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The Cockeyed Miracle

The Cockeyed Miracle(1946)

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teaser The Cockeyed Miracle (1946)

Playwright/screenwriter/director George Seaton, from whose not-very-successful play But Not Goodbye this film was adapted, had good luck with "miracles" in the movies. His screenplay for Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which he also directed, won an Oscar® and a Golden Globe Award for its whimsical story about a skeptical young girl's encounter with Santa Claus. He was also Oscar®-nominated for writing The Song of Bernadette (1943), about a young French girl who believes she has seen and spoken to the Virgin Mary, prompting a rush of pilgrims seeking miracle cures at Lourdes. And he later wrote and directed For Heaven's Sake (1950), in which an angel comes to earth disguised as a crusty old rancher to help an unborn child find suitable parents.

Following the trend of stories about benevolent ghosts helping earthbound individuals (Topper (1937), The Canterville Ghost (1944), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947), The Cockeyed Miracle (1946) traces the death of a 63-year-old shipbuilder in the early 1900s and his reunion in the afterlife with his father, a ne'er-do-well who died at 36. Together, they straighten out the trouble-plagued family the son left behind.

The son is played by 56-year-old Frank Morgan, best known for the title role in The Wizard of Oz (1939). His father is played by 30-year-old Keenan Wynn, an age reversal that, along with the expected ghostly effects and pranks, gives the film much of its humor. Both Morgan and Wynn had their own famous fathers in real life. Morgan was the son of one of the founders of the company that marketed Angostura Bitters used in drinks and cocktails. Wynn's father was the legendary vaudevillian and sometime screen comic Ed Wynn. The younger Wynn had started in films a dozen years earlier and went on to a long and successful career as one of Hollywood's most enduring character actors in just about every genre. His show business pedigree goes even further than his father; his grandfather was silent movie actor Frank Keenan, and his son is screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn, whose scripts include those for The Longest Yard (1974) and The Drowning Pool (1975).

The cast features several other familiar names. Richard Quine started out as an actor in the 1940s after a brief youthful career in vaudeville and as a radio singer. He turned to directing a few years after his role in The Cockeyed Miracle with Leather Gloves (1948), although he continued to act in a few more films. Quine had his biggest hits between the mid 50s and mid 60s in his direction of several movies with Jack Lemmon: My Sister Eileen (1955), Operation Mad Ball (1957), Bell, Book and Candle (1958), The Notorious Landlady (1962) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). He also directed such major stars of the period as William Holden, Doris Day, Judy Holliday, Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak. But despite his success, his life was marked by tragedy. His first wife, Susan Peters, a promising young actress of the World War II years, was paralyzed in a hunting accident in 1945. She and Quine divorced two years later. Even though she was confined to a wheelchair, Peters attempted a film comeback but finally lost her will to live and starved herself to death at 31. In 1989, Quine, then married to singer-actress Fran Jeffries (The Pink Panther, 1963), shot himself at the age of 69, reportedly because of ill health and career setbacks.

Also in the cast are Audrey Totter, playing her first real ingnue role after several films playing sirens and exotics with different accents and hair colors, and three-year-old Billy Chapin in his screen debut. Nine years later, Billy played the key role of the terrified boy fleeing with his little sister from psychopath Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955). He is the brother of Lauren Chapin, the youngest child on the long-running 1950s sitcom Father Knows Best. Rounding out the cast are notable character actors Cecil Kellaway (The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946), Leon Ames (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944) and Gladys Cooper (Now, Voyager, 1942)

Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Producer: Irving Starr
Screenplay: Karen DeWolf, from the play But Not Goodbye by George Seaton
Cinematography: Ray June
Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Richard Duce, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: David Snell
Cast: Frank Morgan (Sam Griggs), Keenan Wynn (Ben Griggs), Cecil Kellaway (Tom Carter), Audrey Totter (Jennifer Griggs), Richard Quine (Howard Bankson), Gladys Cooper (Amy Griggs).
BW-83m.

by Rob Nixon

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