The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a 1944 American screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton, and featuring Diana Lynn, William Demarest and Porter Hall. Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff reprise their roles from Sturges' 1940 film The Great McGinty.
|The Miracle of Morgan's Creek|
|Directed by||Preston Sturges|
|Written by||Preston Sturges|
|Produced by||Preston Sturges|
|Cinematography||John F. Seitz|
|Edited by||Stuart Gilmore|
Gil Grau (uncredited)
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$9 million (US)|
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, which was filmed in 1942 and early 1943, but not released until 1944, was nominated for a 1945 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and in 2001, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film ranks #54 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list of the top 100 funniest films in movie history.
Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) is the daughter of the police chief (William Demarest) of the small fictional Midwestern town of Morgan's Creek. Against her father's orders, she attends a wild farewell party for a group of soldiers at which she hits her head on a chandelier while dancing. The next morning, Trudy is in a daze and slowly begins to recall the previous night's events. She had married a soldier but cannot remember his name, except that "it had a z in it. Like Ratzkywatzky...or was it Zitzkywitzky?" She believes that she and the groom had used fake names, so she doesn't know how to get in touch with him and cannot remember what he looks like. She also does not have the marriage license.
The matter is complicated when Trudy learns that she became pregnant that night as well. Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), a local 4-F boy who has been in love with Trudy for years, steps in to help out, but Trudy's overprotective father becomes involved and complicates matters. Norval and Trudy devise a plan: he will wear a uniform and they will get married secretly under false names, which will provide her a marriage certificate with the fake name of Ratzkywatzky and help her avoid the scandal that would be involved with having a child out of wedlock. Later, Trudy will get a divorce, and she and Norval will get married legitimately.
At the rushed wedding ceremony, in which Norval wears an antique WW1 “doughboy” uniform, a frazzled Norval mistakenly signs his real name, and the minister calls the police. Norval is brought to the Kockenlocker house where military, state and federal officers fight with Constable Kockenlocker over jurisdiction. Norval is accused of abducting Trudy, impersonating a soldier, impairing the morals of a minor, resisting arrest and perjury. Trudy's father arrests Norval and locks him in the town jail after the justice of the peace rips up the fake marriage certificate (to protect Trudy from scandal). Trudy then tells her father the truth about the marriage, her pregnancy and Norval's attempt to pose as her groom, and he agrees to let Norval escape so that Norval can find Trudy's real husband.
Needing money to begin his quest but with the bank where he works closed for the night, Norval sneaks into the bank with the constable's assistance to take $900 while leaving his bonds there that are worth the same amount. While trying to open a safe, Norval trips the burglar alarm, so Trudy and her sister Emmy tie up their father at the police station to make it look as if he had been incapacitated by a burglar. After months in hiding, Norval appears at his attorney's office, where he learns that the constable was fired after his ruse was not believed and that the Kockenlockers have moved out of town. Norval's attorney urges him to disappear, but Norval is determined to find Trudy. However, he is spotted in town by the bank manager, who alerts the police.
Near the end of her pregnancy at Christmas time, the constable approaches the city council to tell them that Trudy wants to tell the real story and exonerate Norval. But before she can do so, Trudy goes into labor and is rushed to the hospital, where she gives birth to sextuplets, all boys. After receiving the news, Governor McGinty (Brian Donlevy) and The Boss (Akim Tamiroff) demand that Norval be set free, with the charges dropped. Trudy's first marriage is annulled and Trudy and Norval are declared to be married after all. The governor even gives Norval a retroactive commission in the state guard, entitling him to legally wear a uniform, and Trudy’s father is named police chief. 
News of Trudy's multiple birth flashes around the world, enraging both Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. A newspaper states that Canada is "highly dubious" (a clear reference to the Dionne quintuplets).
When Norval discovers that Trudy has given birth to six boys, he is overwhelmed, and the film ends with this epilogue on a title card:
- Eddie Bracken as Norval Jones
- Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker
- Diana Lynn as Emmy Kockenlocker
- William Demarest as Constable Kockenlocker
- Porter Hall as Justice of the Peace
- Emory Parnell as Mr. Tuerck
- Al Bridge as Mr. Johnson
- Julius Tannen as Mr. Rafferty
- Victor Potel as Newspaper editor
- Brian Donlevy as Gov. McGinty
- Akim Tamiroff as The Boss
- Bobby Watson as Adolf Hitler (uncredited)
- Both Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff reprised their roles from Sturges' 1940 comedy The Great McGinty.
- This was the first time that Preston Sturges and Eddie Bracken worked together on a feature film, although Bracken had appeared in Safeguarding Military Information, a 1942 propaganda short that Sturges wrote. Bracken would go on to appear in Sturges' next film, Hail the Conquering Hero.
- Many members of Sturges' unofficial "stock company" of character actors appear in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, among them Al Bridge, Georgia Caine, Chester Conklin, Jimmy Conlin, William Demarest, Robert Dudley, Byron Foulger, Esther Howard, Arthur Hoyt, J. Farrell MacDonald, George Melford, Torben Meyer, Frank Moran, Jack Norton, Emory Parnell, Victor Potel, Harry Rosenthal, Julius Tannen and Max Wagner. Paramount wanted Sturges to avoid using the same actors repeatedly, but he felt that "these little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures."
