Cast & Crew
As soon as Hollywood press agent Bill Dunnigan returns the body of his dear friend, actress Olga Treskovna, to her home in Coaltown, Pennsylvania, he is barraged with money demands from local funeral director Nick Orloff. While driving with Orloff to the funeral parlor, Bill remembers his first meeting with the young Polish beauty: Olga is about to be fired from the chorus line of a burlesque show when Bill, a theater publicist who has been observing the rehearsal, convinces the show's choreographer to give her another chance. Although Bill is deeply attracted to Olga, he leaves without seeing her perform. Back in Coaltown, Bill tries to locate friends of Olga's dead, alcoholic father to act as pallbearers for her funeral, but, as the greedy Orloff had predicted, the only men who accept the job demand two dollars for their efforts. Disgusted, Bill begins to reminisce about his reunion with the kindhearted Olga: On a snowy Christmas Eve, while waiting for a train in a small town, Bill discovers that Olga is acting in a cheap touring show. Bill and Olga are delighted to see each other after a year's separation and dine together at a Chinese restaurant. There, the sagacious owner, Ming Gow, treats the couple to a feast and suggests that their reunion was predestined. Afterward, Olga, who is plagued by a hacking cough, points out the star that her father "gave" her as a child and offers Bill half of it. Bill is touched by the gift, but says goodbye to Olga once more and returns to the East. Coming out of his reverie, Bill goes to see Father Paul, the priest at Coaltown's impoverished St. Michael's church, where Olga had asked to be buried. Bill is impressed by Father Paul's generous, warm nature, and after arranging for Olga's funeral, he tells the priest about Olga's days in Hollywood: As a press agent for movie producer Marcus Harris, Bill once again runs into Olga after the tempermental star of Harris' latest epic, Joan of Arc , is fired. Olga has been working as the star's stand-in and when she sees Bill on the set, she invites him to dinner in her one-room apartment. During the evening, Bill gets the idea to cast Olga as "Joan" and has her perform a scene from the movie for him. Impressed, Bill then convinces Harris to test her for the role, and she easily wins the part. Olga soon becomes the talk of Hollywood, but while she is filming Joan of Arc , her cough grows worse. Concerned about her health, Bill goes to see her doctor and learns that, as a result of being exposed to coal dust as a child, she has developed tuberculosis and will die without immediate treatment. Despite Bill's warnings, Olga insists on finishing the last, dramatic scene of the picture. Her performance is inspired, but when she dies a day after filming is completed, Harris decides to shelve the project rather than release the film with a dead, unknown star. After relating this story to Father Paul, Bill is suddenly inspired with an idea for a publicity stunt. Writing a series of bad checks, Bill pays every church in Coaltown to ring their bells for three days and nights in honor of Olga's passing. He then wires Harris and, assuring him that he has found a way to release Joan of Arc , asks him to send $10,000. After the bells begin to ring, reporters appear in Coaltown, and to convince them of his sincerity, Bill relates Olga's dying moments: On her deathbed, Olga tells Bill that she was driven to become a movie star as a way of fulfilling the lost dreams of the poor people of Coaltown. Sure that her appearance in Joan of Arc will bring hope to her hometown, Olga declares her "job" done and dies. The reporters are moved by Bill's words and print Olga's story in newspapers across the country. Despite the instant publicity, the skeptical Harris still refuses to release Joan of Arc , fearing that Olga's notoriety will be short-lived. At the same time, the owner of the biggest mine in Coaltown is threatening to silence the bells, and Father J. Spinsky, of the well-to-do St. Leo's church, is threatening to arrest Bill for writing bad checks unless he agrees to hold Olga's funeral in his parish. Although Harris wires Bill enough money to cover his debts, he insists on re-shooting Joan of Arc with another star. Thus defeated, Bill wanders into St. Michael's church, which is packed with worshippers anxious to see the now-famous Olga. Suddenly, two large religious statues begin to turn on the altar until they are facing Olga's casket. Bill rushes to see Father Paul, who has already deduced that the statues moved because the weight of the crowd caused the pillars on which the statues were mounted to shift slightly. Although Father Paul is reluctant to describe the movement as a miracle, Bill convinces him to tell the people of Coaltown that divine intervention played some part in the event. The statues' turning is picked up by the press, and after listening to a radio report about its effect on Coaltown, Harris flies to the town and announces that he is releasing Joan of Arc . He also offers to build a hospital in Olga's name, which would be dedicated to finding a cure for the lung disease that killed the star. As Bill says a final farewell to his beloved Olga, reborn worshippers flood the streets of Coaltown.
Will Van Vleck
Edward Peil Sr.
Russell A. Cully
Albert S. D'agostino
Robert De Grasse
Karl H. Herlinger Jr.
Jesse L. Lasky
Philip N. Mitchell
The Miracle of the Bells
As The Miracle of the Bells was being made, Sinatra was already coming under fire for alleged associations with gangsters - especially Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, described by Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley as "a ruthless killer and master racketeer." Newspaper columnist Robert Ruark scolded Sinatra, who still enjoyed a huge following of excitable young fans. Ruark wrote that the performer seemed "to be setting a most peculiar example for his hordes of pimply, shrieking slaves, who are alleged to regard him with the same awe as a practicing Mohammedan for the Prophet." Sinatra publicist George Evans leapt at the opportunity to launder Sinatra's image by announcing that he not only had been cast as a Catholic priest in The Miracle of the Bells but would donate his $100,000 salary to the church.
