Miracle in the Rain

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Miracle in the Rain
Directed by Rudolph Maté
Produced by Frank P. Rosenberg
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Based on original story 
by Ben Hecht
Starring Jane Wyman
Van Johnson
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Russell Metty
Edited by Thomas Reilly
Production
  company
Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) United States March 31, 1956
Running time 108 min.
Country  United States
Language English

Miracle in the Rain is a home front during World War II-themed novella by American writer Ben Hecht, published in the April 3, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post weekly magazine[1] then, within six months, issued in booklet form[2] and, thirteen years later, following four live television productions (in 1947, 1949, 1950 and 1953) which reduced the story to plot essentials, was adapted by him into a Warner Bros. feature film released on March 31, 1956.[3]

Film version[edit]

Hecht's 1956 screenplay is directed by Rudolph Maté and stars Jane Wyman as a lonely New York City office worker and Van Johnson as the happy-go-lucky soldier whom she meets during a downpour.[4][5] Character actress Eileen Heckart, who plays Jane Wyman's office friend, and Arte Johnson, who achieved TV fame twelve years later on Laugh-In, are seen here in their debut performances on the big screen. The music is by Franz Waxman and the black-and-white cinematography is by Russell Metty. A subplot about the heroine's father, which was neither in the original story nor in any of the television adaptations, became one of the elements in the embellished screenplay.[6][7][8]

The film was produced on location,[9] with several sequences filmed in Central Park and St. Patrick's Cathedral.[10] Ten months before its release, while appearing as the "Mystery Guest" on the May 22, 1955 episode of CBS' live primetime weekly game show, What's My Line?, Van Johnson mentioned that he was in New York shooting scenes for his new film, Miracle in the Rain.

The film earned an estimated $1.4 million in North American rentals during 1956.[11]

Plot[edit]

In 1942, a few months after America's entry into World War II, secretary Ruth Wood (Jane Wyman) lives quietly in New York City with her physically and emotionally fragile mother, Agnes (Josephine Hutchinson). Ruth's co-workers at Excelsior Shoe Manufacturing Company are her best friend Grace Ullman (Eileen Heckart) and Millie Kranz (Peggie Castle), an attractive blonde involved in an affair with her married boss, Stephen Jalonik (Fred Clark). Also in the office is Monty (Arte Johnson), a young shipping clerk classified by the draft as 4-F, who monitors the war's campaigns on a world map pinned to the wall. One evening after work, when a cloudburst forces Ruth and other pedestrians to take shelter in the vestibule of an office building, Arthur Hugenon (Van Johnson), a cheerful, talkative G.I. stationed in the area, surprises the shy Ruth by starting a conversation. When he invites her to dinner, she declines, saying that her housebound mother is expecting her. Undeterred, Art buys food for three at a delicatessen and accompanies Ruth home. Agnes, who has distrusted men since her husband Harry left her for another woman ten years earlier, receives Art with little enthusiasm. During the meal, Art, who grew up on a Tennessee farm, captivates Ruth with his stories and afterward entertains them by playing the piano. Upon finding the manuscript of an unfinished song Harry composed, Art asks permission to take it back to camp, where he and his army buddy Dixie will write lyrics for it. On the weekend, Art takes Ruth and Grace to a matinee. On their way to a restaurant, they stop at an auction and Ruth impulsively bids on an antique Roman coin, which she gives to Art for good luck. At the Café Normandy, where they have dinner, Ruth is unaware that the piano player is her father (William Gargan), whom she has not seen since he left Agnes. However, Harry recognizes Ruth and confides to his bartender friend Andy that he has been too ashamed to return to his family.

