More Than a Miracle (1967)

The first Omar Sharif film I remember watching was Mackenna’s Gold. As the bandit John Colorado, Sharif made a very young me (I was a child) feel that, my goodness, how could someone be so cruel and nasty and not at all nice? Then, a couple of years later, I saw The Night of the Generals and refused to believe that the upright Major Grau could be played by the same man who played the evil Colorado.

In the many years since my teens, I have seen many more of Omar Sharif’s films. I’ve seen him play everyone from a Mongol warrior (Genghis Khan) to a Russian doctor (Dr Zhivago), an Armenian king (The Fall of the Roman Empire), a German officer (The Night of the Generals), an Arab tribal leader (Lawrence of Arabia)… and a Spanish prince.

Omar Sharif as Prince Rodrigo in More Than a Miracle

When I heard that Omar Sharif had passed away yesterday, at the age of 83, I felt awful. Omar Sharif has long been a huge favourite of mine. I’ve been disappointed in a film because it had too little of him; he has brought to life a film for me simply by having a big, meaty role in it. He was, in a Hollywood where the foreign acting talent then consisted largely of Europeans, one of the very few (the only?) African or Asian actors who made it big. He was handsome, talented, breathtakingly attractive (not to mention a champion bridge player).

In tribute, therefore, a little-known but sweet little fairy tale of a film starring Mr Sharif. More Than a Miracle is set in Naples, where the Spanish are in control.

The story begins with the Spanish Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) busy taming a very wild horse, in the grounds of his palace. Rodrigo’s mother (Dolores Del Rio) emerges from the palace to admonish him. He’d be better off spending his time looking for a wife rather than taming horses. There are seven beautiful Italian princesses just waiting for him to choose between them, and the King of Spain has already ordered that Rodrigo should marry.

Rodrigo's mother scolds him

But Rodrigo won’t be pressured so easily. He’s a defiant, devil-may-care sort, and nobody—neither mother, nor king—is going to bully him into doing anything he doesn’t want to. So, after a swift dismissal of his mother’s somewhat irritable (and irritating) pleading, Rodrigo mounts up and goes off at a gallop.

Rodrigo rides away

The horse, of course, isn’t tamed yet, and after a while throws Rodrigo into the bushes. The saddle falls off, and the horse races off into the blue.
Rodrigo picks himself and the saddle up, and goes off to look for the horse. His wanderings through the countryside soon bring him to a small monastery above which floats Brother Joseph, the flying monk. (Yes, well. I’d warned you: this is a fairy tale. All sorts of things happen in fairy tales).

Rodrigo arrives at a monastery above which a monk flies

Brother Joseph alights, greets Rodrigo (who is, unsurprisingly, somewhat bemused at this holy man’s powers of levitation), and proceeds to ask what he’s looking for. Rodrigo’s assertion—that he’s looking for his horse—makes Joseph smile. What you are looking for may not be what you will find, he says cryptically. And what does he think Rodrigo will find? A wife.

Again, that wife motif. Rodrigo is getting sick of this all, but tries to humour the old man. Joseph gives him a small sack of flour. If you meet a woman, get her to make you seven dumplings from this. If you can eat all of them, then I will be proved wrong, says Joseph. Rodrigo, to keep him happy, takes the flour. It can do no harm.

Brother Joseph gives Rodrigo some flour - and instructions

He sets off again (this time awkwardly mounted on Seraphim, a rather stocky little donkey that Joseph lends to him), in search of his horse. He finally finds it—tethered in a field of vegetables. A poor village maiden, Isabella (Sophia Loren) is busy digging up root vegetables and piling them into cloth panniers slung over this beautiful horse’s back.

Isabella piles vegetables onto Rodrigo's horse

Rodrigo goes storming in, accusing the woman of being a horse thief. He pulls off the panniers, throws out her vegetables, swears to have her arrested—and is taken aback when she gives back as good as she gets. Isabella accuses him of being a horse thief himself: whoever saw a man so scruffy and dusty, his clothes half-torn, owning a horse like this? And when Rodrigo shows the fine Arab saddle he’s lugging around, she accuses him of having stolen that too.

