Miracles for Sale (1932) starring Robert Young, Florence Rice, Henry Hull, Gloria Holden
Robert Young is probably best remembered for his eponymous television role as Marcus Welby, M.D. — but in his youth, he was an attractive leading man, as in the magical murder mystery, Miracles for Sale. In it, he plays Mike Morgan, retired stage magician who now runs a profitable business making magic props and illusions for other magicians. His father, played by Frank Craven, has come to New York City to help Frank with his bookkeeping — and to provide comic relief as needed. The film, Tod Browning’s last, begins with what appears to be a gruesome ending — but it’s actually Morgan auditioning a new variation on sawing a woman in half, via machine gun. Soon afterward, a beautiful girl named Judy Barclay (played by Florence Rice) is entreating him to help her — like Houdini, Morgan makes a point of debunking fake psychics, and it’s in this vein that she needs his help.
After setting the mood at a restaurant, where magician Morgan uses his sleight of hand skills to baffle a waiter with some sugar bowls, they’re both unexpectedly pulled into a magical murder mystery, when Morgan is invited to attend a — seance — by Dr. Sabbat, although Judy wants his help instead. Later that night, after foiling an attempt on Judy’s life and meeting the alleged — psychic — Madam Rapport (played very well by Gloria Holden, using the same otherworldly appearance that worked so well in Dracula’s Daughter), Morgan goes to Sabbat’s hotel room, only to find the doors chained shut from the inside and an unknown voice speaking. Breaking into the locked room, they find the strangled body of Dr. Sabbatt.
The locked room murder mystery is only the first, with some red herrings thrown in via magic tricks — and an appearance by personal favorite William Demarest as one of the police. Another notable actor is Henry Hull (best remembered at the titular Werewolf of London) playing another magician who seems to help with the investigation. Along the way there’s a second murder, and the film ends with a rendition of the classic — Catch the Bullet — magic trick — with Judy as the subject, in an attempt to catch the murderer in the act.
In all, I was pleasantly surprised by Miracles for Sale — a pleasant murder mystery, that put some classics of magic on display as well. I rate it a very solid 2 stars out of 5.
Editorial review of Miracles for Sale (1939) starring Robert Young, courtesy of Amazon.com
Young next is an illusionist who offers Miracles for Sale, a playful whodunit from director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) that has him using conjuror’s skills to help unmask a killer. Young’s frequent co-star Florence Rice, daughter of sports scribe Grantland Rice, is the charming love interest.
Movie quotes from Miracles for Sale
Frank Morgan (Robert Young): [at the restaurant] What happened to the young lady?
Waiter: What happened to the sugar bowls?