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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek(1944)

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

SYNOPSIS

Trudy is a party-loving, boy-crazy blonde living in the small town of Morgan's Creek with her precocious, wise-cracking younger sister and her father, a often flustered law enforcement officer. One night, Trudy gets her devoted sometime-boyfriend Norval to pretend to take her to the movies so her strict father doesn't know she's actually attending a send-off party for some soldiers. The ever-trusting Norval lets Trudy take his car and backs up her story, hoping this will win her affection. But after her wild night out and an accidental conk on the head, Trudy discovers she is pregnant by a soldier she may have married, whose name may be something like "Ratzky-Watzky." To preserve her reputation, Trudy's family cooks up a scheme to make Norval take the fall and marry her. The plan backfires and the whole town gets involved in the erupting scandal until a "miracle" occurs that sets everything right again. Or as right as it gets in the world of Morgan's Creek.

Director/ Producer: Preston Sturges
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: John Seitz
Editing: Stuart Gilmore
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegte
Original Music: Leo Shuken, Charles Bradshaw
Cast: Eddie Bracken (Norval Jones), Betty Hutton (Trudy Kockenlocker), Diana Lynn (Emmy Kockenlocker), William Demarest (Constable Kockenlocker), Brian Donlevy (Governor McGinty), Akim Tamiroff (The Boss).
B&W-99m. Closed captioning.

Why THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK is Essential

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek may seem tame by today's standards,but, back in 1944, it was viewed as borderline offensive. Sturges actuallysat down to write a script that would throw the censors into conniptionfits, and that's exactly what happened when they got a look at the firstdraft. In fact, there were so many changes being made to the originalscreenplay, he started filming with only 10 pages completed, and he stillhad no idea what the titular "miracle" would turn out to be! Even then,Sturges cooked up scenes that appealed to a broad cross-section of America'smovie-goers while pointedly outraging the self-anointed keepers of the moralflame.

The film was made at the height of World War II, with patriotic fervor running high, and Hollywood was busy extolling the virtues of brave soldiers overseas, faithful women on the home front, and the homespun values of Anytown, USA. Then along comes a movie skewering small-town life and attitudes, with a hapless lead character declared unfit for service and a fun-loving unwed mother with the last name of "Kockenlocker," all of it wrapped in a wicked parody of the Christmas nativity story (including a shot of livestock in the room with the pregnant heroine). And this at a time when film censorship was at its most rigidly institutionalized.

What made this miracle possible was Preston Sturges, creator of some of the most witty and original comedies in American cinema history. He had spent several years in the business as a screenwriter, with such sterling credits as Remember the Night (1940) and The Power and the Glory (1933), a screenplay that served as a model for Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles when they were creating Citizen Kane (1941).

At the beginning of the 40s, Sturges moved into directing and producing in order to take the fullest control of his own work, leading a trend that would be followed by such fellow writers as John Huston and Billy Wilder. Luckily, he was at Paramount, a studio that had a reputation for supporting and showcasing the talents of its directors (among them Ernst Lubitsch and Josef von Sternberg). But even at Paramount he was often in conflict with the front office (particularly Executive Producer Buddy DeSylva). Through the force of his audacious personality and the indisputable quality of his work, he managed throughout most of the 1940s to create a string of box office hits that were highly regarded by critics. At the time this picture went into production, Sturges was riding high on the successes of such films as The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942), displaying a visual and verbal sophistication and casting a mischievous eye toward fame, wealth and sex that was atypical for the times. So it was no great leap for him to push the envelope further with The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, his most outrageous comedy yet.

But what makes The Miracle of Morgan's Creek work goes beyond the daring and original storyline. Sturges pulled off this neat trick by colliding and combining seemingly paradoxical elements into a seamless whole. A leisurely paced opening, with long and elegantly choreographed tracking shots, gives way as the plot unravels to an increasingly frantic pace with compositions jammed with characters crashing into each other. Despite frequent jabs at marriage, motherhood, patriarchal authority and politics, and a cynical twist ending, the film has a certain romanticism and sweetness, yet is devoid of sentimentality. And Sturges defied the common box office wisdom by casting his leading roles with lesser known comic character actors; Eddie Bracken's typical nerd character was raised to comically heroic proportions while Betty Hutton's usually boisterous, hyperactive screen image was tempered by an unexpected warmth and charm. Surrounded by Sturges' expert stock company of supporting players, the two give the best performances of their careers in a film that boasted runaway commercial and critical success while unabashedly flouting good taste and convention. It was a tightrope walk Sturges delighted in and one that very few directors other then himself could pull off.

by Rob Nixon & Paul Tatara

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Pop Culture 101 - THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) is told in flashback using a framing device that features Brian Donlevy as the governor and Akim Tamiroff as a political power broker known only as The Boss. Both play the same characters in Sturges's comedy The Great McGinty (1940).

