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Based on a 1943 novel by Ben Hecht, Miracle in the Rain (1956) is the story of a New York secretary (Jane Wyman) whose drab existence is jolted by love when she meets a breezy yet gentle GI (Van Johnson), only to see him go off to WWII. She endures tragedy followed by, yes, a miracle, before the heart-tugging yarn comes to a close. Hecht's tale obviously touched the hearts of many in Hollywood since a movie version of it was in the works almost continuously from the novel's publication. Hecht himself originally planned to write, produce and direct, but that was not to be, and the screen rights passed through several hands - and studios - before Warner Bros. producer Frank Rosenberg got hold of them and was finally able to follow through. Ironically for this early era of television, a TV movie version was even produced first, in 1954.
Directed on a healthy $1.1 million budget by Rudolph Mat, an excellent former cinematographer who had started directing in 1947, and shot by Russell Metty, who would soon lens Touch of Evil (1958) and Spartacus (1960), Miracle in the Rain certainly looks impressive. While interiors were filmed on Hollywood sound stages, the picture also shot all over New York City, including Central Park and St. Patrick's Cathedral, a key setting for the story's climax.
In fact, Miracle in the Rain has the distinction of being the first ever to be granted permission to shoot inside the famed cathedral, albeit from 10 pm to dawn each night (for one week). To create rain, film historian Ronald L. Davis has written, "fire hydrants were tapped and a steady shower was aimed at the great cathedral doors while scenes were played."
Van Johnson had read Hecht's novel years earlier and thought that his friend and fellow star Robert Walker would be perfect for the leading man. He had even suggested it to him at the time, but now, when the film was finally being made, Walker was dead. "I thought of him every day when I was on the set," Johnson later said.
Leading lady Jane Wyman had recently starred in a big moneymaker: Magnificent Obsession. Since that picture's release in August 1954, she had acted in two more films in quick succession: Lucy Gallant (1955), for Paramount, and All That Heaven Allows (1955), for Universal. By the time she finished Warners' Miracle in the Rain, all three pictures were in the can without having yet been released. Lucy Gallant finally opened in October 1955 and All That Heaven Allows followed on Christmas Day. Both were blasted by the critics, though All That Heaven Allows did make some money and is now considered a classic of '50s melodrama. Suddenly, the prospect of a third Wyman film seemed like oversaturation, and Warner Brothers, which had rushed Miracle in the Rain through postproduction in order to qualify for Oscars®, held up release to the following spring.
It didn't make much difference. Miracle in the Rain opened in April 1956 and caused no great shakes with the public or the critics, though Wyman's vulnerable performance did receive some notice. "Overly saccharine," concluded The New York Times. "Has moments of insight, sensitivity and compassion...[and] hits high, lovely notes on occasion..., [but] falls short of its potential."
A promotional contest organized by Warner Brothers, whereby 32 winning secretaries from around the country were flown to Hollywood for a three-day tour and the chance to meet movie stars, didn't have much effect. In fact, Wyman herself later attributed the film's commercial failure to a lack of proper promotion. She told film critic Rex Reed: "What a wonderful movie! But by the time we got that one out, Van Johnson and I weren't so big, and Warners was already spending all its money promoting Giant (1956), so it never got any attention.
Miracle in the Rain was the final feature film appearance for Halliwell Hobbes, a longtime British character actor recognizable from countless earlier pictures. He was 79 when he made this film, and died in 1962. Look also for Marcel Dalio - he played the croupier in Casablanca (1942) - as a waiter.
Producer: Frank P. Rosenberg
Director: Rudolph Mate
Screenplay: Ben Hecht (novel and screenplay)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Franz Waxman
Film Editing: Thomas Reilly
Cast: Jane Wyman (Ruth Wood), Van Johnson (Pvt. Arthur 'Art' Hugenon), Peggie Castle (Millie Kranz), Fred Clark (Steven Jalonik), Eileen Heckart (Grace Ullman), Josephine Hutchinson (Agnes Wood), William Gargan (Harry Wood), Marcel Dalio (Marcel - Waiter), George Givot (Headwaiter), Barbara Nichols (Arlene Parker nee Witchy), Halliwell Hobbes (Ely B. 'Windy' Windgate), Paul Picerni (Priest), Alan King (Sgt. Gilbert 'Gil' Parker).
by Jeremy Arnold
Ronald L. Davis, Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy
Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Jane Wyman: A Biography