There’s an unseemly brawl, but Rodrigo—being larger and stronger—throws Isabella to the ground and rides away on his horse. Isabella gets up, brushes herself off, and sets about picking up her vegetables all over again before heading back home…

Isabella watches as Roddrigo rides away

…and, shortly after she gets to her bare little cottage, finds a visitor knocking on her ramshackle door. It is—who would guess it?—Rodrigo. He’s apparently not as inimical to Isabella as would have appeared at first sight. In fact, far from it: he finds her, dirt and all, very intriguing. So he’s come to her with a request: will she please take this bag of flour and make him seven dumplings?

Rodrigo turns up, requesting dumplings

Isabella is baffled, but snaps at him: Anything to get rid of you.

When she finally hands him a plateful of dumplings, though, Rodrigo finds that there are six, not seven. His persistent questioning—where is the seventh dumpling?—annoys Isabella, and another argument erupts. Isabella gets furious and hits out at Rodrigo, and when he falls and plays dead, she’s so angry, she snaps, “Two can play that game!”—and goes rushing out into the village yelling to the rest of the villagers that she’s killed a Spaniard.

Isabella raises the (false) alarm

Chaos follows. Everybody gathers around, there’s much pushing and shoving and people saying that the Spanish will decimate the village when they come to know. The ‘dead’ Rodrigo, covered up with a cloth, is quickly ‘buried’ inside a hastily-dug grave, and covered with a couple of branches. Someone snatches the heavy ring off Rodrigo’s finger, too, but Isabella manages to take possession of it…

…and, later that night, when all is quiet, goes to check on Rodrigo. He’s disappeared, of course, but as she walks through the rain, Isabella bumps into an old woman (Carlo Pisacane) who seems to realize that Isabella has fallen in love with the handsome Spaniard the village had ‘buried’ earlier. And she can help Isabella. Isabella agrees, and the old woman—who’s a witch—takes Isabella off into the woods, where a group of witches are having a feast.

An old witch comes to Isabella's help

They’re all dirty, slatternly old women, but they offer lots of advice for Isabella to get her man back. It’s all mostly garbled, except for one bit—put your tongue in the keyhole of a lock—which, according to another witch, isn’t a good idea, because it’ll paralyze the man.

The witches' party

There’s a bit of chaos when a fight breaks out, and Isabella ends up being left all by herself. She’s desperate now to somehow get Rodrigo back, and all she can remember is that stuff about putting her tongue in the keyhole of a lock. The lock’s sitting right there, among the scattered dishes and wasted food… so Isabella goes ahead and does it.

And, somewhere in the countryside, Rodrigo (who’s taken shelter at a convent and is being fed a meal by a bunch of benevolent old nuns), suddenly goes rigid, his fingers still curled around a leg of poultry.

Rodrigo finds himself paralyzed

How far can a romance (and that too one between an Italian peasant woman and a Spanish prince) get, when the man has been paralyzed? How will Isabella get to Rodrigo? Will they ever have their happily-ever-after?

I’ll supply the answer only to the last of those questions: yes. Because, from the moment this film begins, you know: this is a fairytale. And, as everybody knows, it’s the rare fairy tale that doesn’t end happily.

What I liked about this film:

I was intrigued from the first moment I read the synopsis of More Than a Miracle on IMDB. When I saw this film, I fell in love with it. There’s just so much about it that’s charming and sweet and—well, completely fairy tale-like. Something like Cinderella meets East of the Sun and West of the Moon. There’s magic here, all the way from the kindly flying monk Brother Joseph to the witches (who, even if they use black magic, at least do it with good intentions). There is the comfort of knowing that it’ll turn out well between the handsome prince and his beautiful love, even if their love story sees a lot of friction and arguments.

Rodrigo and Isabella

There’s the beauty of the buildings, from the grandly gorgeous palace of Rodrigo to the stark austerity of the monastery. There’s Sophia Loren, scruffy but gorgeous. There’s humour, there’s lightness. There are thousands of fluffy yellow chicks.