Later, Ruth tells Art that Agnes tried to kill herself after Harry left and still hopes for his return. Art arrives late for their next Sunday date, but brings the lyrics he and Dixie have written to Harry's music, entitled "I'll Always Believe in You", which he sings together with Ruth. As they go out and walk through Central Park, Ruth voices fears about the war and Art tells her she must have faith. They then encounter Sergeant Gil Parker (Alan King), while he takes snapshots of his new bride, Arlene Witchy (Barbara Nichols), who works as a striptease dancer. Gil asks Art to take their picture and then offers to photograph Art and Ruth. In private, Gil warns Art that his division will soon be shipped overseas, but Art refuses to believe the rumor. At the lagoon, where children are sailing toy boats, Art recognizes the name of an elderly man, Commodore Eli B. Windgate (Halliwell Hobbes). "Windy", as he is now called, is a former yachtsman who owned many of the surrounding buildings before losing his fortune in the Crash of '29. Art, who hopes to be a reporter after the war, senses a good story and interviews Windy on the spot. He then takes Ruth to The New York Times Building and convinces the city editor (unbilled Grandon Rhodes) to let him write the human interest story. Instead of taking payment, Art asks to be considered for a reporting job after the war. As Ruth waits to meet him for their pre-arranged date, Art arrives late, riding on a truck filled with other soldiers, including Dixie (unbilled Paul Smith). With only a brief moment remaining before the truck's departure for the port where the troop ship awaits, he asks Ruth to marry him when he returns and, to allay her fears, says he still has the lucky Roman coin.

For three months, Ruth writes to Art every day, but receives no letters in return. Finally, a special delivery man knocks on the apartment door and hands a letter from a battlefield chaplain informing her that Art died in combat and that his dying wish was that she be told about his love for her. Ruth's tear drops on the letter and, in the following days and weeks, she is inconsolable despite the best efforts of her friends and co-workers. Millie, moved by Ruth's misfortune, feels the need for a fresh and pure start, drops Jalonik as her lover and leaves the firm. Grace finds Ruth consumed by grief, sitting on a bench in Central Park, and takes her to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Ruth lights candles under the statue of Saint Andrew. Jalonik, hoping Ruth will fill the void left by Millie in his extra-marital life, takes her to Café Normandy and attempts to engage in a warm-up conversation, but Ruth is in such a despairing state that she pays no attention as he kisses her on the cheek. In the meantime, as Harry listens to the radio, he hears the familiar strains of his music since, before shipping out, Dixie made some suggestions to Art as to the possibility of marketing Harry's music with Art's lyrics as a professional song and subsequently submitted it for airplay under his own name. Puzzled, Harry dials Agnes' number but, at the sound of her voice, his resolve falters and he hangs up without speaking. Having written numerous letters of explanation and contrition to Agnes, he continually found himself tearing them to bits, because of inability to face the hurt he caused her.

Ruth has been returning to the statue of St. Andrew and talking to the cathedral's young priest (Paul Picerni). Losing interest in life, she ignores a cold, which turns into pneumonia. Mrs. Hammer, the upstairs neighbor who has often helped Ruth care for Agnes, now helps Agnes nurse the bedridden Ruth. One rainy night, while Agnes has dozed off near her bedside, the feverish Ruth leaves the apartment just before Harry finally musters the courage to walk into the apartment with intention of asking Agnes' forgiveness for leaving. Stunned at seeing him, Agnes also realizes that Ruth is missing, just as Grace telephones. Upon being told that Ruth has left her sickbed, Grace realizes that she must be heading for the cathedral. Consumed by fever on the cathedral steps, Ruth hears Art's voice calling to her. In her delirium, she sees Art come to her and tell her that love never dies. Since he no longer possesses earthly means of holding on to the Roman coin she gifted to him, Art returns it to Ruth. A moment later, in the midst of the heavy, late evening rain, the priest finds Ruth unconscious on the steps, just as Grace arrives. Seeing the coin clasped in Ruth's hand, he shows it to Grace, who recognizes it and realizes that, for a brief moment, Art had returned to Ruth, whose own tenuous hold on life remains clouded in uncertainty at the end.

