The Miracle by Rossellini: Resources

On Friday, November 9, I will be teaching a film class at the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute in Mission Viejo, CA. The focus of the class is film and censorship using Rossellini’s 1948 controversial short film (c. 40 mins.) Il Miracolo (or “The Miracle” in English) as a case study. The Miracle is actually the second part of a film entitled L’Amore.



Roberto Rossellini’s film “The Miracle”   

  • Artist/Author/Producer: Roberto Rossellini, Italian film Director
  • Confronting Bodies: New York Board of Regents
  • Dates of action: 1951
  • Location: New York City


Description of the Art Work


The 40 minute film, “The Miracle,” featured Anna Magnani as a peasant woman who believed that she was the Virgin Mary. The film was imported into the United states in 1949 by a Polish-Jewish immigrant Joseph Burstyn.

Description of incident

“The Miracle” was released in Italy in 1948 despite of the views of the Catholic Church. Although the film made it through U.S. customs without trouble from the official censors, the Board of Regents came under heavy pressure from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to revoke the films license on the ground that the work was “sacrilegious.” “The Miracle” lost its license and the films distributor, Joseph Burstyn, appealed the decision. The New York Appeals Court backed the Board of Regents decision.

Results of incident

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision in 1952, pointing out that it was unconstitutional for government bodies to impose religious orthodoxies on film or any other art and that “a state may not ban a film on the basis of a censor’s conclusion that it is sacrilegious” furthermore, “It is not the business of government… to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.”

Source: New York Public Library, New York City



From the Internet Movie Database: 

Plot summary for
Amore, L’ (1948)

A simple woman sleeps with a bum, portrayed by Fellini, under the impression that he is Saint Joseph. She then makes plans to give birth to Jesus Christ and is greeted by derision by the people of her village. Written by Keath {}

In part one, The Human Voice, a woman alone speaks on the telephone to her lover, who has broken off the affair to marry someone else. He calls her several times in one night: he lies, she apologizes, she takes the blame, she weeps, she pleads, she asks a favor. Her pain and desperation drive the simple story. In part two, The Miracle, a homeless woman believes that a man she encounters on a hillside is Saint Joseph; he takes advantage of her. When she discovers she is pregnant, she knows it’s a miracle. Other villagers mock her, and she has the baby alone, near a locked church, in the straw of a goat shed. Written by {}



Film, Religion and the First Amendment


Movie Censorship:
A Bibliography of Materials in the UC Berkeley Library

Draper, Ellen.

“Controversy Has Probably Destroyed Forever the Context”: The Miracle and Movie Censorship in America in the Fifties.” Velvet Light Trap 1990 (25): 69-79.

“Discusses the New York City censorship debate over the exhibition of Italian director Roberto Rossellini’s The Miracle during the early 1950’s. The film was originally deemed blasphemous by New York City Commissioner of Licenses Edward McCaffery in 1950 and the issue eventually went before the Supreme Court, which overturned McCaffery’s decision and extended 1st Amendment protection to films.” [America History & Life]



Miracles and Sacrilege: Roberto Rossellini, the Church, and Film Censorship in Hollywood


The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court (Landmark Law Cases & American Society)

L’Amore (Ways of Love) [Non-US Format, PAL Region 0] (DVD)

Available from (note, PAL format only)






Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline (Cultural Exegesis), edited by Robert K. Johnston – available from

I contributed a chapter to this fine book entitled “Shaping Morals, Shifting Views: Have the Rating Systems Influenced How (Christian) America Sees Movies?” In that chapter I explore censorship in U.S. Supreme Court decisions, notably the case of The Miracle.




Since I have been hearing a variety of perspectives about Guy Ritchie’s film, I went to see it yesterday. My review of the film here may be a way to discover who is really reading my blog!

Rocknroller is smart and extremely witty. As a caper is clever, quick-paced and artistic. In fact, some of it is completely LOL, not unlike some of the more entertaining heist films.

This is not to say the film has any socially redeeming value. Yet as I write this at the end of the day, I believe it does, because it is actually – art.

The story is as convoluted as they come. Ritchie uses voice-overs to introduce all the people/elements of the narrative. Some people think this technique is lazy filmmaking; I tend to think that it works here because it becomes funnier and funnier as each improbable character and situation is introduced to thinken the plot.

It’s very much a guy (sic) film. It tells the story of the real estate boom in London’s east end and all the graft and corruption that (supposedly) underpins the development – perpetrated by men with one exception – the Thandie Newton character. She’s greedy, too, and knows how to manipulate the guys, but we need the sequel to know why. 

Ritchie says this is a film about his London. I lived there for two years (1993-1995), but in the far west end in Kensington, so my experience doesn’t count much because I completely missed the gangsters. But you have to like most of these characters. Greed drives the action; some of the characters know it and some discover what this means when they are submerged in an underground tank filled with American crawfish. The characters, for the most part, are exactly the kind of people I met in London who looked scruffy or as odd as they come but would step aside and open the door for a lady.

An unseen framed art piece is the film’s MacGuffin and I imagine that we will find out what it depicts in the sequel – and I do hope there is one.

I truly liked and enjoyed this film. I think it comes from the sense similar to what you experience art that is so well executed that you know you have witnessed something close to genius – even if it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I think Ritchie has created genuine art.

Themes that emerged are friendship, innocence, child abuse and its consequences, injustice/justice, morality/immorality, greed, belonging, comedy, family, betrayal, male identity, and more.

About the violence: there is a lot of it but perhaps not as graphic as it could have been. It is more on an extreme 3 Stooges level rather than the Cronenberg end of the spectrum.

About the language: I always tell people, if you have issues with language remember that it often stands as a “character” in a film because language demands attention if only to point to the other characters’ spiritual poverty and lack of imagination.

In Ritchie’s drugged, hard rock universe, there are reasons why these men seem so unattached to conventional morality and why they cling to friends or just use people. In some ways, this is a depraved culture, in other ways it is sad and lonely. But Ritchie has taken those who are naught to confound the dickens out of those who are. Perhaps in another film we will discover more. For now, this is enough.

Have you noticed Mark Strong? He has been around forever, but he first got my attention in Syriana and then more so in Body of Lies. If you check his name on you can see that he is busier than ever. In Rocknroller he plays Archie, crime boss Lenny’s (Tom Wilkinson) right hand man. Mark Strong is an outstanding actor – as are most of the cast.

As a media literacy specialist I always want to know if a film will make any difference in the culture. Surely how a person interprets a film depends on each person’s life experience, education, moral development. Seen in the context of the world of film, Rocknroller is entertaining; thoughful viewers would find something to talk about. Within the context of the genre and story the film’s inner logic holds. Does it shed light on humanity? Again, that depends on the person. But will it make you laugh? It is highly probable if this is your genre. 

Bravo, Guy Ritchie.