I’m always excited when Warner Archive puts out a classic considered to be a must-see and, usually retailing for over 30 bucks on DVD/Blu-ray. While The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek definitely deserves that type of full-court press, Warner Archive’s recent DVD release will certainly inspire audiences to seek this out alongside the other work of director Preston Sturges. Zanier than Sullivan’s Travels, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is satirical with a sprig of naughtiness and a heaping helping of comedic talent on display. If you want something heavily grounded in reality, particularly during the height of WWII, you won’t find it; instead, you’ll laugh heartily at a sweet romantic comedy that revels in going off the rails.
Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) wants to do her part for the departing soldiers. After an all-night party, Trudy wakes up married and pregnant. The only problem: She has no idea what the name of her husband is (Ratzkywatzky?). Desperate to prevent a smear on her reputation, Trudy enlists the help of sweet, uncomplicated Norval (Eddie Bracken) and concocts a scheme that will make Trudy an honest woman.
Let’s start with a look at the movie’s saucy nature. This was 1944, not 1994 and certainly not 2004 and yet the movie is incredibly risqué. Trudy’s last name alone is enough to have you clutching your pearls (and keeps me on my toes when I type it out). Trudy goes out to a party in order to inspire the troops and ends up “inspiring” something else, if you know what I mean (sorry, the innuendos are gonna fly in this review). Really, is this too far removed from true scenarios of the era? These men are going off to war and might die, so shouldn’t they be allowed a little fun. If anything, Sturges analyzes the double standards in male and female sexual congress. Mind you, being 1944 there’s isn’t an overabundance of social commentary, but you understand what buffoons the men in the town are. When Trudy goes to ask about her marriage, the registrar states “The responsibility for recording a marriage has always been on the woman!” You also realize that Trudy’s father (William Demarest) doesn’t have a high opinion of his daughters either; declaring them to be the source of all his troubles.
Trudy goes out all night and wakes up married and pregnant! The audience in 1944 should have no trouble figuring out what she did that night, and yet Sturges shows the ridiculousness inherent in arbitrary rules (particularly for films). Trudy is married, so you have to wonder when the actual sex took place. In the end, it doesn’t matter because the presumed Ratzkywatzky made an honest woman out of her! It reminds me of Cagney talking about the animated cats in Footlight Parade; the cats can’t have kittens unless they’re married. Well, Trudy has the husband and child…she just can’t remember the husband! I appreciated that Sturges’ script never condemns Trudy for her actions, which would have happened to her if this was a serious drama. Had this been a different movie, Trudy would spend the entire film a fallen woman trying to find her husband. Trudy is upset, who wouldn’t be, but she’s never socially ostracized; the fear of it is what propels her to find another man.
There are moments that border on pre-Code during The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek; when Trudy knowingly tricks Norval into marrying her, for instance. She unfortunately can’t go through with it, and why should she since Norval is obviously enamored with her. It took me awhile to warm up to Eddie Bracken. His voice, his unreal appearance, the whole performance felt like a gimmick. However, as the story progresses Trudy and him become a sweet couple. They approach Trudy’s predicament with mutual optimism before devolving into cynical lovers contemplating suicide by jumping into the local lake:
Trudy: We could jump in together.
Norval: There’s not much water this time of year.
By the end you can easily believe they’re perfect for each other since Norval is willing to go to prison for her! The ending could be seen as undoing all that, particularly with Norval’s frenzied reaction to the “miracle” itself, but his comic antics are not a man running away, but a man trembling at his perceived good fortune.
As with all of Sturges’ other films, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is driven by its female leads. Betty Hutton is a name I’ve heard in classic film circles, but I hadn’t seen her work before. She’s a driven female comedienne who isn’t the conventional glamazon. She has a fantastic rubber face with the power to contort it into shapes I never thought possible. Her squeaky pitch and crying leads me to believe she inspired Judy Holliday? Or at least the two are working in the same field. Hutton is complicated by the scrappy Diana Lynn as her little sister, Emmy. Lynn was the one who steals the show and I need to find more of her work. She’s a wiseass who’s always two steps ahead of things; she knows things before others do. It’s easy to figure out why her father would get frustrated with her (and she’s also the source of my favorite line: “Listen, Zipper-puss! Some day they’re just gonna find your hair ribbon and an axe someplace. Nothing else! The Mystery of Morgan’s Creek!”
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is a brazen comedy with enough romance to cover up the highly sexual nature of the plot. The romance also allows Sturges to poke fun at the Production Code and the portrayal of women in film. Warner Archive’s recent transfer is light on bonus content, but the movie looks and is as good as imagined!
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