Cast[edit]

Unbilled speaking roles (in order of appearance)[edit]

  • Walter Kingson [Unseen narrator: "Champion of all the cities of the Earth is the towering, golden city of New York."]
  • Marian Holmes [Mrs. Sara Rickles, receptionist at Ruth's workplace: "Your wife called two minutes ago."]
  • Ray Walker [Mr. McGuire, salesman at Ruth's workplace: "Hiya, slaves. I'm tackling Poughkeepsie today."]
  • Minerva Urecal [Delicatessen proprietress: "A corned beef, fresh. Eh, you like some baloney? It's a good."]
  • Frank J. Scannell [Auctioneer: "Seventy seven, the luckiest number in the world. Now we have something special — a genuine Roman coin."]
  • Peter Mamakos [Headwaiter at Café Normandy: "We don't take reservations on Saturday night. You know that."]
  • Jess Kirkpatrick [Andy, bartender at Café Normandy: "Whatsa matter, Harry? You got a little pale."]
  • Norbert Schiller [Doctor Zero, eccentric character seen pacing in outer office of The New York Times city editor: "Phfft, phfft."]
  • Charles Meredith [The New York Times representative: "Doctor Zero? Our city editor asked me to tell you that The New York Times has no interest in stories about the end of the world."]
  • Grandon Rhodes [Mr. Baldwin, The New York Times city editor: "I hear you ran into a story in the park. Rowboat turn over?"]
  • Harry Harvey, Jr. [The New York Times office boy: "It's right in the second drawer."]
  • Paul Smith [Dixie Dooley, Art's Army buddy: "We can't stay more than three minutes, Art."]
  • Michael Vallon [Flower vendor passing in a horse-drawn wagon: "Fresh flowers, nice fresh flowers."]
  • Glen Vernon [Emcee at The Garden of Bali, 52nd Street: "Come on, come on, let's bring the little lady back, no extra charge. Here she is, Arlene Witchy."]
  • Malcolm Atterbury [Special Delivery man with letter from the battlefield: "Miss Ruth Wood? Special Delivery for you."]
  • Roxanne Arlen [Attractive new secretary who has been hired to replace Millie Kranz: "Yes, Miss Ullman."]

Song[edit]

The melody by Ruth's father, to which Art added words and turned into a song, is "I'll Always Believe in You", music by Ray Heindorf and M. K. Jerome, lyrics by Ned Washington.

Evaluation in film guides[edit]

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (2011 edition) gave Miracle in the Rain 2½ stars (out of 4), describing it as an "above-par soaper of two lost souls" and Steven H. Scheuer's Movies on TV (1986–87 edition) also granted 2½ stars (out of 4), calling it a "sentimental women's picture" and evaluating that "the two stars do well and there's a good supporting performance by Eileen Heckart, as Jane's friend".

Assigning 2 stars (out of 5), The Motion Picture Guide (1987 edition) opined that "Ben Hecht was usually a lot more cynical than what he showed in his novel and screenplay for this hankie-grabber". Evaluating that the presentation has "a bit of comedy from comic King and Nichols, as a stripper, but it's otherwise heavy going", the write-up decides that "too many secondary stories and not enough on-screen time between Wyman and a living, breathing Johnson, are what detract from the picture".[14]

Among British references, veteran critic and TimeOut Film Guide founding editor Tom Milne characterized it as a "weepie" and found it "not a patch on Minnelli's The Clock, though much better than one might expect, thanks to a similar concern for humble detail and a nice array of New York locations", but concluded that "the final 'miracle' — one of scriptwriter Ben Hecht's follies", to be "a tough lump of goo to swallow" (from 2009 edition). Leslie Halliwell in his Film Guide offered similar views, granting it 2 stars (out of 4) and describing it as "archetypal Hollywood schmaltz, half acute observation of amusing types, half sentimental whimsy, with a final supernatural touch of eating your cake and having it". The write-up also included the film's tagline: "A street corner pick-up that worked a miracle of love! A picture of very special greatness!" (from 2007 edition). Finally, David Shipman in his 1984 Good Film and Video Guide, also settles on 2 stars (out of 4), positing that "Ben Hecht's screenplay is of the genre 'spiritual', and may have been undertaken cynically, but the director has set it in a realistic, working-class New York then rarely seen in movies, so it acquires a certain patina. And it is very nicely played, by Jane Wyman… and Alan King, as a soldier enamoured of his new wife (Barbara Nichols), an untalented cabaret artist."