The film was more or less remade by Paramount as Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), but the story was drastically changed. Jerry Lewis played the town nerd character, still in love with his former hometown sweetheart, now a movie star (Marilyn Maxwell). There is still a younger sister (played by Connie Stevens) and not one but two multiple births (triplets and quintuplets), but fans of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek will find very few similarities in the two pictures.

Eddie Bracken got to attack a similar role in another Sturges picture as a small-town nebbish who has greatness "thrust upon him" in Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). In that film he plays another 4F, but this time he has left town pretending to be on active duty. When a group of real soldiers (led by William Demarest) decides to push the ruse to elaborate heights for the sake of Bracken's mother, the usual Sturges mayhem ensues. Because the release of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was held up by a nervous Paramount, the two films came out the same year, giving Sturges the opportunity for a double whammy comic jab at the home front wartime mentality.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek quickly became a national topic of conversation among both those who were outraged by it and those who felt it signaled a new era of cinematic freedom and sophistication. Sturges received a number of indignant letters from people who felt he had gone too far in the film and he responded to some of them personally.

"In making The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, I succeeded in pleasing most of the motion picture critics in this country and in England. ...For failing to make you laugh then, I apologize, but I refuse to plead guilty to 'contributing to the delinquency of minors.'" - Preston Sturges in a 1944 letter to a disgruntled audience member

"Many letters have been received here, including bitterly denunciatory ones from analphabets who believed the sextuplets were the result of the heroine having been promiscuous with six different men. Education, though compulsory, seems to be spreading slowly." - Sturges in a 1945 letter

"I am sorry that you did not see The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. I don't think you would hate me for it, because it is not unkind, nor does it derive its comedy from the embarrassment of the poor young girl. The story has much love and tenderness. At least I think it does." - Sturges' reply to another audience member, 1949.

by Rob Nixon

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Trivia and Other Fun Stuff

As a boy, Preston Sturges assisted on stage productions for his mother's friend, famed dancer Isadora Duncan. The scarf that strangled Duncan when it was caught in the wheel of her open-top riding car was made by Maison Desti, the company owned by Sturges's mother.

After returning from service in World War I, Sturges took over Maison Desti and invented a kiss-proof lipstick that the company marketed. Sturges invented several other things after his mother demanded he return control of the company to her, including a ticker tape machine, a car, an airplane and a photo-etching process, but none had the success of his lipstick.

A failed inventor, Sturges began writing stories. While recovering from an appendectomy in 1929, he wrote his first play, The Guinea Pig. He then wrote several more plays but decided the best way to make money from his writing was by going to Hollywood. He spent all of the 1930s as either sole scripter, co-writer or uncredited contributor to such screenplays as Strictly Dishonorable (1931, based on his own play), The Power and the Glory (1933), Easy Living (1937) and Remember the Night (1940), before moving on into directing.

Sturges won his only Academy Award for the screenplay of The Great McGinty (1940). Although he was never recognized by the Academy for his direction, he was ranked number 28 on an Entertainment Weekly list of the greatest directors of all time.

At his peak in the 1940s, Sturges was one of the highest paid people in the U.S.

After leaving Paramount, Sturges made only a handful of pictures. He directed silent film great Harold Lloyd in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947, aka Mad Wednesday). He followed that with the comedy Unfaithfully Yours (1948), The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949) and uncredited co-direction (with Mel Ferrer) on Vendetta (1950), a film he began in 1946 but didn't complete. His last film was made in France: Les Carnets du Major Thompson (1955, aka The French, They Are a Funny Race). When he died in Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel in 1959, he was all but forgotten as a great director, but in the years since, he has achieved the recognition he deserved.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek opened in New York on January 19, 1944, and even though extra showings were scheduled on Broadway, many stood in line for hours to see the film. At the time, Sturges had just split with Paramount, where he had enjoyed his greatest successes. Distressed by the way The Great Moment (1944) had been butchered in editing and concerned that the studio would damage Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) in the same way, Sturges tried to negotiate a contract that would give him greater power over the final cut of his films. When the studio refused, he quit.