Three thousand fluff chick scurry about

Then, there’s Omar Sharif. So very handsome. So attractive, even when he’s being not exactly the picture of chivalry. And when he confesses his love, there’s the softening of his eyes, the slow dawning of a wonderful, wonderful smile.

Omar Sharif

Goodnight, sweet prince. You will be sorely missed.

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23 thoughts on “More Than a Miracle (1967)

  1. Madhu, you wrote a very nice tribute to Omar Sharif at the beginning of this post, and it’s nice today to read a post by someone who was such a big fan of his. So far, I have only managed to skim your write-up of the film, itself, and I will need to get back to it over the weekend. (And by the time I can say more, no doubt there will be many more comments to look through first! :) ) For now, though, I can see that you put in lots of good plot description and details (as always), and it has some delightful screen caps.

    But I have another reason for commenting right now…

    I was wondering, have you ever seen his earlier, Egyptian films? Two blogs that you are familiar with covered one of them, Struggle on the Nile, in 2010. If you never saw the review in Bollywood Food Club, you should take a look, because, to start with, it has some very nice pics (though Suzy/Sitaji “writes the film up” from a pretty unusual perspective LOL). Within, there’s a link to the short review in Dances on the Footpath, in which I downplay Omar’s contribution and have much more praise for his belly-dancing co-star, Hind Rostom. If you haven’t seen this film, you should try to find it and write it up yourself, and maybe you will give Mr. Sharif the attention that he deserves. :)

    https://bollywoodfoodclub.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/i-love-white-plumpness-a-struggle-on-the-nile-1959/

    • Richard, when I heard that Omar Sharif had died, my first thought was to review a film of his, as tribute. The second thought was: More Than a Miracle? Or Seraa Fil Nil? I had read both yours and Sitaji’s posts on the film, and had got the film (I remember even beginning to watch it one day, but then abandoned it during the credits – I don’t if it happens to you, but it sometimes strikes me, even once I’ve begun a film – no matter how highly praised – that this isn’t the film I want to watch right now). Anyway, eventually I decided against it this time round too, because I wanted to remember Omar Sharif with a film I was already familiar with, and which I already loved. But I did notice your posting a Hind Rostom song on Facebook (didn’t have the time to watch it, sadly). And will definitely watch Seraa Fil Nil sometime soon.

  2. What a handsome and talented actor who grew old so gracefully. No matter at what age you see his picture, he looks great !
    Thanks for your wonderful review, I will get to watch a lovely film.

    • So true, Neeru! He did age very well.

      I do hope you get to see this film, and that you like it. A sweet little fairy tale, that’s what. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. Have seen it a long time ago, with all the fantasy it is still very down to earth.Isn’t there a contest of washing dishes in it?

  4. What a lovely tribute, Madhu. I skimmed over the plot of the story because to me, what was interesting was how your affection for Mr Sharif comes through. I had a small lump in my throat as I read the last line. Yes, he’ll be missed.

    I haven’t watched this film; truth to tell, I haven’t heard of this film at all, but it sounds right up my alley! And Mr Sharif looks absolutely scrumpilicious.

    p.s. Is it just me, or does the the last screen shot look incredibly similar to our very own Ajit at a similar age?

    • what was interesting was how your affection for Mr Sharif comes through.

      Did it? I’m glad you think so, because I was really saddened by his death. I mean, only to a slighter lesser extent than by Shammi Kapoor’s passing. It’s odd, I suppose, to feel so sad that somebody whom you didn’t even know personally could make you feel sad when they died… but there it is.

      I hadn’t noticed it, but now that you point it out: yes, in that last screenshot he does resemble a young Ajit (Dholak? Halaku?) quite a bit. The combined effect of piercing eyes and thin moustache, I think. Ajit used to be pretty hunky in his younger days.

  5. This does sound like an interesting film. Sophia Loren is a favorite and so is Omar Sharif. I have seen him here and there. I have ordered a DVD of Doctor Zhivago and plan to watch it.

