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The Essentials (3/5 & 9/24)
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Remind Me

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK

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 actually sat down to write a script that would throw the censors into conniption fits, and that's exactly what happened when they got a look at the first draft. In fact, there were so many changes being made to the original screenplay, he started filming with only 10 pages completed, and he still had 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's movie-goers while pointedly outraging the self-anointed keepers of the moral flame.

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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