Friday, May 04, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

After starting Friday, April 27th watching THE MERRY WIDOW (1934) at the TCM Classic Film Festival, I headed from the Egyptian Theatre back to the Chinese Multiplex for my next three films.

I often see a Preston Sturges movie at the TCM Festival; past Sturges films seen there include CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948).

This year's Sturges film was THE MIRACLE AT MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), introduced by historian Cari Beauchamp. I admit I've kind of been avoiding this one because I always find Betty Hutton a little too over-the-top to enjoy, and I can take or leave Eddie Bracken.

I'm happy to say none of that mattered at all when watching the movie; it was absolutely hilarious, a real delight to watch with a packed audience. (This screening was so popular that it was one of the five "TBA" films chosen to repeat on Sunday.) While, as I mentioned, there were some odd issues with inappropriate laughter in dramas at this year's festival, the comedies played exactly as they should, and it was great fun to laugh along with an appreciative crowd.

Hutton is really quite good in this, playing small-town girl Trudy Kockenlocker with a sort of gentle sing-song voice which seems just right. With the help of kindly 4-F bank clerk Norval Jones (Bracken), who is smitten with her, Trudy ignores her father's (William Demarest) prohibition on going out with a bunch of soldiers about to ship overseas. After a prolonged night of partying with the troops, Trudy meets up with Norval...but she admits most of the night is a big blank in her memory.

Bit by bit Trudy's memory comes back, and she confesses to her kid sister Emmy (Diana Lynn) that she got married that night...but she has absolutely no idea who she married. Weeks later, Trudy realizes she's expecting a baby. Given the absence of the man she believes she married and impossibility of tracking him down, how does Trudy save her reputation and give her baby a father without potentially committing bigamy? It all builds to a wildly improbable climax in which Trudy and Norval are hailed as American heroes.

A film about (sort of) unwed motherhood was pretty racy for the Production Code era; what makes it even more interesting is that the father's identity is never resolved. The missing father isn't simply an excuse for Trudy to turn up pregnant, but the hook for much of the comedy, especially when Norval attempts to impersonate the missing man (whose name Trudy might or might not remember correctly) to make certain there's an actual marriage license. The film has a rather unique "innocent raciness" to it which must be what caused the Production Code office to look the other way.

Hutton softly recounting her marriage to her sister is brilliantly played, and everything about the movie is funny and even touching. For example, William Demarest's rough-hewn cop father may regularly brawl with his family in the front yard, attracting the attention of neighbors, but when the chips are down there's no doubt who he supports.

Most importantly, in the end the movie shows Trudy discovering the meaning of true love. While at times Norval allows himself to be unfairly used by Trudy, in the end she comes to appreciate his dedication to her happiness and genuinely falls for him.

Diana Lynn is absolutely wonderful as the smart, wisecracking Emmy, in a role somewhat reminiscent of the one she played in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942). (She also reminds me a bit of Mona Freeman in the '40s.) A real-life piano prodigy, Lynn also has the chance to play piano in the movie, albeit briefly.

The movie is packed with familiar faces, including Porter Hall, Emory Parnell, J. Farrell MacDonald, Louis Jean Heydt, Byron Foulger, and Almira Sessions.

Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff briefly reprise their roles from Sturges' THE GREAT MCGINTY (1940), which adds to the hilarity.

The movie was filmed by John F. Seitz. It runs 98 minutes.

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK was one of just three films I saw at the festival in a digital print; the others were HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). All other films seen at this year's festival were shown in 35mm.

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK is available as a single-title DVD. It can be rented for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

It also had a release on VHS.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Sturges was a true genius. With this and Hail the Conquering Hero in the same year he made fun of soldiers and motherhood in the middle of the war. Only a genius could get away with it.

4:18 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

It was warm, affectionate fun, not the nasty stuff going on these days.

6:01 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I have a few purported to be rare pictures of Diana Lynn, but the one you posted here of her at the piano, new to me, tops them all. I am a big fan of her as a pianist and I have most, if not all of her commercial recordings.

Thanks so much for posting it, Laura.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for your comments! It really was warm fun from a genius.

Mel, so glad you liked the photo. When I saw Diana playing in the film my mind immediately went to the wonderful recordings of her playing which you shared with me some years ago -- I've enjoyed them often.

Best wishes,

10:32 AM  

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