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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devilry and Magic in Miracles for Sale ( 1939 )

Mike Morgan ( Robert Young ) is a skeptic. He was a former magician who now makes his living selling his magic tricks to other New York City magicians. "Miracles for Sale" is his tagline, and creating illusions is his racket. So, when he comes across a real-life mystery he naturally attempts to pick it apart to discover just what the "trick" is behind what he is seeing. 

Judy Barclay ( Florence Rice ) seeks Morgan's aid in unmasking a fraudulent medium and invites him to attend a seance at the apartment of Dr. Sabbatt ( Frederick Warlock ), a renowned magician. When the body of Dr. Sabbatt turns up dead in his own apartment and then disappears just minutes after being examined by the coroner, Morgan tries to unveil the trickery behind the disappearance but finds himself truly stumped. 

"Don't kid yourself....For several thousand years the human race has attempted to cross the threshold into the darkness of the unknown - call it the other world, if you like - because there is something there. And once in awhile, somebody gets pretty close to it."
Director Tod Browning, who made a name for himself with the pre-Code horror classics Dracula ( 1931 ) and Freaks ( 1932 ), directed this taut and tantalizing mystery that cleverly mixes devilry and witchcraft with modern-day magic acts. 

Miracles for Sale unites Young and Rice in the last of seven feature films they made together in the 1930s and boasts a wonderful supporting cast which includes Henry Hull, Lee Bowman, Cliff Clark, Gloria Holden, and William Demarest. Frank Craven also stars as Morgan's dad, a well-grounded man from the country who detests the hustle and bustle of New York City. 
While the gimmicks behind Miracles for Sale are quite clever ( especially the self-typing typewriter and the ghostly apparition next to Madame Rapport ), the real killer is easy to guess if you keep your eyes open wide. Diana, who has a knack for recognizing voices and faces, solved this caper within 20-minutes. 

Still, if you're looking to watch a good old-fashioned spine-tingling mystery for Halloween, you can do no better than Miracles for Sale. Tauro's snake-like eyes alone will give you the willies! 

Happy Halloween! 


  1. Gloria Holden is also in this movie--ironic that the actress who played Dracula's daughter appears in a film directed by the man who made the first official "Dracula".

    1. How interesting! Yes, Holden is marvelous as Madame Rapport...I'll add her name to the credits listed. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I had forgotten that Browning did Dracula as well!

  2. I caught this on TCM a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. As you say, the bad guy is easy to guess, but it certainly doesn't detract from the pace and fun of the piece. A dandy for a cool autumn evening.

  3. I wonder if the premise was partially inspired by Harry Houdini's crusade to expose fake mediums and their tricks.

    1. I think it was, the similarities are pretty apparent..and, like Houdini, Mike has the utmost respect for the "other world" but shows no tolerance towards fakers.