The Next Voice You Hear
The Next Voice You Hear was a small-scale and offbeat religious film that has garnered something of a cult reputation since its release in 1950. The “Voice” of the title is that of God, who miraculously addresses the world over the radio. Based on a magazine story by George Sumner Albee, the film focuses on the impact the event has on one Los Angeles family, the Smiths. The husband, Joe (James Whitmore), is a harried and irritable everyman: he bickers with his pregnant wife, Mary (Nancy Davis—later to be Reagan, First Lady of the United States) and son, Johnny (Gary Gray); he loathes customary visits from Mary’s shrill, spinster Aunt Ethyl (Lillian Bronson); and he is deeply resentful of his boss, Mr. Brannan (Art Smith). One night Joe tunes into the radio and hears a voice that identifies itself as God. Smith is doubtful at first, but he, his family and the rest of the world come to believe as God reappears on the air each day over the course of the next week and offers advice to His people, even conjuring a terrible rainstorm to prove His power. Joe is shaken when Mary nearly miscarries and he begins to reconsider his attitude towards life. He is tempted by evil in the form of a barfly (Douglas Kennedy), and when he returns home one night a slurring, intoxicated mess, Johnny is so disappointed in his father that he runs away. Encouraged by the advice from God, Joe makes peace with Aunt Ethyl and Mr. Brennan, and apologizes to Johnny, explaining the importance of faith in the Lord and in his fellow men. After six daily radio addresses, God is silent, having left the world a more tolerant place, and Joe drives Mary to the hospital, where she gives birth to a healthy baby girl.
Ushered to the screen by executive producer Dore Schary and directed by William Wellman (who later the same year would helm Across the Wide Missouri, also scored by Raksin), the small-budget film was deemed a risk for its provocative subject matter, but the filmmakers’ skillful handling of God’s radio speeches helped shield the movie from religious ire: specifically, God’s voice is never directly heard, with his words paraphrased and recited secondhand by other characters. While the original source material had God performing grand miracles, such as the sinking of Australia and the vanishing of Russia’s military weapons, the film is bereft of special effects, instead centering entirely around the relatable Smiths and their reactions to God’s speeches. The three leads make for a convincingly quarrelsome family unit in the film’s opening scenes, and Whitmore’s gradual transformation—from embittered to faithful—movingly conveys the story’s simple themes of peace and love.
David Raksin’s music, hailed as “arresting” by The Hollywood Reporter, consists of a reverent orchestral theme for the opening and closing titles. The hymn-like piece is appropriately compassionate, containing a tinge of irony in the resolution of its rising, chromatic melody—perhaps Raksin’s subtle commentary on the film’s unconventional God-on-the-radio premise. As Marilee Bradford reveals in her essay for the booklet accompanying this release, producer Schary had composed his own hymn for the film, but when M-G-M music director Johnny Green arranged a performance of the Raksin and Schary hymns for William Wellman (who was unaware of their authorship), the director quickly opted for the Raksin composition. Lyrics (by Norman Corwin) were later added to the Raksin melody, which was published under the title “Hasten the Day.”
Aside from this bookending melody, the body of the film plays without underscore, although a small assortment of source music (most of it not composed by Raksin and thus not presented here) is heard throughout the film. In any case, very little of the music recorded for the film survives: this short suite has been largely taken from the finished film itself in order to present Raksin’s lovely main and end titles.
- 25. Main Title
- Due to the religious seriousness of the film, The Next Voice You Hear is one of the rare M-G-M movies in which Leo the Lion does not roar (Ben-Hur being another); he instead sits quietly and respectfully, the sound of church bells in the distance. The film begins over a bed of drifting clouds with the biblical quote “...neither was the Word of the Lord yet revealed unto him” (1 Samuel 3:7). Raksin’s benevolent theme unfolds through the main titles until text announcing “The First Day, Tuesday” appears and the film transitions to the Smith household.
- 26. Gary Gavery Radio Show/Amerikanischer Yotz Musik
- Johnny Green and André Previn recorded several pieces of source music for The Next Voice You Hear , particularly radio music leading to the (offscreen) appearances of God’s Voice. Raksin, however, did author these two radio “play-ons,” of which only the first appears in the finished film.
- 27. End Title
- The conclusion of the film finds Joe Smith (James Whitmore) a devout believer in God after he and the rest of the world experience six days of radio addresses from the Lord Almighty. Joe’s wife, Mary (Nancy Davis), gives birth to a baby girl; as Mary is wheeled out of the delivery room on a gurney, Raksin reprises his theme, affirming Joe’s faith as he strokes his wife’s face. The melody builds towards a triumphant chime-filled conclusion as the film transitions back to the bed of clouds, where a closing quote (from John 1:1) reads “In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.” —