Program Notes: Miracle Mile (1988)
Boy meets girl.
Boy sets up date with girl.
Date is interrupted by the end of the world.
Miracle Mile (1988) is about the last 24 hours of life on Earth.
It unfolds in Los Angles – mostly in a popular diner – and centers on a jazz musician named Harry (a pre-E.R. Anthony Edwards ... he actually has hair here!!!). Harry meets the nice Julie (Mare Winningham) at the LaBrea Tar Pits, agrees to meet her later that night, and then goes to bed (he works after dark and snores through the day).
But Harry oversleeps and by the time he arrives for their rendezvous at the diner Julie is long gone. A ringing pay phone (this was before cellular service) draws his attention.
On the line is a young military type in a missile silo somewhere in the Dakotas. The kid is trying to phone his father to warn that nuclear war has broken out – Soviet missiles are on their way and the U.S. has retaliated. Residents of big cities have only an hour to hightail it out of town.
Steve De Jarnatt’s film finds the perplexed Harry imparting this incredible information to other late-night denizens of the restaurant – garbage men, a drag queen, a waitress, a cook ... and especially a high-powered gal (Denise Crosby) with contacts in the military-industrial establishment. She is able to determine that, yes, something seriously wrong is afoot.
She also arranges for her company helicopter to land on the roof of a nearby building. The idea is for at least a handful of Los Angelinos to make it out of town before the missiles arrive.
Harry decides that he must save Julie. And so for the next hour he goes on the nuclear version of a scavenger hunt, avoiding rioting citizens, exploding gas stations, thugs, and trigger-happy cops in an effort to find the girl who just might be The One.
But can he pull it off before time runs out?
DeJarnatt’s film (he’s only made two...most of his career has been in episodic TV) is a nifty blend of conflicting moods. There’s terrific suspense generated as the minutes tick away, but also unexpected bursts of snarky humor (Julie has taken a sleeping pill and must be wheeled through the chaos in a shopping cart).
Against an apocalyptic background, Edwards and Winningham establish genuinely romantic characters for whom we find ourselves desperately rooting.
And Miracle Mile has one of the most haunting final scenes ever, one that takes Harry and Julie’s relationship full circle to the place in which they met. It’s a fitting end to a brief but rich relationship.
Other films in the series “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- December 3: When Worlds Collide (1951) Not Rated
- December 10: Miracle Mile (1988) Rated R
- December 17: The Road (2009) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.