Betty Hutton was reportedly the favorite actress of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Hutton had appeared in musical shorts and brief singing appearances in other films, but made her acting debut opposite Eddie Bracken in The Fleet's In (1942).In her tenure at Paramount through the early 1950s, Hutton became a very popular star in a string of comedies and musicals, including Incendiary Blonde (1945), The Perils of Pauline (1947), and the circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). She replaced the ailing Judy Garland in the lead of MGM's Annie Get Your Gun (1950), earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. But after quarreling with her studio in 1952, she walked out on her contract. Like Preston Sturges, the break with Paramount essentially signaled the end of her film career. She tried her hand at television and theater and made one final film, Spring Reunion (1957), before dropping from sight completely. It was later discovered in the 1970s that, down on her luck and suffering psychological difficulties, she had found a new life and hope in religion and was working as a housekeeper in a Catholic rectory in New England. She returned to school late in life and earned a bachelors degree; she was also given an honorary Ph.D.

"I am not a great singer and I am not a great dancer, but I am a great actress and nobody ever let me except Preston Sturges. He believed in me." - Betty Hutton in a Life magazine interview.

Although preview audiences roared at The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Paramount executive Buddy DeSylva was fearful that the subject matter and the lack of a big-name cast would keep the picture from being an A-list release. So, along with Sturges' other film Great Without Glory (released later as The Great Moment, 1944), DeSylva held The Miracle of Morgan's Creek back from distribution. This didn't stop Sturges, who despite his annoyance and frustration with the studio, set to work immediately on his next script, which would become Hail the Conquering Hero.

In The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Brian Donlevy appears briefly as the state's corrupt Governor McGinty (a role he originally played in Sturges' political satire The Great McGinty in 1940).

The year The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was released, Betty Hutton was given the Golden Apple Award as the Most Cooperative Actress.

Eddie Bracken made his adult film debut reprising his Broadway role in the screen adaptation of Too Many Girls (1940), the movie that introduced Desi Arnaz to screen audiences - and to his future wife, co-star Lucille Ball. As a boy, Bracken had appeared in four "Our Gang" shorts. His greatest success was in the two films he made for Preston Sturges, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero. His popularity declined throughout the post-war years and in 1953 he retired from the screen and returned to stage work (including a run in a production of Hello, Dolly on Broadway). He came back to film work in the 1980s and appeared as the owner of Wally World amusement park in National Lampoon's Vacation (1983).

Bracken's nerdy character in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was given the name of a man Sturges's wife knew many years before, Norval Jones.

Diana Lynn's mother was an accomplished pianist and teacher who trained her daughter from an early age. By the age of 12, Lynn was playing with the Los Angeles Junior Symphony Orchestra.

Lynn never achieved major stardom, and in 1970 she changed careers to direct the GO travel agency in Manhattan. In 1971 she was lured back to the screen to play Anthony Perkins' wife in Play It As It Lays (1972), but at 45 years old, she suffered a fatal stroke before filming began.

The same year this movie was released, Lynn co-starred with Gail Russell in the highly popular Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), recreating the early lives of writers Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner. An alcoholic, Russell died in 1961 of liver disease and malnutrition. When Lynn died ten years later, both Kimbrough and Skinner were still alive.

Sturges worked frequently with a group of character actors that became something of a stock company for him at Paramount. Chief among them was William Demarest, who played Officer Kockenlocker in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Demarest had prominent roles in all eight of the movies Sturges directed in his time at the studio. He also appeared in two earlier films written (but not directed) by Sturges. A veteran of more than 140 pictures between 1926 and 1978, Demarest also achieved television fame as the irascible Uncle Charlie in My Three Sons.

Several other Sturges stock company actors also appeared in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, including Al Bridge (a total of 10 films with Sturges), Emory Parnell (5) and Porter Hall (4).

The cinematographer on The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, John Seitz, was one of the most respected and sought-after in Hollywood. Most often associated with the film noir genre, Seitz received seven Oscar® nominations, including four films for Billy Wilder: Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945) and Sunset Boulevard (1950).The clothing in this film was designed by Edith Head, who has received more Academy Award nominations and awards than any woman and any costume designer working in films - a total of eight awards out of 34 nominations. Among Head's Oscar®-winning costumes were those for All About Eve (1950) and The Sting (1973).

by Rob Nixon

Famous Quotes from THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

GOVERNOR (Brian Donlevy): Morgan's Creek? Is that in my state? Never heard of it!

