The Miracle Man (1919) is a dramatic film based on a play by George M. Cohan, which in turn is based on the novel of the same title by Frank L. Packard. It was directed by George Loane Tucker and stars Thomas Meighan, Betty Compson, and Lon Chaney It is most notable for making overnight successes of the three stars, most notably putting Chaney on the map as a character actor of great accord.
The film was both a critical and financial success. It was remade by Paramount Pictures in (1932), starring Chester Morris, John Wray and Sylvia Sidney. Today, it is considered a lost film, with only two fragments from it that survive.
The film takes place in a small, New England town in 1919, where a group of con men plan to use a faith healer to collect money.
In New York City's Chinatown, four crooks conspire to swindle a small, New England town. The gang consists of Tom Burke (Thomas Meighan), the head of the group; Rose, a con artist posed as a street walker; "The Dope" (J.M. Dumont), who pretends to pimp Rose; and The Frog (Lon Chaney), a contortionist.
The plan is clear: in a small town outside of Boston there is a Patriarch (Joseph Dowling) who has been healing people. The group heads to the town and plans to use the Patriarch in a faith healing scheme. When the townspeople gather to see the Patriarch heal the sick, the Frog is there, posing as a cripple. As he crawls to the path of the man, his limbs become straightened and soon he walks, supposedly healed, to the Patriarch. Unexpectedly, a crippled boy, his faith in the Patriarch overpowering him, loses his crutches and runs to the Patriarch.
The story spreading across the country (mostly on account of Burke), people flock in from all over to visit the Patriarch and be healed. When a millionaire, Richard King (W. Lawson Butt) brings his sister to be healed, he gives Burke $50,000 after the Patriarch cures her. During this visit, King meets Rose, and the two fall in love.
Meanwhile, all is not well with Burke. One by one, he sees his gang disbanding, unbeknownst to him, the healing power of the Patriarch at work. The Dope gives up his drug addiction, The Frog gives up his life of crime and takes care of a widow left all alone, and Rose laments King's departure.
Burke becomes jealous, but when King returns to propose his marriage to Rose, she realises that she loves Burke. The Patriarch dies, and the two lovers begin anew.
Initially intended as a vehicle for Meighan after he saw the Cohan play, Cohan sold the rights to the story to Paramount for $25,000. George Loane Tucker had previously been hailed as one of the "first of the immortals" of film directors after his 1913 success, Traffic in Souls.
Lon Chaney was chosen through the director, and this was his eighth film as a free-lance artist after leaving Universal Studios in 1918. His work in the William S. Hart picture, Riddle Gawne set him as a character actor of some notoriety, but it was The Miracle Man that would put both his acting and makeup skills (for which he was famous) to the test. After Chaney auditioned for the part of The Frog in Tucker's office, Tucker was reportedly "shaken" by Chaney's performance.
The Miracle Man was well-received by both critics and at the box office. Initially made for $120,000, the film grossed over $3,000,000 in theaters. During the film's run at the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, IL (where it broke all house records), airplanes dropped free tickets and brass coins which read "The Miracle Man is here" printed on one side and "Have faith, keep this" on the other.
Because of the film's success, it launched its leads, primarily Meighan and Chaney into stardom. Meighan later went on to major leading man parts and Chaney became the highest paid character actor in Hollywood until his untimely death in 1930.
George Loane Tucker received critical success from the film and planned more, but died in 1921.
The Miracle Man is a lost film, and thus a lost historical document of its time. However, two fragments of the film survive: the first is a segment of one of Paramount's Movie Milestone series, showcasing their studios' greatest achievements. This clip shows both a segment from the conclave in Chinatown as well as the healing scene, which was praised by critics as one of the most powerful scenes yet put on film.
The second clip that survives is part of a compilation film called The House That Shadows Built (1931) made for Paramount's 20th anniversary of its founding in 1912.
- Lon Chaney - The Frog
- Betty Compson - Rose
- Joseph J. Dowling - The Patricarch
- J.M. Dumont - The Dope
- Elinor Fair - Claire King
- Thomas Meighan - Tom Burke
- F.A. Turner - Mr Higgins
- Lucille Hutton - Ruth Higgins
- Lawson Butt - Richard King
- Tula Belle
- T.D. Crittenden
- Kisaburo Kurihara
- Ruby Lafayette
- Frankie Lee