Old-fashioned, reverent, basically faithful to the facts, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima never quite emerges from the shadow of the earlier, superior The Song of Bernadette, but it ups the ante with sterner opposition (militant Marxists rather than freethinking civil authorities) and a more dramatic climax.
Screenwriters James O’Hanlon and Crane Wilb have done their homework, for the most part, and do a fine job of laying out and structuring the basic facts of the apparitions at Fatima, where in 1917 three young Portuguese children reported seeing the Virgin Mary appear on the thirteenth of every month from May to October. (Oddly, opening narration claims that the story starts on Sunday, May 15, not 13. The 15th of May that year was a Tuesday, not a Sunday; the first apparition did fall on a Sunday, but it was the 13th, not the 15th.)
At the same time, the filmmakers never manage the depth or clarity of Jewish writer Franz Werfel’s 1942 novelization The Song of Bernadette, on which the earlier film is based. Where that film fleshed out characters and issues with a level of complexity and nuance, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima is content to sketch simple types and familiar patterns: the disapproving mother (Angela Clarke, who also plays the Lady and provides a couple of voiceovers), the sternly skeptical priest (Richard Hale), the loveable rogue (Gilbert Roland), etc.
As Lúcia, 12-year-old Susan Whitney is earnest and sympathetic, though the story too often reduces her to anxious tearfulness, and she lacks the conviction and range of Jennifer Jones’s Bernadette. Sherry Jackson and Sammy Ogg are unaffected and appealing as Lúcia’s cousins Jacinta and Francisco. Roland steals the show as a fictional scoundrel with a heart of gold who affectionately humors the children and does what he can to make them happy — even in jail.
I have never seen a bad movie about Fátima. Three stand out to me: The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) is the best known; Apparitions at Fátima (1992) is the most authentic; and The 13th Day (2009) is the most artful — and my favorite of the three.
The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate.
Warner Bros’ The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima may be better known, but Daniel Costelle’s 1992 Portuguese production Apparitions at Fatima is a more historically accurate and spiritually sensitive account of the visionary experiences of three young Portuguese children in 1917, culminating in the miracle of the sun witnessed by thousands.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.