BOSS (Akim Tamiroff): A little creek should have a big dam.

TRUDY (Betty Hutton): You shouldn't have kept me out so late. Papa will be sorer than a boil.

KOCKENLOCKER (William Demarest): Git off my lap! What's the matter with you?
EMMY (Diana Lynn): I've got a right to sit on your lap. I'm your daughter, aren't I?"
KOCKENLOCKER: That's what they told me.

EMMY: If you don't mind my mentioning it, father, I think you have a mind like a swamp.

KOCKENLOCKER: Listen, zipper puss, someday they're just gonna find your hair ribbon and an ax someplace. Nothing else. The mystery of Morgan's Creek.

KOCKENLOCKER: They're a mess no matter how you look at 'em. ...A headache til they get married, if they get married, and after that they get worse.

EMMY: (discussing Norval's suitability for marriage) He was made for it, like the ox was made to eat and the grape was made to drink.

JOHNSON (Al Bridge): The responsibility for recording a marriage has always been up to a woman. If it wasn't for her, marriage would have disappeared long since. No man is going to jeopardize his present or poison his future with a lot of little brats hollering around the house unless he's forced to. It's up to the woman to knock him down, hog-tie him and drag him in front of two witnesses immediately if not sooner. Anytime after that is too late.

GOVERNOR: This is the biggest thing that's happened to this state since we stole it from the Indians!
BOSS: Borrowed.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

The Big Idea Behind THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

In late summer and early fall of 1942, Preston Sturges began work on a script based on an incident from his youth. A girl he knew named Adelaide Kip Rhinelander was in love with a young man named Jack Schackno but forbidden by her parents to date him. She was allowed to go out with Sturges, however, so Adelaide devised a scheme whereby he would pick her up at her house and pretend they were going on a date. Then he would deliver her to Schackno. The incident formed the basis for Trudy's use of Norval as a "beard" for her whereabouts at the beginning of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).

Another aspect of the plot of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek dated back to 1937, when Sturges concocted a modern Nativity story about a young, unwed mother-to-be saved from suicide by the town hermit. But as his interest in comedy developed further, he put the dramatic tale in the back of his mind.

Yet another story credits the inspiration for the film to Paramount's plans to demolish a detailed and beautiful small-town set that stood unused on the studio ranch. Apparently Sturges heard of the plan and convinced his bosses to let him write a story for the set.

At the time he started the script for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Sturges had a solid background as a top-notch screenwriter; the five films he had written and directed during the previous three years had performed well at the box office and received great reviews and he garnered an Academy Award for the script of The Great McGinty (1940), which he also directed. Yet he was in conflict with his studio and production executive Buddy DeSylva. Sturges had recently completed Great Without Glory, a biography of William Morton, who pioneered the use of ether as an anesthetic but gave away the patent to save the life of a young girl. Paramount was concerned audiences wouldn't know how to respond to an essentially tragic story made by the reigning king of comedy, so DeSylva had the film recut to emphasize the humor while rearranging Sturges' unique story structure into chronological order. Furious at this action, Sturges decided to push the limits of acceptable subject matter for the screen and seized on the very relevant but rarely discussed theme of wartime sex.

Whether he sensed Sturges was only trying to goad him with his ideas for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek or he was planning to give the director enough rope to hang himself, DeSylva surprisingly offered little resistance at this stage.

Recent studio contractee Betty Hutton dogged Sturges like a groupie, hoping to have him write something for her. Hutton had just been chosen "Star of Tomorrow" by exhibitors for her work with Eddie Bracken in The Fleet's In (1942), and DeSylva, who had signed her after seeing her on Broadway, was eager to promote her career. Sturges was pleased to accept Hutton as his leading lady. In her four films prior to this (three with Bracken), she had embodied a familiar comic type: the aggressive, boy-crazy vulgarian. Other comic actresses, such as Martha Raye and Virginia O'Brien, had made the type their own, but only the more photogenic Hutton had become a star playing the stereotype. Sturges latched onto this image for Trudy and wrote the part with Hutton in mind.

