Short Takes: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) Preston Sturges

 

I have always hesitated to watch this film because I, for whatever reason on my part, lacked any attraction to the two leading stars Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken.  Well, I finally bit the bullet, smacked myself a couple of times and said this is a Preston Sturges film, just watch it! Subsequently I finally picked up a copy at the local library and happily report how foolish I have been to have avoided this clever work.

Trudy Klockenlocker (Betty Hutton) is a war time victory girl who dates soldiers about to leave for the war.  She sees this as her patriotic duty! On one of these wild evenings Trudy gets drunk, marrying one of the unknown soldiers she partied with and the next morning cannot remember a damn thing about how it all happened. Complications ensue when she soon finds out she is pregnant. Local 4-F Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) is in love with Trudy tries to help (she borrows his car to go out and party while he goes alone to a movie) but cannot compete with the soldiers and constantly find himself in trouble with Trudy’s hyper protective father (William Demarest). False identities, jail time for Norval and the birth of sextuplets all contribute to the surprisingly miraculous and controversial going ons.

For the time period this has to be one of the most audacious comedies ever made, a bold satire making sophisticated fun of marriage, small town life, soldiers, and the government all the while pushing the buttons of the production code. Sturges takes on small town values, the sanctity of soldiers going off to war, local politics presenting an almost anti-Capraesque view of America reminding one that he was one of the best screenwriters of his time and now.

 The film was held up from release for about a year resulting in Sturges having three films released in 1944 (Hail, The Conquering Hero and The Great Moment being the other two).  The film was a big hit with audiences when it hit the screens in January becoming Paramount’s biggest money maker for the year.
The cast includes fifteen year old Diana Lynn as Trudy’s kid sister along with many of Sturges regulars including Demarest, Chester Conklin, and Porter Hall among others. Reprising their roles from “The Great McGinty” are Brian Donlevy as the Governor, and Akim Tamiroff as the Boss in cameos. 

Sturges received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay that year (he was also nominated the same year for “Hail the Conquering Hero”) losing to Lamar Trotti for “Wilson.” The Jerry Lewis/Frank Tashlin 1958 film “Rock a Bye Baby” is a loose remake of this film for which Sturges received a screenwriting credit. 

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8 comments on “Short Takes: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) Preston Sturges

  1. scott wannberg says:

    never hesitate to explore a film even if you’re wary of the leads-always be open-to-the slight possibility-the story/screenplay and direction-might be good

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  2. R. D. Finch says:

    John, this is one of my three favorite Sturges films (the others are “Sullivan’s Travels” and “The Palm Beach Story”), so I rate it a bit higher than you do. Unlike most people, I seem to rate “The Lady Eve” and “Hail the Conquering Hero”–both of which I still like very much–just a bit lower than these. Like you, I’m not a big fan of either Hutton (who at her worst can be unbearable) or the milquetoasty Bracken, but Sturges certainly used them to their best advantage here. The movie also contains my favorite of William Demarest’s many funny performances for Sturges. He also gets very good work from Diana Lynn, who for a few years in the mid-40s seemed headed for great things. You seemed to cover all the film’s strengths. I especially like your comment about its showing what a great screenwriter and satirist Sturges was. That and how great he was with his actors is what really stood out for me in this movie–and how he refused to let any directorial stunts get in the way of this. Oddly, to this day the insignificant detail that sticks in my mind most (isn’t it odd how this can happen?) is what the forgetful Hutton calls her mystery husband–Ratzky-Watzky!

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    • John Greco says:

      R.D.
      I would say “Sullivan’s Travel’s” and “The Lady Eve” are my favorite Sturges films with this work slightly below. As for “Hail, The Conquering Hero” it is good but not great Sturges, at least for me. “The Palm Beach Story”, I have not seen yet but I recently recorded it off TCM and is on my DVR so a viewing is coming up. Hutton remains an acquired taste which is a taste I never acquired; I think Sturges may have held her in check here. I am in total agreement with you on Demarest and the young Diana Lynn.

      I just finished reading “Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges” Donald Spoto’s biography which I recommend (found a beat up copy at my library). He had, to say the least, a most unusual life especially his early years. His mother was a true eccentric.

      Thanks very much!!!

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  3. Once again, John, you personalize your experience with a film, making us more interested, and with admirable economy
    describe situations that make me wonder how on earth Sturges managed to get it all past the Hays office. Your skill in writing about film is remarkable and I am very glad you go about it without pretentiousness and use that personal approach that brings it all to life.

    Yours always,

    Dave

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    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      Thanks again for the nice words. Sturges surely got by with a script that must have found the censors napping at their desk. I know that after WW II, the Hays Office actually loosened up a little from say five years earlier but this film was made in 1943, so I am stumped. If you have not seen this film, I hope you get the opportunity to watch it.

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  4. Sam Juliano says:

    Here’s your key paragraph John:

    “For the time period this has to be one of the most audacious comedies ever made, a bold satire making sophisticated fun of marriage, small town life, soldiers, and the government all the while pushing the buttons of the production code. Sturges takes on small town values, the sanctity of soldiers going off to war, local politics presenting an almost anti-Capraesque view of America reminding one that he was one of the best screenwriters of his time and now.”

    MIRACLE is a satirical, fast-moving film which, though not on the same level with THE LADY EVE and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, is far ahead of most comedies of the war period. Yes I agree with R.D. on the terrific performance of William Demarest, and continue to regard Sturges on a level with Lubitsch on the all-too-sparce comedic writing in the cinema. You have framed this film beautifully in your typical attention to all facets of the production.

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    • John Greco says:

      Sturges had the keen ability to combine high and low brow humor in one package and bring it off. He was certainly one of the great comedy screenwriters not just of his day but in the history of film. Thanks again Sam for your terrific insight.

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