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Frank Sinatra as a priest? It was a casting stretch even in the late 1940's, years before he refined his image as the ultimate swinger and leader of the Beverly Hills "Rat Pack." But that's the role Sinatra plays in RKO's The Miracle of the Bells (1948), a sentimental drama about a miracle that happens when a glamorous movie star (Alida Valli, then billed simply as Valli) is laid to rest in her humble coal-mining hometown. The movie co-stars Fred MacMurray as a cynical publicist who is changed by the miraculous events.
As The Miracle of the Bells was being made, Sinatra was already coming under fire for alleged associations with gangsters - especially Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, described by Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley as "a ruthless killer and master racketeer." Newspaper columnist Robert Ruark scolded Sinatra, who still enjoyed a huge following of excitable young fans. Ruark wrote that the performer seemed "to be setting a most peculiar example for his hordes of pimply, shrieking slaves, who are alleged to regard him with the same awe as a practicing Mohammedan for the Prophet." Sinatra publicist George Evans leapt at the opportunity to launder Sinatra's image by announcing that he not only had been cast as a Catholic priest in The Miracle of the Bells but would donate his $100,000 salary to the church.
Sinatra's later relationship with Lee J. Cobb, a supporting actor in The Miracle of the Bells, shows a different side of his personality. Although they were not particularly friendly during filming and saw little of each other in the ensuing years, Sinatra came to the rescue when Cobb was in dire straits in 1955 after enduring blacklisting, a divorce and a near-fatal heart attack. Sinatra not only lent moral support but helped pay Cobb's bills, moving the older actor into his own home and later into a Los Angeles apartment that he paid for. A grateful Cobb recovered and resumed his acting career with great success.
Director: Irving Pichel
Producer: Jesse L. Lasky
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Quentin Reynolds, from novel by Russell Janney
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Editing: Elmo Williams
Original Music: Sammy Cahn, Leigh Harline, Russell Janney, Kasimierz Lubomirski, Pierre Norman, Jule Styne
Principal Cast: Fred MacMurray (Bill Dunnigan), Valli (Olga), Frank Sinatra (Father Paul), Lee J. Cobb (Marcus Harris), Harold Vermilyea (Orloff), Charles Meredith (Father Spinsky).
BW-120m. Close captioning.
by Roger Fristoe