Das Mirakel is a black-and white silent German film made and released in 1912, directed by Mime Misu for the Berlin film production company Continental-Kunstfilm GmbH. It was based (without permission) on the Karl Vollmoeller play The Miracle. The film was originally advertised as The Miracle in Britain and the USA, but after copyright litigation in both countries it was shown as Sister Beatrix and Sister Beatrice respectively. In Germany it was known as Das Marienwunder: eine alte Legende.
The film stars Lore Giesen, Mime Misu and Anton Ernst Rückert. The screenplay was by Mime Misu, and the cinematographer was Emil Schünemann, who was also behind the camera for Misu’s film about the RMS Titanic disaster, In Nacht und Eis (Shipwrecked in Icebergs).
The film opens in the nave of a cathedral. People cry out in awe as a blind woman’s lost sight is restored. A procession forms, including many pilgrims and nuns. They pass through the cloisters, chanting.
Among the nuns there is one younger and more beautiful named Beatrix. Among the pilgrims is a handsome knight. The two are attracted to each other during the service in the cathedral. Disturbed by her weakness Beatrix struggles to control her emotions.
Gradually the knight overcomes the Beatrix’s resistance, aided by the Spirit of Evil, a sinister apparition that makes its appearance several times throughout the story. It in turn is countered by a second apparition that appears as a beautiful nun, the Spirit of Good.
When worshippers leave the cathedral after vespers, Beatrix throws down her robe and keys and flees with her handsome knight. The building is now empty and silent, with light falling on the motionless statue of the Virgin. Then the miracle happens. The statue of the Madonna comes to life and steps down from her throne. She picks up the garment discarded by the infatuated nun, and takes up her place before the barren altar.
The other nuns return notice that the statue of the Virgin has vanished. Assuming it has been stolen, they turn upon the woman they think to be Beatrix, and are about to lead her with execrations when the Madonna rises slowly from her feet into the air, and stands before them.
In the second half of the drama deals with the adventures of the nun in the world. We see her gradual degradation physically and spiritually as she goes from one lover to another. The Spirit of Evil urges on her degradation and uses her as a pawn to destroy the souls of others she encounters.
At last, the Spirit of Good appears and leads a worn out Beatrix back to the gates of the cathedral. She sneaks inside afraid and ashamed. She finds the cathedral empty except for a single figure, which stands motionless before the empty altar. Beatrix goes forward to throw herself upon the mercy of the solitary watcher—and then the figure turns, and the Madonna reveals herself to the nun whose place she has taken.
Beatrix is about to run in fright when the sanctuary gates close miraculously, and she finds herself imprisoned in the cathedral. She prostrates herself upon the ground. A smile of pity comes over the face of the Virgin Mother. She stretches out her hand and raises Beatrix up. She then returns to her throne, leaving the pardoned penitent Beatrix to take up the pure life once again. Beatrix is now tranquil. A shaft of sunlight breaks through the cathedral windows and illuminates the scene.
At least two films with the title The Miracle were made and released in 1912: the Continental-Kunstfilm version directed by Mime Misu, and the ‘authorised’ version directed by Michel Carré with most of the principal cast, costumes and music from the original London production by Max Reinhardt of The Miracle (play).
From December 1911 to March 1912 London’s Olympia Exhibition Hall exhibition hall was turned into an enormous stage set for one of the biggest theatrical shows London had ever experienced. This was Max Reinhardt’s production of The Miracle (play), a wordless mime play (US:Pantomime) by Karl Vollmoeller with music by Engelbert Humperdinck. The production involved (apart from the 15 or so principal players) a cast of around 1,000 minor players plus girl dancers and miscellaneous boys and girls, with an orchestra of 200 players, a chorus of 500 and a specially-installed organ. This spectacular mediaeval pageant was performed before a nightly audience of 8,000, with two matinees a week.
Although Vollmoeller’s play had been copyrighted, it was largely based on the well-known legend of ‘Sister Beatrice’, originally collected in the 13th century by Caesarius of Heisterbach in his Dialogus miraculorum (1219-1223). The tale was revived by Maurice Maeterlinck in 1901 in a minor play named Soeur Beatrice (Sister Beatrice), drawing on versions by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and on the 14th-century Dutch poem Beatrijs.
The legitimate worldwide film rights to the Reinhardt production, and to the play and the music, were acquired by Joseph Menchen, an inventor who had built up his own electrical theatre lighting business in New York. He had been previously involved in the earliest days of the cinema, projecting early Edison and Vitascope films with his Kineoptikon at Tony Pastor’s vaudeville theatre in New York from 1896-1899.
From the outset the advertising for the Continental version played heavily on the play’s success at Olympia, hinting (without explicitly claiming) that it was a film of the actual production.