Sinatra's later relationship with Lee J. Cobb, a supporting actor in The Miracle of the Bells, shows a different side of his personality. Although they were not particularly friendly during filming and saw little of each other in the ensuing years, Sinatra came to the rescue when Cobb was in dire straits in 1955 after enduring blacklisting, a divorce and a near-fatal heart attack. Sinatra not only lent moral support but helped pay Cobb's bills, moving the older actor into his own home and later into a Los Angeles apartment that he paid for. A grateful Cobb recovered and resumed his acting career with great success.
Director: Irving Pichel
Producer: Jesse L. Lasky
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Quentin Reynolds, from novel by Russell Janney
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Editing: Elmo Williams
Original Music: Sammy Cahn, Leigh Harline, Russell Janney, Kasimierz Lubomirski, Pierre Norman, Jule Styne
Principal Cast: Fred MacMurray (Bill Dunnigan), Valli (Olga), Frank Sinatra (Father Paul), Lee J. Cobb (Marcus Harris), Harold Vermilyea (Orloff), Charles Meredith (Father Spinsky).
BW-120m. Close captioning.
by Roger Fristoe
The Miracle of the Bells
Rumor had it that Ben Hecht took the screenplay assignment on condition he didn't have to read the book. Quenton Reynolds, who is credited onscreen as screenwriter, supposedly read the book and reported its contents to Hecht.
Producer Jesse Lasky sought approval from the Catholic Church of Frank Sinatra before casting him as Father Paul. The church had no objections.
Frank Sinatra's scenes were written by DeWitt Bodeen.
The opening credits of the film read: "Jesse L. Lasky Productions, Inc. presents Russell Janney's The Miracle of the Bells." Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: Lasky and co-producer Walter MacEwen purchased Janney's novel in October 1946 for $100,000 plus five percent of the producers' gross up to the first $4,000,000. After $4,000,000, Janney was to receive ten percent of the producers' gross, with no maximum limit set. Four other parties negotiated for the book's screen rights, including William Cagney, who wanted the property as a vehicle for his brother, James Cagney. At that time, Lasky and MacEwen reportedly made James Cagney a "percentage offer" to play the part of "Bill Dunnigan." Janney was announced as the picture's screenwriter at that time. Clark Gable and Cary Grant were also considered for the lead male role. Many actresses were considered for the part of "Olga," including Barbara Bel Geddes, Ingrid Bergman, Jennifer Jones, Joan Fontaine and Greer Garson. In 1946, Bergman appeared as "Joan of Arc" in the Maxwell Anderson stage play Joan of Lorraine. (Ironically, shortly after the release of this film, RKO distributed Joan of Arc, Walter Wanger's screen adaptation of Anderson's play, starring Bergman.) Lasky and MacEwen also considered casting an unknown actress in the part and tested Jana Garth, who also had played "Joan of Arc" on stage, and Ricky Soma, an eighteen-year-old New York ballerina. Maxwell Hamilton, who plays a reporter in the picture, was the editor of Motion Picture magazine.
In February 1947, John Cromwell was announced as the film's director, but he was replaced by Irving Pichel. Lasky borrowed Pichel from Paramount for the production. Lasky and MacEwen considered doing the picture in Technicolor, but eventually concluded that the story would "work better" in black and white. A reproduction of a Pennsylvania mining town was built at RKO's Forty Acres ranch in Culver City. Hollywood Reporter announced in June 1947 that a featurette about the making of the film was to be shot and used in movie theaters to advertise the multi-million dollar production. Although the national release of the film coincided with Easter week of 1948, Hollywood Reporter announced in October 1947 that the film was to be shown in Los Angeles in December 1947 in order to qualify for the 1947 Academy Awards. The picture did not receive any Academy Award nominations, however.
In March 1948, New York Times reported a rumor that the actual contribution of radio personality Quentin Reynolds, who is credited onscreen with Ben Hecht as a screenwriter, was "reading the novel and reporting its contents to Mr. Hecht, the latter having taken the assignment of writing the screenplay on the provision that he didn't have to read the book." According to New York Herald Tribune, Hecht, a declared Anglophobe, had his name removed from British release prints of the film. In August 1948, Raymond Polniaszek, an undertakeer from Glen Lyon, Pennsylvania, sued RKO for $500,000 in damages on the grounds that he had been caricaturized as "Nick Orloff" in the film, according to a Los Angeles Daily News article. Polniaszek claimed that he participated in a number of real-life events that were depicted in both the novel and the film, including the burial of a woman named Olga Trotski. The disposition of that suit has not been discovered.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: Before casting Frank Sinatra in the role of "Father Paul," Lasky sought approval from the Catholic Church, which voiced no objections to the performer. Sinatra, who had actively sought the part, then announced his intention to donate his acting salary to the Church. Sinatra's scenes were written by DeWitt Bodeen. Reviewers commented on Sinatra's simple, a capella rendition of the song "Ever Homeward."