Television productions[edit]

NBC Television Theater[edit]

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, at the start of a period in American TV which was subsequently characterized as the Golden Age of Television or, more precisely, "Golden Age of Live TV Drama", four anthology drama showcases used varying time formats to broadcast adaptations of Miracle in the Rain. The first of these aired during NBC's 1946–47 season, an early period of irregular programming, nearly two years before the start of network TV's first full-schedule season in October 1948. Starting in January 1946, NBC had been presenting on Sunday evenings, between 8:30 and 9:30 or between 9 and 10, a series of live dramas under the umbrella title of Broadway Previews (later changed to NBC Television Theater). On Sunday, February 23, 1947, from 9:05 to 9:50, presentation records indicate a sponsored (by Borden) production of Ben Hecht's Miracle in the Rain, adapted by NBC's resident director and head of the network's drama division, Fred Coe. The records are missing details regarding members of the cast or whether Coe also directed the episode.[15]

Chevrolet on Broadway (1949)[edit]

The second presentation of the story aired as the February 14, 1949 episode of NBC's 30-minute weekly live drama series, Chevrolet Tele-Theater which, during its earliest months, was titled Chevrolet on Broadway. Presented on a high budget by the automaker, the show's productions tended to use established Hollywood talent which was more expensive than lesser-known actors from the New York stage. Reducing the plot to its core elements, the twenty-six minute Valentine's Day encapsulation of the original novella starred, as Ruth, Mary Anderson who, in the previous five years, had played the female lead or second lead in six major studio films, including 1944's Lifeboat and Wilson, 1946's To Each His Own and 1947's Whispering City. Art was portrayed, in his TV debut, by John Dall who, a few months earlier, in 1948, had co-starred as one of the two Leopold and Loeb-like thrill killers in Alfred Hitchcock's first Technicolor film, Rope and, two years before that, at the 18th Academy Awards, was one of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor as a result of his first film role, playing a young Welsh coal miner given a chance for a better life in 1945's The Corn Is Green. The episode was produced by former actor Owen Davis, Jr. (who drowned in a boating accident three months later, on May 21), directed by Gordon Duff and adapted by The Corn Is Green playwright Emlyn Williams.[16] NBC's records indicate that despite the brevity of the adaptation, the storyline included three other cast members, Viola Frayne, Lee Harris and Jesse White, but the identities of their characters were not specified.[17]

Studio One (1950)[edit]

The following year, Westinghouse Studio One, which started, in 1948, as CBS' first regularly-scheduled weekly anthology drama series and, unlike Chevrolet Tele-Theater, had an hour-long time slot, presented its adaptation (by David Shaw) on May 1, 1950. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, whose helming of Patton, twenty years later, would win him an Academy Award for Best Director, the live production starred Jeffrey Lynn. In the three years between his film debut in 1938 and the start of his World War II service in 1941, Lynn played leads and second leads in eighteen films and was touted by his studio, Warner Bros., as a potential top star of the future. However, upon returning to the screen after a seven-year absence, he found that his initial six films in the 1948–50 period, including the acclaimed A Letter to Three Wives, did not restore his career as leading man and he turned to television, making his small-screen debut with Miracle in the Rain. The role of Ruth was given to Joy Geffen, a New York stage actress with a number of undocumented appearances during TV's earliest days and at least six recorded credits for live dramas airing between 1949 and 1953. The storyline allowed for two additional characters, Ruth's mother, portrayed by Catherine Squire, and Ruth's office friend, whose given name, in this adaptation, was changed from Grace to Flora Ullman, played by Eleanor Wilson.[18]

Tales of the City (1953)[edit]