Sturges wanted to use character actor Andy Devine for the role of Norval but happily agreed to the studio's insistence he use Hutton's frequent co-star Eddie Bracken. The actor, however, was not so enthusiastic. He felt he was being used to build up Hutton's career at the expense of his own, and objected to the fact that every time he went to see a movie they did together, she had several spotlight singing numbers (inserted without his knowledge during production). He agreed to meet with Sturges but balked when he read the script, deciding it was all about his co-star. But he relented when Sturges told him that his was the part that would steal the picture.

Sturges also accepted the studio's choice for the younger sister. Diana Lynn had played a similar part opposite Ginger Rogers in Billy Wilder's first directorial effort, The Major and the Minor (1942).

After agreeing to Paramount's casting of the major roles, Sturges added his own stock company of character players, especially William Demarest, for whom he specifically wrote the part of Officer Kocklenlocker. The large troupe of supporting and bit players were especially loyal to Sturges because he valued their talents, enjoyed their company and gave them steady work.

Paramount submitted the first 116 pages of the script to the Motion Picture Production Code Office to see how it would fly. Joseph Breen, the office head (and a notoriously strict enforcer), often returned one or two pages of cautionary notes and strongly suggested changes for every script submitted to him, but The Miracle of Morgan's Creek generated seven single-spaced pages of objections. The studio requested a face-to-face meeting between Sturges and Breen to see if there was any way the film could get Code approval. Breen's post-meeting memo declared much of the script to be "unacceptable" not only under the Code but for purposes of wartime political policy. Breen did not insist outright on the elimination of Trudy's pregnancy from the plot but did note that it would have to be handled extremely carefully in order to avoid the implication that the armed forces were a hotbed of promiscuity or a cause in the rising number of illegitimate births.

Despite his objections, Breen actually liked the screenplay and meant his notations to be delivered with a degree of sympathy. And Sturges was generally amenable to most of the suggestions, such as suggesting that Trudy was married before sex and having her dazed state be the result of a conk on the head rather than drunkenness.

The Production Code office wasn't the only one to carefully monitor the script. The War Department Pictorial Board also influenced such suggestions as having Norval toot his horn when he arrives rather than having the sound of screeching brakes and tires, "which, of course, are contrary to the rubber conservation program."

by Rob Nixon

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Behind the Camera on THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

With changes to the first group of script pages still being negotiated, Sturges did something he had never done before: he began shooting on the scheduled start date of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) with barely ten pages of a finished script. In fact, so dependent was he on last minute improvisation and sudden bursts of creativity that it was almost at the end of production before he even knew what the miracle of the title would be. He shot for eight hours every day, then stayed up most of the night writing. This gave the whole process a sense of pressure atypical for a Sturges production.

Because he could not afford to spend a lot of time on set-ups, Sturges chose John Seitz, who had worked on the lengthy opening to Sturges' earlier film Sullivan's Travels (1941), as cinematographer. He knew he could count on Seitz to shoot long continuous scenes of dialogue and unbroken tracking shots without needing to stop and discuss them.

The long tracking shots of Hutton and Bracken (and also Hutton and Lynn) delivering pages of dialogue while walking for five minutes down several blocks of the town streets were extremely complex to film for that era. Cameras were placed on tracks and pulled backwards by six crewmembers. The sound crew also walked backwards with handheld boom microphones, while other assistants maneuvered 300 yards of cable, lights and reflectors. Sturges and Seitz shot more than 11,000 feet of film before they got the desired footage (400 feet) they needed.

Eddie Bracken later recalled that the studio was being driven crazy by the fact that Sturges would spend the day rehearsing the camera and have nothing shot by 4:00 in the afternoon. However, the actor noted, between 4:00 and 6:00, Sturges would get 11 pages in the can, effectively producing in two hours what many directors shot in three days.

Beyond the urgency brought on by Sturges' daily updating and completion of the script, the picture was lent a sense of frenzied energy by the rivalry between its stars. Certain he had been deceived into accepting the role, Bracken was determined to steal the picture. He used every trick he knew to filch the focus from Hutton, not only the tried-and-true maneuver of upstaging her but also developing physical tics that would draw more attention to himself.

William Demarest didn't need to invent any physical bits for his character. Sturges had him taking so many tumbles he became known as "Pratfall Demarest."

Although the director was working at an unusually frantic pace, he still kept tight reins on the production, ensuring that neither Bracken nor anyone else became the main attraction. Sturges favored ensemble pieces, and even the smallest parts were given some choice bits.

