Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Jane Wyman passed away yesterday; while she was highly acclaimed for her later work, from the mid-40's on, I enjoy her early work in B-films and screwball comedies more (films like FLIGHT ANGELS and PUBLIC WEDDING). This romantic fantasy set in Manhattan during WWII is very much like the lovely Judy Garland film THE CLOCK, but with a dollop of tragedy and a strong (and rather unexpected) element of the supernatural thrown in. Wyman is a pleasant young woman who has an office job with Excelsior Shoes; she lives in a small apartment with her mother (Josephine Hutchinson), a woman who has grown old and ill before her time because she never got over her husband abandoning his family several years ago. Wyman takes care of her and socializes occasionally with Eileen Heckart, a co-worker. One afternoon, while waiting for a downpour to end, a handsome, sweet-talking, and somewhat whimsical soldier (Van Johnson) strikes up a conversation with her and charms his way into an invitation home for dinner. He finds out that Wyman's father was an aspiring musician who left behind an unfinished song which Johnson plays at the piano, raising all sorts of bittersweet memories for Hutchinson. Despite the mother's warning that all men are no good, Wyman spends that Saturday on a casual day-long date with Johnson (and chaperone Heckart) which involves the theatre, dinner at a fancy French restaurant (where, unknown to Wyman, her missing father, William Gargan, plays piano) and attendance at a storefront auction where Wyman buys an old Roman coin which she gives to Johnson as a good-luck piece. They have a lovely Sunday together in Central Park; he also manages to write lyrics for Gargan's song and gets a human interest story published in the New York Times. Of course, it's all too good to last and on Monday, Johnson is called up for overseas duty; as he leaves, he tells her he'll love her forever. Three months later, after writing to him every day, she finds out that he was killed in combat. She has what would now be called a breakdown, barely able to function, and a cold she catches turns into pneumonia. She lights candles at St. Patrick's Cathedral and gets some counseling from a sympathetic priest, but also expresses her doubt about the existence of a cruel god who would take Johnson away from her. Heckart and Hutchinson try to help her, and even Gargan is inspired to return home, but she continues spiraling downward until she winds up weak and feverish on the steps of St. Patrick's during a rainstorm and has a life-changing vision, the title miracle in the rain, which shows her that love may indeed be eternal.

[SPOILER follows] There are two things that most critics dislike about this film. The first, the overly literal representation of life after death that ends the film (Johnson's ghost leaves her with the Roman good-luck coin she had given to him), is indeed hard to swallow, though the ending narration, which states that the story was told to the narrator and he wants to believe it, helps mitigate that a bit. Until the end, the film has seemed quite realistic (well, Hollywood romantic realism, in which people who look like Wyman and Johnson don't already have dates) and when realism gives way to a murky marriage of Catholic mysticism and campfire ghost story in the last moments, the audience is not prepared--unlike, let's say, the ending of fantasies like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or THE BISHOP'S WIFE, in which the fantasy world is set up from the beginning. The other problem for critics is the plethora of supporting characters and side plots: in addition to Heckart and Hutchinson, there's the father and his songwriting, the shoe company boss (Fred Clark) and his extramarital affair with one of the secretaries (Peggie Castle), a newlywed sailor (Alan King) and his chorus-girl wife (Barbara Nichols) whom Wyman and Johnson meet in Central Park, and a few others as well--future Laugh-In star Arte Johnson has a small role as an office boy. I think the colorful subplots add to the movie, though Gargan's story, which has a lot of promise, isn't developed as well as it should be. Ultimately, for me, the movie works because Wyman and Johnson are both very convincing, even better than Garland and Robert Walker were in THE CLOCK. Wyman made more acclaimed movies (JOHNNY BELINDA, THE YEARLING, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), but I like this one the best of all her later starring vehicles. [DVD]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing the excellent review (comments) about this movie. A group of friends, and I , recently watched "Miracle In the Rain" (1956) and enjoyed it very much. Impressive depth (IMHO) and the story / characters were convincing to me also. Jane's and Van Johnson's characters were especially memorable.

To me, the real miracle in the movie had little to do with - and did not depend upon - the Roman coin so much. (Though that had some value in getting across the idea that love can transcend time and space, or be "eternal" as Ruth was told by the soldier as he left to go fight overseas in WWII.) Rather, the real miracle had to do with Van Johnson entering her life in the first place, and the events and decisions which gradually led to her life being transformed - from the drab and humdrum everyday life (a rather bleak and desolate existence, taking care of her devastated mother) - to coming to know more about love. Actually being in love, romantically, and the other kinds of love which ended up changing the lives of those around her. The warmth and openness of Van Johnson's character, and his reaching out to other people (so optimistically, so hopefully) and tendency to "see the best" in other people, was depicted very well. Jane Wyman did a great job of portraying her character too. It was very easy to empathize with her character.

This movie had so much depth, it's difficult to find adequate words to give it credit for all it's good points. Sure the ending minute, or two, was a little weak (but not terribly), but I agree with you that that's no reason to miss the gifts of this movie.

I wonder why TCM didn't play it, during its tribute to Jane? It would have been nice if they could have gotten the rights to play it.

Thanks again, for sharing your well-considered thoughts on this movie. Quite illuminating.


By the way, our group also watched "So Big" (1953) with Jane Wyman and enjoyed that one too. Though not as much as MIRACLE IN THE RAIN. I had a thought recently about the term "women's picture". In earlier decades, it often had to do with films that dealt with interpersonal matters - vulnerable, highly personal emotions. Just a thought.) Thanks again for sharing.