Continental’s film was completed and copyrighted by October 1912, while Joseph Menchen’s authorised production of The Miracle (1912 film) started production near Vienna, Austria in early October and was finished by December 1912.
Some of the film was shot on location at Chorin Abbey (Kloster Chorin) near the German-Polish border.
According to evidence given in a copyright court case involving the two ‘Miracle’ films, production of Das Mirakel began in Germany in March 1912, and was finished by July 1912. However, from after April until July Misu was engaged in filming In Nacht und Eis, which was passed by the Berlin censors on 6 July. It seems possible, therefore, that Das Mirakel was already in production when the Titanic sank, and that Misu immediately made In Nacht und Eis before completing Mirakel. At any rate, the Berlin police censor’s decision to ban the film (possibly for its pro-catholic stance) was dated 19 October 1912.
Although Das Mirakel (under the title “The Miracle“) was well-received by the critics in the USA, it seems to have been made in a deliberate attempt to compete with the ‘authorised’ film of Max Reinhardt’s production, The Miracle (1912 film) produced and co-directed by Joseph Menchen and Michel Carré. The release of two visually similar films in 1912 (one authorized, one not) with the same title and dealing with the same subject has inevitably led to confusion, including the false notion that a film named “The Miracle” went down with the RMS Titanic. See The Miracle (1912 film)#US performances.
The film’s history is inextricably intertwined with that of Menchen’s.
The following news item shows how the New York Film Company (the US distributors) positioned The Miracle, mentioning Reinhardt and simultaneously praising and damning Menchen’s own film (which wasn’t released until 21 December).
In the USA the film faced legal opposition from Albert H. Woods, the owner of rights to and distributor of the ‘official’ film of Max Reinhardt’s The Miracle: the battle ended in a temporary injunction against its distributors, the New York Film Company, from leasing the Continental film under the title of The Miracle.
After a court case in London involving the rival version made by Joseph Menchen, the Continental version distributed by the New York Film Co. was known (after 22 March 1913 at the latest) as Sister Beatrice in the USA. The name change to Sister Beatrice was suggested by a judge during a similar copyright court case in London.
The film’s UK distributor, Elite Sales Co., ceased trading in October 1913, citing heavy losses.
A review by an anonymous critic in Billboard of Misu’s 4-reel film, after a press showing at 9 a.m., Friday 18 October 1913: “Like most European productions so much emphasis ls placed on the ensemble numbers and on the settings that the whole play is staged at a distance from the camera. Facial expressions are therefore not vivid or intense, although discernable and good considering the conditions.”
The critic W. Stephen Bush thought the film good enough to use in a lecture about the use of film in teaching history.
In the lecture room of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, before a distinguished audience of educators headed by Professor Franklin Hooper, one of the best known pedagogues of the country, a special exhibition of the films [sic] known as “The Miracle” was given a few days ago. The picture was shown primarily to demonstrate the high and unique teaching power of the cinematograph and its special fitness as an illustrator of history. Before the exhibition, Mr. W. Steven Bush, of The Moving Picture World, delivered an interesting lecture on the cinematograph as a most valuable teaching agent in history.
The Miracle was shown in Baltimore and in Washington D. C. at Tom Moore’s Garden Theater to positive notices:
“The Miracle the well-known four-reel production of the German Art Film Society, was exhibited in Baltimore at Albaugh’s Theater in the week ending January 6th 1913. The attendance was good and the presentation of the films very creditable. An orchestra of twelve pieces rendered the special musical score, which had been prepared by Mr. E. Luz paulfrank-outlet.com/paul frank backpacks. Mr. Louis Bache, formerly assistant manager of the Electric Theater Supply Company and recently connected in a prominent way with the General Film Company of Philadelphia, had charge of the projection and his skilful work elicited praise from the press and the public. Prices ranged from 25 cents to one dollar.”
“The Miracle, the four-reel feature of the German Art Film Company kelme soccer socks, had a sensational run at Tom Moore’s Garden Theater at Washington, D. C. The reels had been hired for three days, but the crowds came so fast that the engagement was extended to a whole week.”
On 13 May 1914 Max Reinhardt’s original spectacular stage production of Karl Vollmoeller’s pantomime The Miracle ended its Europe-wide run in Berlin at the Circus Busch, a purpose-built indoor circus arena.
Das Marienwunder: eine alte legende remained banned in Germany until some time in May 1914, when the film was re-classified as over 18 only (jugendverbot) by the Berlin police censor and released with cuts.
Menchen’s film of The Miracle (as Das Mirakel) received its German première on Monday, 15 May 1914 at the Palast am Zoo cinema (later Ufa-Palast am Zoo), Charlottenburg, Berlin, with full score by Engelbert Humperdinck, full orchestra and chorus, church bells and processions of actors.