Wednesday, June 16, 2021

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)


                        “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” is a screwball comedy set on the WWII home front.  It was written, directed, and produced by Preston Sturges.  He was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay.  The film was completed in early 1943, but it was not released until 1944 because Paramount had a backlog of movies.  Ironically, it came out the same year as Sturges’ other classic home front comedy – “Hail the Conquering Hero”.  Both pictures starred Eddie Bracken, as well as many of Sturges’ stock of actors like William Demarest.  Sturges was also nominated for the Original Screenplay for this film as well.  Both lost to “Wilson”.  “Miracle” should have won a special Oscar for getting past the censors.  The Hays Office sent seven pages of revisions and deletions after seeing the first script.  For still unexplainable reasons, the finished product was still way beyond what was normally allowed.  Acclaimed critic James Agee once said “the Hays Office must have been raped in its sleep” to have allowed the movie to be released.  Ironically, Sturges added a scene where the pastor sermonizes about obeying your parents and avoiding promiscuity.  The sermon reflected Sturges’ views, but the studio cut it because it was too over the top.  Sturges, who was notorious for micro-directing, had to put up with his two stars competing for eyes.  Bracken came out ahead with his tics and stuttering.  Note the sympathetic stuttering by Hutton.  Anything you can do…  Also out of character for Sturges was not working from a completed script.  He started out with only a few pages and would write at night after grueling shooting schedules.  He did not even know what the “miracle” was going to be until the end of the filming.  The movie was a huge hit.  It was ranked #54 on AFI’s 2000 list of 100 comedies, but did not make the 100th Anniversary list in 2007.  There is no logic to the drop.

                        Trudy Kockenlocker (Hutton) is excited about a going away party for some servicemen.  Her father (Demarest) channels the Hays Office and forbids her to go.  Ever the patriot, Trudy goes anyway by conning the square-next-door (Bracken) to take her.  A montage of drinking and dancing lets us know Trudy has a good time.  How good a time is revealed when she turns up the next day with a ring on her finger and the groom’s name on the tip of her tongue.  Surely she was married before she had sex because to complicate matters, she ends up pregnant.  She may have the ring, but there is no marriage certificate.  This means the baby will be a bastard!  In the 1940’s people cared about this.  Trudy convinces Norval to be the father so the town will think she’s a nut rather than a slut.  Comic hijinks ensue.

                        If you have never seen a Sturges movie, this is a good place to start.  (I personally feel it is a better movie than “Hail the Conquering Hero”.)  It has all his touches.  The rapid fire dialogue with all the quotable lines.  Some of the best dialogue is the exchanges between Trudy’s father and her feisty younger sister Emmy (Diana Lynn).  Emmy is constantly snarking her dad, which frustrates him like many fathers of teenagers in the war years.  At one point, he threatens:   “Listen, Zipper-puss! Some day they're just gonna find your hair ribbon and an axe someplace. Nothing else! The Mystery of Morgan's Creek!”    I am pretty sure this is the only war movie with “zipper-puss” in it.  He also likes to say “phooey” and “piffle”.  And he does a lot of pratfalling.  This may be a Bracken/Hutton picture, but Demarest and Lynn are a great team as well.  Lynn is a revelation in a role that gave the Hays Office fits.  The whole cast is outstanding.  Sturges had a reputation for allowing his bit players to shine.  But clearly the movie is carried by Bracken and Hutton.  They are great in this, maybe because of the competition to outdo each other.  It is easy to forget how big they were at the time.  Bracken became a comedy legend based on the two 1944 films.  Hutton became a superstar based on “Miracle”.

                        It may be a screwball comedy, but it is a cut above the typical subgenre entry.  Sturges uses tracking shots and long takes more commonly found in dramas.  There is a bravura tracking shot with Trudy and Norval walking through small town America firing off the crackerjack dialogue.  It’s not just Bracken’s physical comedy that attracts the eye.  The movie is not just screwy, although there is a lot of zaniness to it.  It concludes with funny cameos from Hitler and Mussolini.

                        “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” is a must-see for fans of classic comedies, but it holds up well for people who find 1940’s comedies to be too lame.   This 1940’s movie is very risqué for that time.  It is modern in that respect.  It also has remarkable performances from a great ensemble.  As a history lesson, you get an idea of how uptight society was back then, but the fact that the movie was a big hit tells you Americans had a good sense of humor about it.  Hollywood might have been reluctant to acknowledge that young women had sex with war-bound soldiers, but most Americans were not that naïve and wanted a good laugh about it.

GRADE  =  B+

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