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The Miracle of the Bells

The Miracle of the Bells(1948)


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The opening credits of the film read: "Jesse L. Lasky Productions, Inc. presents Russell Janney's The Miracle of the Bells." Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: Lasky and co-producer Walter MacEwen purchased Janney's novel in October 1946 for $100,000 plus five percent of the producers' gross up to the first $4,000,000. After $4,000,000, Janney was to receive ten percent of the producers' gross, with no maximum limit set. Four other parties negotiated for the book's screen rights, including William Cagney, who wanted the property as a vehicle for his brother, James Cagney. At that time, Lasky and MacEwen reportedly made James Cagney a "percentage offer" to play the part of "Bill Dunnigan." Janney was announced as the picture's screenwriter at that time. Clark Gable and Cary Grant were also considered for the lead male role. Many actresses were considered for the part of "Olga," including Barbara Bel Geddes, Ingrid Bergman, Jennifer Jones, Joan Fontaine and Greer Garson. In 1946, Bergman appeared as "Joan of Arc" in the Maxwell Anderson stage play Joan of Lorraine. (Ironically, shortly after the release of this film, RKO distributed Joan of Arc, Walter Wanger's screen adaptation of Anderson's play, starring Bergman.) Lasky and MacEwen also considered casting an unknown actress in the part and tested Jana Garth, who also had played "Joan of Arc" on stage, and Ricky Soma, an eighteen-year-old New York ballerina. Maxwell Hamilton, who plays a reporter in the picture, was the editor of Motion Picture magazine.
       In February 1947, John Cromwell was announced as the film's director, but he was replaced by Irving Pichel. Lasky borrowed Pichel from Paramount for the production. Lasky and MacEwen considered doing the picture in Technicolor, but eventually concluded that the story would "work better" in black and white. A reproduction of a Pennsylvania mining town was built at RKO's Forty Acres ranch in Culver City. Hollywood Reporter announced in June 1947 that a featurette about the making of the film was to be shot and used in movie theaters to advertise the multi-million dollar production. Although the national release of the film coincided with Easter week of 1948, Hollywood Reporter announced in October 1947 that the film was to be shown in Los Angeles in December 1947 in order to qualify for the 1947 Academy Awards. The picture did not receive any Academy Award nominations, however.
       In March 1948, New York Times reported a rumor that the actual contribution of radio personality Quentin Reynolds, who is credited onscreen with Ben Hecht as a screenwriter, was "reading the novel and reporting its contents to Mr. Hecht, the latter having taken the assignment of writing the screenplay on the provision that he didn't have to read the book." According to New York Herald Tribune, Hecht, a declared Anglophobe, had his name removed from British release prints of the film. In August 1948, Raymond Polniaszek, an undertakeer from Glen Lyon, Pennsylvania, sued RKO for $500,000 in damages on the grounds that he had been caricaturized as "Nick Orloff" in the film, according to a Los Angeles Daily News article. Polniaszek claimed that he participated in a number of real-life events that were depicted in both the novel and the film, including the burial of a woman named Olga Trotski. The disposition of that suit has not been discovered.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: Before casting Frank Sinatra in the role of "Father Paul," Lasky sought approval from the Catholic Church, which voiced no objections to the performer. Sinatra, who had actively sought the part, then announced his intention to donate his acting salary to the Church. Sinatra's scenes were written by DeWitt Bodeen. Reviewers commented on Sinatra's simple, a capella rendition of the song "Ever Homeward."