Miracles for Sale (1939)

Article 1868 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2006
Posting Date: 9-23-2006
Directed by Tod Browning
Featuring Robert Young, Florence Rice, Frank Craven

A magician finds himself drawn into a murder mystery by a beautiful woman, who is somehow tied to a female spiritualist.

This was Tod Browning’s last film. It isn’t bad; the story is rather amusing, and there’s a lively and fun cast at work here. Nevertheless, it is a little on the disappointing side, though it’s a little difficult to say just why. Part of it is that there is a certain incessant cuteness at work here; there are a number of clever fake-outs and tricks here, but there may be too many; after a while, you get the same slightly annoyed sensation you get when a child does an antic that makes you laugh, and then he proceeds to do it again several times in quick succession. Though the mystery does take some very interesting turns, somehow the movie never really builds up much in the way of suspense, an unfortunate side effect to the fact that most of the character are quirky and likable. It’s biggest problem is that it lacks the moodiness you expect from a Browning film; in fact, if I didn’t know he directed it, I would have never guessed it. Still, there is something a little eerie to the fact that both of the murder victims are found lying in those circles drawn on the floor to conjure demons, even if the movie resolutely refuses to go in the direction of supernatural influence. The seance also works up a bit of mood, but it is broken all too quickly. All in all, it’s interesting, but not quite successful.

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