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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Miracle in the Rain (1956)

Some movies linger in the memory, not because they are classics of their genre or because they feature all-time great performances, but because they are satisfying on so many levels. To call such films 'nice' is to use an adjective that minimises their achievement, but I can think of no other word that concisely sums up their appeal.

This film stars Jane Wyman and Van Johnson, neither of whom feature amongst my great favourites. She was always a well-praised and indeed an Oscar-winning actress, but no great beauty and her characters were not always striking. Here she plays a mousy secretary with little outside life, forced to return home each evening to look after her sickly mother, who has developed into something of a hypochondriac since her husband walked out on the family years previously. One very rainy evening, as she shelters outside her office building, she meets Johnson's soldier on furlough (the movie is set during the early years of World War II). He sees her home and arranges to spend more time with her during the next few days, much to the annoyance of Mom who has warned her all about men and their unreliability. Johnson plays an ebullient and winning Southerner and Wyman soon falls for his genuine charm and his obvious attraction to her. Johnson, often associated with more lightweight fluff, is totally convincing as the loving suitor, despite what one has subsequently read about his actual sexual preferences. His unit is about to ship off, but he gives her his mother's ring, asks her to wait for him, and promises to return.

It is not quite a spoiler to say that he is killed in action, leaving Wyman in a spiral of despair. However the film moves into the realms of the supernatural to leave us with a slightly happier ending, involving a genuine Roman coin, bought at a shopfront cod auction for two dollars during the couple's first date. Yes, tears begin to swell behind the sentient viewer's eyes.

However the real miracle of this movie, written by super-scribe Ben Hecht, is the perfect thought given to even the smallest parts. The protagonists are surrounded by a wonderful collection of character actors, some of whom are not even marginally well-known, who bless us with a gallery of well-rounded, believable performances. Foremost amongst these is Eileen Heckert playing Wyman's older, spinterish workmate and confidante, who accompanies her shy friend on her first arranged meeting with Johnson (who insists that she accompany them all evening) and who takes her to St. Patrick's Cathedral during her grief. Josephine Hutchinson as the mother who resents her daughter's happiness and William Gargan as the wayward-pianist missing husband also inhabit their roles as in a well-tailored suit. Fred Clark plays the henpecked but womanising office boss. An important early role is inhabited by stand-up comedian Alan King, as a newly married, brash soldier that the couple meet in Central Park, along with his nightclub-singing floozy (but sweet with it) of a wife. Even the very smallest roles of a kind cathedral priest, a restaurant maitre d', the gung-ho office boy predicting the course of the war on a wall map, and the beer-guzzling, kvetchy old neighbour who helps look after Hutchinson are all fully-formed and totally real.

In short, this is a wonderful film -- not necessarily a great one, but very definitely a completely 'nice' one which will reward your viewing.

On a personal note I am away now for a short while, so there will be nothing new for about a week. However I shall then pen one of my infamous in-flight movies reviews which I've not done for a while. See you soon...
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