Sturges had always been a perfectionist, expecting every line to be letter perfect. But with the tension brought on by directing all day, writing all night, arguing with the studio over Great Without Glory, overseeing the release of The Palm Beach Story (1942) and running a restaurant he owned, his temper would occasionally flare up. He would often explode at the tiniest mistake, bringing both Diana Lynn and Betty Hutton to tears several times. It soon became obvious that The Miracle of Morgan's Creek would go over schedule and budget and Sturges found it more and more difficult to direct his cast effectively.

With the production deadline for the film's climax fast approaching, Sturges knew he would have to produce a satisfactory conclusion quickly. At the last minute he came up with the idea for the "miraculous" ending, then worked up a device using two characters (and the actors who played them) from his earlier film The Great McGinty (1940) to give the story a narrative framework and to take a shot at political opportunism.

Shooting ran on until December 28, 1942. A rough cut was made and shown to DeSylva the following February. At this stage, the powerful Catholic Legion of Decency asked for several changes to move their rating from a C (Condemned) to a B (Morally Objectionable in Part for All). DeSylva agreed but realized there was no chance to ever attain even an A-2 (Approved for Adults) rating. Late in February, Sturges shot a day of revisions necessary for the B label and as of March, the studio decided to let the picture stand.

by Rob Nixon

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

The Critics' Corner on THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

When it was finally released after nearly a year, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek became Preston Sturges' most successful film and the biggest hit of 1944, often playing to standing-room-only houses and grossing more than $10 million in just two years.

"The watchmen for the usually prim Hays office certainly permitted themselves a Jovian nod when confronted with the irrepressible impudence of Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. For a more audacious picture - a more delightfully irreverent one - than this new lot of nonsense...has never come slithering madly down the path. Mr. Sturges, who is noted for his railleries of the sentimental, the pompous and the smug...has hauled off this time and tossed a satire which is more cheeky than all the rest." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, January 1944

"The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, the new Preston Sturges film, seems to me funnier, more adventurous, more abundant, more intelligent, and more encouraging than anything that has been made in Hollywood for years...The essential story is hardly what you would expect to see on an American scene...The girl's name, Trudy Kockenlocker, of itself relegates her to a comic-strip world in which nothing need be regarded as real; the characters themselves are extremely stylized...Thanks to these devices the Hays office has either been hypnotized into a liberality for which it should be thanked, or has been raped in its sleep." - James Agee, The Nation, January 1944

"A little like talking to a nun on a roller coaster." - James Agee, Time, 1944

"The special exhilaration of this comedy - more than exhilaration, the contagious happiness of this ending, that peak of excitement and gratification to which it's all been building - is without parallel in Sturges' work, or elsewhere, so far as I know." - James Harvey, Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, from Lubitsch to Sturges (Knopf, 1987)

"The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is so filled with violence, disorder, and misunderstanding that I have known people to emerge from it trembling." - David Thomson, quoted in Romantic Comedy in Hollywood by James Harvey

"The film's pace and comic timing make it one of Preston Sturges's best satires on small-town America." - The Oxford Companion to Film.

"To use the jargon of the '40s, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek got away with murder. By presenting itself as an exaggerated satire of American mores, it managed to make jokes about not only unwed pregnancy but also the Nativity. It makes a shambles of the world "our boys" were supposed to be fighting to preserve. It is a purely American film - self-critical, loaded with energy, packed with dialogue and event, perfectly timed, and literally reeling with comedy." - Jeanine Basinger, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers

"Great verbal gags and non-sequiters, fast-paced action, and a thorough irreverence for all things deemed respectable - politicians, policemen and magistrates - make it a lasting delight." - Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide

"This is one of Preston Sturges's surreal-slapstick-satire-conniption-fit comedies, and part of our great crude heritage." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"Frenetic comedy with rapid-fire dialogue doesn't reach sophistication of other Sturges films - in fact, it's a bit smutty - but there are moments of genuine hilarity...What I really like about the film is how Sturges repeatedly crowds throngs of people into the small frame - the perfect visual for conveying how, when something happens in a smalltown, everybody comes snooping around. Also watch the interesting smalltown background action when Bracken and Hutton take walks." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.

"Weird and wonderful one-man assault on the Hays Office and sundry other American institutions such as motherhood and politics; an indescribable, tasteless, roaringly funny melee, as unexpected at the time as it was effective, like a kick in the pants to all other film comedies." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"The film moves in a fantastic and irreverent whirl of slapstick, nonsense, farce, sentiment, satire, romance, melodrama - is there any ingredient of dramatic entertainment except maybe tragedy and grand opera that hasn't been tossed into it?" - National Board of Review.

