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The Miracle of the Bells

The Miracle of the Bells(1948)


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As soon as Hollywood press agent Bill Dunnigan returns the body of his dear friend, actress Olga Treskovna, to her home in Coaltown, Pennsylvania, he is barraged with money demands from local funeral director Nick Orloff. While driving with Orloff to the funeral parlor, Bill remembers his first meeting with the young Polish beauty: Olga is about to be fired from the chorus line of a burlesque show when Bill, a theater publicist who has been observing the rehearsal, convinces the show's choreographer to give her another chance. Although Bill is deeply attracted to Olga, he leaves without seeing her perform. Back in Coaltown, Bill tries to locate friends of Olga's dead, alcoholic father to act as pallbearers for her funeral, but, as the greedy Orloff had predicted, the only men who accept the job demand two dollars for their efforts. Disgusted, Bill begins to reminisce about his reunion with the kindhearted Olga: On a snowy Christmas Eve, while waiting for a train in a small town, Bill discovers that Olga is acting in a cheap touring show. Bill and Olga are delighted to see each other after a year's separation and dine together at a Chinese restaurant. There, the sagacious owner, Ming Gow, treats the couple to a feast and suggests that their reunion was predestined. Afterward, Olga, who is plagued by a hacking cough, points out the star that her father "gave" her as a child and offers Bill half of it. Bill is touched by the gift, but says goodbye to Olga once more and returns to the East. Coming out of his reverie, Bill goes to see Father Paul, the priest at Coaltown's impoverished St. Michael's church, where Olga had asked to be buried. Bill is impressed by Father Paul's generous, warm nature, and after arranging for Olga's funeral, he tells the priest about Olga's days in Hollywood: As a press agent for movie producer Marcus Harris, Bill once again runs into Olga after the tempermental star of Harris' latest epic, Joan of Arc , is fired. Olga has been working as the star's stand-in and when she sees Bill on the set, she invites him to dinner in her one-room apartment. During the evening, Bill gets the idea to cast Olga as "Joan" and has her perform a scene from the movie for him. Impressed, Bill then convinces Harris to test her for the role, and she easily wins the part. Olga soon becomes the talk of Hollywood, but while she is filming Joan of Arc , her cough grows worse. Concerned about her health, Bill goes to see her doctor and learns that, as a result of being exposed to coal dust as a child, she has developed tuberculosis and will die without immediate treatment. Despite Bill's warnings, Olga insists on finishing the last, dramatic scene of the picture. Her performance is inspired, but when she dies a day after filming is completed, Harris decides to shelve the project rather than release the film with a dead, unknown star. After relating this story to Father Paul, Bill is suddenly inspired with an idea for a publicity stunt. Writing a series of bad checks, Bill pays every church in Coaltown to ring their bells for three days and nights in honor of Olga's passing. He then wires Harris and, assuring him that he has found a way to release Joan of Arc , asks him to send $10,000. After the bells begin to ring, reporters appear in Coaltown, and to convince them of his sincerity, Bill relates Olga's dying moments: On her deathbed, Olga tells Bill that she was driven to become a movie star as a way of fulfilling the lost dreams of the poor people of Coaltown. Sure that her appearance in Joan of Arc will bring hope to her hometown, Olga declares her "job" done and dies. The reporters are moved by Bill's words and print Olga's story in newspapers across the country. Despite the instant publicity, the skeptical Harris still refuses to release Joan of Arc , fearing that Olga's notoriety will be short-lived. At the same time, the owner of the biggest mine in Coaltown is threatening to silence the bells, and Father J. Spinsky, of the well-to-do St. Leo's church, is threatening to arrest Bill for writing bad checks unless he agrees to hold Olga's funeral in his parish. Although Harris wires Bill enough money to cover his debts, he insists on re-shooting Joan of Arc with another star. Thus defeated, Bill wanders into St. Michael's church, which is packed with worshippers anxious to see the now-famous Olga. Suddenly, two large religious statues begin to turn on the altar until they are facing Olga's casket. Bill rushes to see Father Paul, who has already deduced that the statues moved because the weight of the crowd caused the pillars on which the statues were mounted to shift slightly. Although Father Paul is reluctant to describe the movement as a miracle, Bill convinces him to tell the people of Coaltown that divine intervention played some part in the event. The statues' turning is picked up by the press, and after listening to a radio report about its effect on Coaltown, Harris flies to the town and announces that he is releasing Joan of Arc . He also offers to build a hospital in Olga's name, which would be dedicated to finding a cure for the lung disease that killed the star. As Bill says a final farewell to his beloved Olga, reborn worshippers flood the streets of Coaltown.