Miracles for Sale (1939)
Directed by Tod Browning (Dracula (1931) & Freaks (1932)) this film features a host of character actors led by Robert Young as retired magician Mike Morgan who now sells tricks to the other performers in his former trade (hence the film’s title). Frank Craven plays Young’s father having just come to NYC to visit his son and provides the film’s comic relief. Judy Barclay (Florence Rice) is being chased and comes to Morgan for help whose assistance becomes the story which plays out confusingly and frenetically during this picture’s 71 minutes. Henry Hull as Houdini-like Dave Duvallo and Lee Bowman (among others some listed later) also appear in this Harry Ruskin Marion Parsonnet and James Edward Grant screenplay (based on Clayton Rawson’s novel).
The high points of this movie are the other “magicians” involved and the various tricks they (and Young’s character Morgan) perform throughout the film. Morgan’s apartment is especially fun with his father getting caught up inadvertently in many of them. At points throughout the movie though the viewer can become convinced that the showing of these tricks and/or the required special effects was the purpose for doing it in the first place. Some of these elaborate tricks must have blown the film’s budget because there are some real fake if cleverly done looking sets employed (e.g. a bookcase painted on the wall).
Shortly into the story a magician is murdered such that Barclay and the other magicians including Morgan are all suspects. However Morgan is allowed to help solve the mystery because he has apparently worked with the police to expose “fakes” (those in the trade that insist there really is an occult that mind reading is possible etc.) in the past. During the investigation various magician’s “secrets” are revealed some after temporarily fooling Morgan and the police into believing their authenticity. This part of the movie should be a delight for anyone who likes magic tricks and wants to see how they are done (or could be done). Of course Morgan solves the case.
Some of the more familiar character actors appearing in this film include Cliff Clark (in several of the Falcon Series films) appropriately playing a police inspector William Demarest (Uncle Charlie from TV’s My Three Sons) playing his detective and Eddie Acuff & Richard Loo (a popular Asian actor also in The Falcon Strikes Back) appear uncredited.