"Done in the satirical Sturges vein, and directed with that same touch, the story makes much of characterization and somewhat wacky comedy, plus some slapstick, with excellent photography figuring throughout...However, some of the comedy situations lack punch, and the picture is slow to get rolling.." - Variety Movie Guide.

Awards & Honors:

Sturges received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. He was also nominated that same year for the screenplay of Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).

In 2001, the film was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be one of the motion pictures preserved on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Preston Sturges had an elitist attitude back when you could actually ruffle afew feathers by having one. He's often mentioned in the same breath asErnst Lubitsch, since both men made witty, literate adult comedies in the1940s. But they were very different filmmakers. Whereas "The LubitschTouch" often seems infused with affection and champagne bubbles, Sturges ismore of a beer and pretzels kind of guy. He forever seems spoiling for a fight,and his happy endings usually contain a whiff of patronization. He playedto the unwashed masses more than Lubitsch did, but you could tell he wasrepulsed by their lack of interest in soap.

Sturges was especially good at skewering the mores of small town America;his pictures are full of picket fences and political corruption, parades andunrepentant liars. He was the first studio staff writer to direct his ownscripts, and that degree of control served him well. Work this pointedlycynical needed to be guided by an individual voice to maintain its focus,just as Frank Capra's all-American romanticism would have turned to sugaryswill had it passed through too many hands.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek may seem tame by today's standards,but, back in 1944, it was viewed as borderline offensive. Sturges actuallysat down to write a script that would throw the censors into conniptionfits, and that's exactly what happened when they got a look at the firstdraft. In fact, there were so many changes being made to the originalscreenplay, he started filming with only 10 pages completed, and he stillhad no idea what the titular "miracle" would turn out to be! Even then,Sturges cooked up scenes that appealed to a broad cross-section of America'smovie-goers while pointedly outraging the self-anointed keepers of the moralflame.

Get a load of this plot. Eddie Bracken plays Norval Jones, a 4F bank clerkwith a lot of problems. Norval is obsessed with joining the Army, eventhough he's never getting in due to the "spots" that appear before his eyesduring physical examinations. He's also smitten with a boy-crazy tootsienamed Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), the daughter of the local policechief (William Demarest, a.k.a. "Uncle Charlie" from My Three Sons.)Though Officer Kockenlocker does his best to keep his two daughters in line,Trudy is a go-getter who secretly attends soldiers' parties, dancing like amaniac while steamrollering her way to social acceptance.

Unfortunately, Trudy gets loaded one night and becomes a tad toofamiliar with the troops. She winds up pregnant, but can only vaguely recall that the nowlong-gone father of her child might have been a soldier named"Ratzkiwatkzi." That's not much help. Enter Norval, who agrees to takeresponsibility for the child and marry Trudy. But Trudy's heart just isn'tin a long-term relationship with Norval. This leads to a scandal, then a"miracle" in the delivery room, and Trudy's absolution via a well-timedpronouncement by the state's corrupt Governor McGinty (Brian Donlevy,reprising his role from Sturges' The Great McGinty.)

This wasn't your usual World War II comedy, to say the least, and someviewers were outraged. There were even people who complained that therewere parallels between Trudy's pregnancy and the story of Christ's birth!Sturges, for his part, spent a lot of time semi-sarcastically answeringoutraged hate mail, not that he was apologetic. Apparently, the hubbubhelped. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was the highest grossing filmof 1944, drawing, as it undoubtedly did, cinematic thrill-seekers, hardcoreSturges fans, drunken soldiers, and the girls they had impregnated.

Box office speaks louder than hate mail, of course, so Sturges survivedunscathed. He was nominated for an Oscar® for his on-the-run screenplay, andhe was also nominated for writing Hail the Conquering Hero the sameyear.

That'll show 'em.

Produced, Written, and Directed by: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Stuart Gilmore
Music: Charles Bradshaw
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and Ernst Fegte
Costumes: Edith Head
Cast: Eddie Bracken (Norval Jones), Betty Hutton (TrudyKockenlocker), Diana Lynn (Emmy Kockenlocker), William Demarest (OfficerKockenlocker), Brian Donlevy (Governor McGinty), Akim Tamiroff (TheBoss.)
B&W-99m. Closed captioning.

by Paul Tatara

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