    • It’s been ages since I watched Dr Zhivago (and I remember watching it as a teenager – my father bought the VHS cassette for us on a rare trip to the UK). My memories, therefore, are those of a teenager, who was disappointed by the tragedy in it. But I do remember thinking how gorgeous Omar Sharif was. :-)

      Do share your review of it once it’s you’ve seen it, Ava.

  6. What a lovely tribute, Madhu. Omar Sharif was so handsome and talented! Have had a crazy schedule the past few days so had not heard the news of his passing away till I saw your post on FB! So this came as a shock.

    I had not heard of this movie till now – and your review makes me want to watch it right away!! He looks so very good in the screenshots. I am going to try and locate its DVD today itself….:-)

    • Even I came to know of Omar Sharif’s death in a somewhat unexpected fashion, Harini. The 10th was my niece’s birthday, so we’d gone to my sister’s place for the party, and when we got back (nearly 11), I had to log onto the net to send a document which I’d promised to mail an editor but which I’d forgotten about. While I was at it, I checked Facebook, and there were all these tributes to Omar Sharif… such a shock. :-(

      I hope you’re able to get hold of this film – it’s really fun.

  7. When Mackenna’s Gold released in India, I was just a little kid, I was still not a teenager or may have just turned 13, frankly I do not remember, but this much I do remember- I was totally floored by Gregory Peck, he was old then but still so handsome. However, there was Omar Sharif whose acting I just loved. I will never forget the wayhe tells Peck that he will tell him what he will do when gets the gold, “But don’t laugh” he tells Peck rather endearingly.
    After this film I saw Lawrence of Arabia and some portions of Dr. Zhivago, but Mackenna’s Gold was the film where I liked Sharif the best. I wouldn’t mind seeing this film coz I just love fairy tales, unfortunately I did not find this film on You Tube.

    • It’s been such a long time since I saw Mackenna’s Gold, that I remember very little of it – not the dialogues, at any rate, and only a very basic gist of the plot. I must rewatch it sometime.

      Yes, sadly More Than a Miracle isn’t there on Youtube. Have you tried some of the other video hosting sites? Dailymotion, for example? (Also try Hulu). Unfortunately, this is one of Omar Sharif’s more obscure films, so…

  8. A very sweet tribute, Madhu. Thank you.
    He was one of the rare Hollywood actors I knew of.
    Just finished watching the film inspired to after seeing your review. Didn’ read it though. Wanted to do that after watching the film.
    Being a raja rani film was enough to sit back, relax and enjoy it. He looks very handsome and the pair looks gorgeous. I foud out that it was Sofia Loren’s husband who produced the film.
    I became quite fond of father Joseph and chuckled at his warnings to Isabella to run away before the other saints came up with their pieces of advice. :-)

    • “Being a raja rani film was enough to sit back, relax and enjoy it.

      Yes! I am a fan of raja-rani films, and add some jaadoo-tona to it, and it’s perfect. :-)

      I hadn’t realized Sophia Loren’s husband produced the film. The crew, if I remember correctly, consisted almost entirely of Italians.

      Brother Joseph’s warnings to Isabella were really cute! (By the way, the sight of Omar Sharif riding away on that donkey was cute too – so incongruous!)

  9. I watched “More Than A Miracle” as a kid. After I grew up, I looked for it everywhere armed only with the movie’s name and nothing else. And, man, was I glad to have found it! Omar Sharif was so breathtakingly handsome! That led to an Omar Sharif binging period with “Night of the Generals”, “Mayerling”, “The Appointment”, “The Tamarind Seed” and more. RIP Omar Sharif! You’ll be missed.

    • At least you remembered the movie’s name! I have gone looking for films with nothing beyond the language and a very rough recollection of the gist of the plot to go on. (And, thankfully, succeeded).

      But yes, Omar Sharif is so breathtakingly handsome in this one. I kept looking only at him.

      Thank you for reminding me of Tamarind Seed – another good entertainer, and such a good testament to how he managed to keep looking good even in later films.

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