Sunday, October 05, 2014

Miracles for Sale (1939)

Tod Browning's final film is an entertaining if rather tepid supernatural mystery about a magician who becomes involved in helping the police to solve the murder of a phony spiritualist. Running a brisk 68 minutes, it has the feel of a B programmer, though produced with characteristically high production values by MGM and greatly aided by Browning's distinctive style.

The story (based on Clayton Rawson's book, "Death from a Top Hat") seems tailor made for Browning, given its themes of magic, deception, crime, and the supernatural. Robert Young and Florence Rice make for appealing leads, and they are ably supported by a good cast including the likes of Frank Craven, Henry Hull, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Cliff Clark, and William Demarest. There are some good atmospheric thrills but also some moments of cornball humor that work against the macabre tone. It's a minor film, to be sure, but a fine and fitting swan song for this most unique director.

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