#609) The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

#609) The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

OR “Dude, Where’s My Husband?”

Directed & Written by Preston Sturges

Class of 2001

The Plot: Among the residents of the mid-west town of Morgan’s Creek is Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), the fun-loving daughter of her gruff police officer father (William Demarest), and Norval Jones, the naive, perpetually nervous boy-next-door who has always pined for Trudy. One night Trudy attends a send-off dance for a group of soldiers heading off to war, and comes home the next morning with no memory of the evening’s events. Slowly, she pieces together that not only did she marry one of the soldiers, but she is pregnant with his child. With the help of her sister Emmy (Diana Lynn), Trudy concocts a plan to annul the marriage and marry Norval to keep her pregnancy legitimate. But complications and hilarity ensue, as they so often do in the breakneck comedies of Preston Sturges.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “possibly the screwiest of Preston Sturges’ screwball comedies”, praising William Demarest’s performance, and citing the film’s skirting of the Production Code. Plus, there’s a link to watch the film free online. Cool!

But Does It Really?: We’ll put “Miracle” in the “minor classic” category. While “Sullivan’s Travels” is the best of the Sturges comedies, “Miracle” is not without its share of small town charm and hilarious performances. Some of its wartime jargon and binary gender politics date the film, but if you’re willing to go along with it, “Miracle” is a sweet, funny little slice of Americana with a lot of meat on its bones.

Everybody Gets One: Betty Hutton was a contract player with Paramount when “Morgan’s Creek” came her way and made her an overnight star. Hutton continued to find success as a recording artist, but her filmography is limited due to a litany of personal and behind-the-scenes drama. Despite her varied showbiz career, Hutton always spoke highly of Preston Sturges, calling him the only director who “ever let me act”.

Wow, That’s Dated: A lot of wartime talk in this one, especially regarding “the boys”. Plus the kind of “women, am I right?” misogyny that tends to crop up in films of this era.

Seriously, Oscars?: One of Paramount’s biggest hit of 1944, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” received its share of critics prizes, and one Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay. Struges found himself in competition with…himself for his script for “Hail the Conquering Hero“, and no doubt split his own vote, paving the way for wartime biopic “Wilson”.

Other notes 

  • As expected with this kind of subject matter, the Production Code had a lot of problems with “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”. Prior to filming, the PCA sent Sturges a seven page letter urging him to be “extremely careful” about the subject matter, recommending that the film’s plot points either be “drastically cut down” or “rewritten entirely”. In addition to concerns about underage drinking and a Christ-like birth, the US War Department objected to the “implication of the soldiers’ lack of proper conduct”. Sturges started filming in late 1942 with only 10 pages of approved script, which led to massive rewrites and a strained production schedule. Due to a backlog in Paramount films (including another film by Sturges), “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” wasn’t released until February 1944, a full year after production wrapped.
  • Here’s an odd one from the Preston Sturges Cinematic Universe: the film is bookended by cameos from Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff, reprising their starring roles from Sturges’ 1940 political satire “The Great McGinty”. Weird ly, they are credited solely by their character names: “McGinty” and “The Boss”, respectively. Makes me think that Springsteen’s going to be in this.
  • There’s a lot of fast-talking and ’40s jargon in this one. I have no idea what’s going on, but at least it’s funny.
  • I’m enjoying all the performances in this movie, especially William Demarest as Trudy’s put-upon father. Demarest is prepping for the kind of exasperated caretaking he would perfect as Uncle Charley on “My Three Sons” 20 years later. And he does his own pratfalls!
  • Apparently I can’t get away from piano prodigies. After the fictional ones from last week’s post, this movie features real-life prodigy Diana Lynn as Trudy’s smart-aleck little sister Emmy. That explains all the piano playing she does in this movie. Also, she’s 14!? Everyone in that generation looks like they’re 40.
  • Longtime readers know I’m a sucker for one-take scenes, and like the rest of Sturges’ oeuvre, “Miracle” features plenty of them. Most of the single-take scenes are “West Wing”-esque walk and talks, typically of Hutton and Bracken trading dialogue as they wander through their idyllic small town. It’s impressive, though a few artificial zooms are utilized to hide some cuts.
  • Preston Sturges’ films are populated with his stable of character actors in supporting parts, and “Miracle” is no exception (Demarest, Porter Hall, Al Bridge, J. Farrell MacDonald, etc.) . Every part is cast to perfection, with even the smallest bit role making an immediate impression with their strong characterizations.
  • This is definitely one of filmdom’s funniest proposal scenes, and the follow-up sequence between Trudy and Norval is hilarious, with Bracken’s overblown reactions knocking it out of the park.
  • My favorite exchange in the movie: “Did you break anything dear?” “Nothing but my back.”
  • I love me some ’40s slang, but “zipper-puss” takes the cake. That could mean anything!
  • Wait, she’s a minor!? How old is everyone? Betty Hutton was 21 when she filmed “Miracle”, but I guess the character is 17? You know Preston, you could have made her newly 18 and saved yourself a lot of trouble.
  • I laughed pretty hard at the scene where Kockenlocker tries to subtly suggest that Norval knock him out and escape the jail cell, with Norval earnestly oblivious to Kockenlocker’s increasingly frustrated hints. “You get me?”
  • Hey, another movie for my “Die Hard” Not-Christmas list! This movie’s turning into the funnier cousin of “It’s a Wonderful Life“.
  • The line that surprised me the most is Mr. Kockenlocker’s line about “the Almighty, or whatever it is that makes the wheels go round.” How dare you suggest that there is any religion other than white-bread Christianity!
  • The original publicity for this film urged viewers not to reveal the “Miracle” at the end of the movie, and to their credit I still didn’t know what it was almost 80 years later. No spoilers, but it’s a pretty big surprise, and the newspaper headline “Canada Protests” made me laugh out loud.
  • One minor spoiler: I was not expecting Hitler to show up in this. Longtime stage and screen actor Bobby Watson found a second career playing the Führer in cameos for both comedies and dramas throughout the early ’40s. Hitler’s raving in his brief moment here is very reminiscent of those “Hitler Reacts” videos from a few years back.

Legacy 

  • “Morgan’s Creek” continued Preston Sturges’ untouchable streak of hit comedies at Paramount. Infighting with Paramount led to Sturges’ departure from the studio in 1944 following the release of “Miracle” and “Hail the Conquering Hero”. Although Sturges made several more films, none could touch the classic status of his Paramount films.
  • “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” received the remake treatment with 1958’s “Rock-A-Bye Baby” starring Jerry Lewis in an update of the Eddie Bracken role. From the clips I’ve seen, it looks like this was more an attempt to take down that new rock ‘n roll music the kids were into.
  • Although Betty Hutton’s career peaked at “Morgan’s Creek”, she hit another apex replacing Judy Garland in the film of “Annie Get Your Gun”. Eddie Bracken’s film career stalled, but he found a second career on the stage, returning to film in his later years in such comedies as “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”.

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