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The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima

In May of 1917, three shepherd children, Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto were tending their flocks near Fatima, Portugal, when they claimed to have seen a beautiful lady whom they believed to be the Virgin Mary. In spite of the efforts of the anti-Catholic Portuguese government and the Catholic Church to keep them away, the children--and throngs of the faithful who believed them--returned to the spot once a month for five more consecutive months. Each time, according to the children, the Lady again appeared. She asked them to make sacrifices to save sinners and she entrusted them with three secrets. On her final appearance, she performed a "miracle," witnessed by the tens of thousands of people gathered there: unusual solar activity, as if the sun were falling from the sky. Eventually, a shrine was built on the spot, the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to the children, and Fatima became a pilgrimage site.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared a Holy Year, and the faithful made pilgrimages to sites sacred to Catholics, such as St. Peter's in Italy, Lourdes, France (the site of another apparition of the Virgin Mary, which was also the subject of a Hollywood film), and Fatima, which received over a million pilgrims. To capitalize on the attention surrounding Fatima, Warner Bros. decided to make a film about the visions of 1917.

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) presents its story effectively and reverently, but it is also steeped in cold war ideology. The Portuguese government is portrayed as socialist, and while the government was secular and anti-clerical, its leaders were not specifically socialist or communist. The Virgin's second secret, which predicts World War II and the rise of Russia, was not made public until 1940, when both predictions had come true. By the time the film was made, Russia's power was a worldwide threat, and the final part of the prophecy--that Russia would be converted--was no doubt a comfort to devout moviegoers.

German émigré John Brahm may have seemed an unlikely director for such a film. He is best known for two moody, atmospheric films about psychopathic killers, The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945), and a minor but impressive film noir, The Locket (1946). In The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, he draws very good performances from the three child actors in the leading roles. Twelve-year old Susan Whitney, who plays the highly-emotional part of Lucia, had the least acting experience. She had made her film debut in an unbilled role in the 1951 Doris Day film, On Moonlight Bay, and had appeared in one other film that same year. Ten-year old Sherry Jackson made her film debut in 1949, and was already the veteran of more than two dozen films and television programs. Thirteen-year old Sammy Ogg, whose small stature allowed him to play younger than his real age, was the most experienced. He had begun his career in radio in 1945, and among his roles was Little Beaver in the Red Ryder radio serial in 1950-51. (Robert Blake played the role in the movie serial.) The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima was his first credited substantial screen role.

The biggest name in the cast is top-billed Gilbert Roland, who plays a jovial peddler, a non-believer who nevertheless supports the children. Second-billed New York stage actress Angela Clarke, who plays the mother of Lucia, contributed several additional voice performances in the film. She provided the voices for the Virgin Mary (whose face is not seen clearly), as well as Lucia as an adult, although Susan Whitney, in aging makeup, is her physical incarnation. Clarke also contributed at least one crowd voice. Veteran Warner Bros. composer Max Steiner was nominated for an Oscar® for his Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima score, heavy on heavenly choirs, but lost to Dimitri Tiomkin's score for High Noon.

Of the three child actors in The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, Sherry Jackson had the longest and most successful career. In 1953, she played John Wayne's daughter in Trouble Along the Way, and began a five-year stint on the popular television series, Make Room for Daddy, playing comedian Danny Thomas's daughter. Over the next three decades, she guest-starred in a wide variety of television series, TV movies, and an occasional feature film. Jackson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Sammy Ogg worked steadily throughout the 1950s, playing supporting roles in several films, and appearing in many television series. He is best known for his role in the Mickey Mouse Club "Spin and Marty" serials, (1955-56). In the late 1950s, Ogg enrolled in an evangelical college and later became a minister. Susan Whitney worked sporadically throughout the 1950s, mostly in episodic television. Her last known big screen appearance was an uncredited bit part in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).

The real-life Jacinta and Francisco died in the worldwide flu epidemic after World War I, Francisco in 1919 at age ten, and Jacinta in 1920 at age nine. Lucia became a nun, and died at age 97 in 2005. All three are now buried in the basilica of Fatima. As for the third secret of Fatima, which the Lady had asked the children not to reveal, Lucia wrote it down and the sealed envelope was given to the Vatican. In 2000, church officials announced that the secret was a prediction about the persecution of Christians in the 20th century, and that part of it could be interpreted as predicting the failed assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. Conspiracy theories still abound surrounding the secret, and question whether all has been revealed.

Director: John Brahm
Producer: Bryan Foy
Screenplay: Crane Wilbur, James O'Hanlon
Cinematography: Edwin DuPar
Editor: Thomas Reilly
Costume Design: Marjorie Best
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Gilbert Roland (Hugo da Silva), Angela Clarke (Maria Rosa dos Santos), Frank Silvera (Arturo, Administrator of the Province), Jay Novello (Antonio dos Santos), Richard Hale (Father Ferreira), Norman Rice (Manuel Marto), Frances Morris (Olimpia Marto), Carl Millitaire (Magistrate), Susan Whitney (Lucia dos Santos), Sherry Jackson (Jacinta Marto), Sammy Ogg (Francisco Marto)
C-103m.

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