Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
"I'll be back as if I never left you, and I love you as if I've always known you."
Miracle in the Rain is a truly odd movie. It's an unabashed 'women's weepie' that doesn't even try to disguise its shopworn premise. It trots out a dozen ideas and subplots we've seen many times before, and caps them with a quasi-religious 'miracle' that ought to insult the intelligence. The miracle of Miracle in the Rain is that we don't reject it out of hand. Thanks to sincere performances and sensitivity to the feelings of average people, what should be a stack of production shortcomings and corny plot turns is instead affecting and uplifting. The film's only excuse for success is that it loves its characters and presents them all as deserving of a miracle.
Plain-Jane typist Ruth Wood (Jane Wyman) goes straight home from her Manhattan office to stay with her mother Agnes (Josephine Hutchinson). Agnes' husband Harry (William Gargan) abandoned them ten years ago. Much to her surprise, Ruth is pleased to be picked up by Pvt. Art Hugenon (Van Johnson), a lonely soldier with only a few days left before he's due to be shipped overseas. Against the warnings of her mother, Ruth blossoms under Art's friendly companionship. Even Ruth's protective best friend Grace Ullman (Eileen Heckart) thinks Art is a true find.
Miracle in the Rain must have been an act of atonement for screenwriter and script doctor Ben Hecht, who 25 years before had risen to fame with an incredibly cynical play and movie called The Front Page. Hecht starts and ends Miracle with a saccharine version of the Naked City speech. A miracle, see, happened in this big old town of New York, to two lonely people ...
The film is a maudlin version of The Clock, although Hecht's source novel predated Vincente Minnelli's movie. It's the same setup ... a lonely soldier hooks up with a young New York woman and romance blooms under the pressure of the obvious: He'll have to leave suddenly and they may never see each other again. Although some scenes were actually filmed in New York, the Warners production certainly isn't concerned with details. It's supposed to be 1942 but the streets are filled with 1950s cars, and a meat market serves up a variety of delicacies for supper -- with no mention of ration stamps. The script tells us that Art Hugenot had barely started as a Nashville newspaper reporter before being called into the service. Ruth Wood's dad left ten years ago when she was a little girl, so our young couple is clearly supposed to be in their early twenties. Jane Wyman is 41 years old and Van Johnson 43, and it takes some adjustment to accept them as kids.
The plot begins almost in Val Lewton mode, presenting a daily grind of low expectations. At the office, Ruth and her good buddy Grace do most of the work, while the beautiful Millie Kranz (Peggie Castle) receives all the attention from the salesmen. Millie also carries on a transparent affair with the philandering boss, Steven Jalonik (Fred Clark). Office errand boy Monty (young Arte Johnson) is an annoying nerd tolerated by all. Quiet, unassuming and studiously inoffensive, Ruth rarely has reason to smile until she meets Art Hugenot in an elevator. Art won't shut up, but what he has to say is pleasant and friendly. He sings corny songs at the piano with an exuberance that wins Ruth over. The guy is also thoughtful and considerate and it's not long before Ruth opens up to him. Maybe mother is wrong and this boy can be trusted. The wonderful Eileen Heckart makes Grace into the perfect support character for a muted romance. Ruth tries not to betray her warm feelings toward Art, while the horsey Grace is all smiles, overjoyed that her deserving best friend has found such a prize.
Miracle in the Rain is like a theater piece in which plot machinations and environment are unimportant, and the dialogue and the faces of the characters are everything. Art and Ruth have an exceedingly uneventful romance-about-town. Unlike The Clock there are no cute all-night adventures to accelerate their relationship. The sweethearts instead enjoy the generosity of a few pleasant strangers, like a waiter (Marcel Dalio) who also has a son in the army. In this version of the war experience New York is kind to her soldiers. Author Ben Hecht, an old-time newspaperman at heart, invents a subplot where tyro reporter Art finds a bit of human interest in Central Park. An elderly former millionaire played by Halliwell Hobbes now plays with toy sailboats. Art takes his story to The New York Times, where a kindly editor allows him to type it up.
Hecht doesn't bother with subtleties. Ruth wins an ancient coin at an auction and gives it to Art as a good luck charm. The charm will of course become the MacGuffin-like proof of miraculous intervention, like Joe Pendleton's saxophone in Here Comes Mr. Jordan or the telltale scarf in Portrait of Jennie. Ruth's home life is as earthy as anything in Paddy Chayefsky's Marty; Mother simply glares at poor Art while the nervy neighbor Mrs. Hamer (Irene Seidner) drops by to dispense unwanted advice and raid the fridge for beers.
To avoid spoiling the plot, I'll get selective with my explanations. Actually, any simple description of what happens makes the movie sound irretrievably corny. Miracle in the Rain takes a turn into a much deeper drama, fumbling some plot threads while carrying others to melodramatic extremes. Ruth's estranged father is still around, and he considers coming back home when he hears one of his unsold old songs played on the radio; it's been appropriated by a soldier buddy of Arts who happens to be a bandleader. This subplot is rudely abandoned at the climax.
Miracle in the Rain also introduces a spiritual-religious motif that the movie really cannot support, yet the story squeaks by on sheer good will. The despondent Ruth finds comfort inside a cathedral, where she imagines she hears the 'music of the spheres' that the poetic Art has mentioned. Some of the cheapest melodramas invoke religious miracles but this Miracle never directly insists on divine intervention as an explanation. We end the picture not knowing if Ruth will even survive.
The joy of Miracle in the Rain comes from its warm gallery of characters. Again, it's a great film to appreciate the adorable Eileen Heckart. While relaxing in Central Park Art and Ruth start up a friendship with a signal corpsman and his new bride. Gil is a young Alan King, speaking with an accent that sounds exactly like Joe Pesci in his Martin Scorsese films. Arlene "Witchy" Parker (Barbara Nichols) is a sweeter version of her usual bimbo roles. They're a delightful couple and neither Ruth nor the film condescends to them. Hecht's script also looks kindly on Peggie Castle, who eventually decides to try being a 'good girl.' Only the parents played by Josephine Hutchinson and William Gargan are left with their personal stories unresolved.
In the final analysis it's Jane Wyman's movie. Cynics may complain that her Ruth Wood is a wallflower variation on her previous holy innocent in Johnny Belinda, but I think it's just a good match of actress to role. Though our faux-sophisticated culture pretends otherwise sweet unprepossessing people do exist, and it's refreshing to see them portrayed with respect. Miracle in the Rain seems to know that its graces far outweigh its flaws. Because of the film's basic love of people, those supposed flaws just don't seem to matter.
Warners' disc of Miracle in the Rain is a good transfer that breaks the studio's ironclad rule of presenting all movies in their appropriate Aspect Ratios. The image is an open-matte full frame when it should be 1:78 or at least 1:66. Even the shape of the text blocks in the title sequence shows that the film should be widescreen. The only other Warners film that I've seen with the same problem is The Bad Seed. Russell Metty's cinematography makes a good match between location shots in New York and the familiar New York street set on the Warners' lot.
For extras we're given two segments from Warners' Behind the Cameras promo TV show that present Wyman and Johnson on the set. A trailer is included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Miracle in the Rain rates:
Video: Good - Aspect Ratio issuesSound: Excellent
Supplements: Two promo episodes from a TV show, Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 1, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson