, xx; Weaver-Twenty p. 76; Weinberg-Stroheim p. xi : MoPicNews-19191108 pp. 3360-3363 : Website-AFI.

 
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