Just over three years later, on August 20, 1953, another production of the story, once again pared down to a half hour, was presented by a live drama showcase based on the stories of the novella's original author. A seven-episode CBS summer series, referenced as Tales of the City, but bearing the official title, Willys Theatre Presenting Ben Hecht's Tales of the City, used Hecht as the unseen narrator, setting the scenes at the opening of his stories, filling in gaps, and offering closing comments. Miracle in the Rain, the fifth episode, adapted, as were all the others, by Hecht, and directed by Robert Stevens, starred, as Art and Ruth, two familiar TV faces, William Prince and Phyllis Thaxter. Prince, who served in World War II, and briefly appeared as a serviceman in one of 1944's highest grossing films, the wartime morale booster Hollywood Canteen,[19] played second and third leads in seven additional films made between 1943 and 1950, with the last of these giving him the third-billed role of Cyrano's friend Christian de Neuvillette in José Ferrer's Oscar-winning portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac, and then devoted his career primarily to television and theater. Likewise, Phyllis Thaxter, at the start of a long TV career, after playing a couple of minor leads and several second and third leads in seventeen films produced between 1944 and 1952, made her first small-screen appearance in this twenty-six-minute miniaturization of Miracle in the Rain, which also included Una Merkel as Ruth's mother and Mildred Dunnock as Grace.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The FictionMags Index: Stories, listed by author
  2. ^ Sherman, Beatrice. "Soldier From Heaven; MIRACLE IN THE RAIN by Ben Hecht. 52 pp. New York: Alfred Knopf. $2" (The New York Times, October 17, 1943, Book Review section, p. BR4)
  3. ^ "TWO PERFECT GIFTS: Miracle in the Rain / The Snow Goose (The Montreal Gazette, November 27, 1943, p. 10)
  4. ^ Davis, Ronald L. (2001) Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy, pages 173–74. University Press of Mississippi
  5. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. "WARNERS TO FILM A STORY BY HECHT; Studio Wants Van Johnson Opposite Jane Wyman in Miracle in the Rain (The New York Times, January 11, 1955. p. 21)
  6. ^ Weiler, A. H. "The Screen: 'Miracle in the Rain'; Saccharine Love Story at Loew's State: Van Johnson and Jane Wyman Starred" (The New York Times, April 2, 1956, page 18)
  7. ^ "Show Time in Girardeau". The Southeast Missourian, June 14, 1956, page 3
  8. ^ "Mitch Woodbury Reports on New Paramount Headliner 'Miracle in the Rain'" (Toledo Blade, April 27, 1956, page 28)
  9. ^ Godbout, Oscar. "PASSING A MANHATTAN 'MIRACLE IN THE RAIN'; Noted City Sites Are 'Sets' for Jane Wyman, Van Johnson and Company" (The New York Times, May 29, 1955, page 53)
  10. ^ Berger, Meyer. "Movie Will Be Shot at Night in St. Patrick's — Ill Luck Dogs Statue of Abundance" (The New York Times, May 9, 1955, page 25)
  11. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  12. ^ "When Marilyn Leaves, 2 Others Take Her Place" (Daytona Beach Sunday News Journal, January 8, 1956, page 7A)
  13. ^ Thomas, Bob. "Marilyn Not Sexy as a Corporation" (Tri-City Herald, May 2, 1956, page 2)
  14. ^ The Motion Picture Guide (Chicago, 1987), volume V, page 1963
  15. ^ Hawes, William (2001). "Appendix C". Live Television Drama, 1946–1951 (in English). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 237. ISBN 0-7864-0905-3. 
  16. ^ "Miracle in the Rain", the February 14, 1949 episode of Chevrolet Tele-Theater at IMDb
  17. ^ Hawes, William (2001). "Appendix C". Live Television Drama, 1946–1951 (in English). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 249. ISBN 0-7864-0905-3. 
  18. ^ "Miracle in the Rain", the May 1, 1950 episode of Westinghouse Studio One at IMDb
  19. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, January 8, 1964, page 69
  20. ^ Miracle in the Rain, the August 20, 1953 episode of Willys Theatre Presenting Ben Hecht's Tales of the City at IMDb

External links[edit]