- Porter Hall had appeared in Sturges' Sullivan's Travels and had filmed The Great Moment earlier in the year, although it would not be released until after The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. He would also appear in The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, Sturges' last American film.
- This was the eighth of ten films written by Sturges in which William Demarest appeared. Demarest also acted in Diamond Jim (1935), Easy Living (1937), The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) and The Great Moment (1944)
In addition to the music score by Charles Bradshaw and Leo Shuken, two songs appear in the film:
Although shot in 1942 and early 1943, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was withheld from distribution until early 1944, because Paramount had a backlog of unreleased films, including Preston Sturges' The Great Moment. In September 1942, Paramount sold a number of films, such as I Married a Witch, to United Artists, which needed to keep its distribution pipeline filled, but Paramount held on to The Miracle of Morgan's Creek because it was directed by Sturges, waiting for an opportunity to release it.
Problems arose with Hays Office censors because of the film's subject matter. In October 1942, after a story conference, the office sent Paramount a seven-page letter outlining their concerns, including those about lines spoken by the 14-year-old character Emmy and the Trudy character having been drunk and then pregnant. The office wanted the filmmakers to be "extremely careful in handling a subject of this kind because of the delicate nature of the high point of the story," and to refrain from reiterating the basic facts of the story after they have been presented. In December 1942, they also warned about making any comparisons between Trudy's situation and the virgin birth of Jesus. There were so many objections from the censors that Sturges began production with only 10 approved script pages.
The War Department had concerns with the film's portrayal of the departing soldiers, demanding that the film "should result in giving the audience the feeling that these boys are normal, thoroughly fit American soldiers who have had an evening of clean fun."
Sturges' intent was to "show what happens to young girls who disregard their parents' advice and who confuse patriotism with promiscuity," and had included in his script a sermon for the pastor to deliver, expressing Sturges' opinions, but the scene was cut by the studio because the pastor was depicted in too comic a manner.
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was in production from October 21 to December 23, 1942, with additional scenes shot on February 25, 1943. Outdoor scenes were shot at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California.
The film premiered at New York's Paramount Theatre on January 19, 1944. To promote the film, Paramount aired a 20-minute preview on the some 400 television sets then in use in New York City on March 21, 1944, with stills from the film, narration by Eddie Bracken and an interview with Diana Lynn. Paramount asked reviewers not to reveal the ending to avoid spoiling it for those who had not yet seen the film. It is believed that Sturges also withheld the ending from the Hays Office.
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is one of the few Paramount sound films produced before 1950 that do not belong to EMKA, Ltd./NBCUniversal, along with My Friend Irma, Sorry, Wrong Number, and The Buccaneer.
The film was released on DVD and VHS on September 6, 2005.
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek received critical praise. Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times: "a more audacious picture—a more delightfully irreverent one—than this new lot of nonsense at the Paramount has never come slithering madly down the path. Mr. Sturges ... has hauled off this time and tossed a satire which is more cheeky than all the rest...It's hard to imagine how he ever got away with such a thing, how he ever persuaded the Hays boys that he wasn't trying to undermine all morals...Maybe the humor is forced a little, and it may be slightly difficult at times to understand precisely what in heck is going on. But that doesn't make any difference. At those times, you can catch your breath."
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, reviewer Edwin Schallert wrote: "It is a feature that is intensely, even stridently, a departure from the normal Hollywood output...you can have all the fun you wish out of this picture if you won't try to take it too seriously at any time. It belongs essentially to the screwball comedy school, and goes to most outlandish lengths in its climax, which has the misfortune to show up the whole thing."
Critic James Agee noted that "the Hays office has either been hypnotized into a liberality for which it should be thanked, or has been raped in its sleep" to allow the film to be released. In a second review, Agee described the film as "a little like taking a nun on a roller coaster."
Although the Hays Office received many letters of protest because of its subject matter, the film was Paramount's highest-grossing film of 1944, taking in $9 million in box-office receipts while playing to standing-room-only audiences in some theaters.
Awards and honorsEdit
Sturges was nominated for a 1945 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, the same year in which he was nominated for the same award for Hail the Conquering Hero. The National Board of Review nominated the film for Best Picture of 1944, and awarded Betty Hutton the award for Best Acting for her performance in the film. The New York Times named it as one of the 10 Best Films of 1942–1944.
In 2001, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film also holds position #54 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list of the top 100 funniest films in movie history, and in 2006 was voted by Premiere one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time."
The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:
- The Dionne quintuplets – headline "Canada Protests" (finale)
- James Curtis, Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Limelight, 1984 p240
- James Curtis, Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Limelight, 1984 p190
- Meek, James Plot summary (IMDb)
- Erickson, Hal Plot synopsis (Allmovie)
- TCM Full synopsis
- The quote is said by the character Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene IV
- Frankel, Mark "Hail the Conquering Hero" (TCM article)
- TCM Music
- TCM "I Married a Witch" Notes
- TCM Notes
- Nixon, Rob & Tatara, Paul "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (TCM article)
- TCM Overview
- IMDb Filming locations
- Crowther, Bosley (1944-01-20). "'Miracle of Morgan's Creek' With Betty Hutton at Paramount—'Lodger' at Roxy". The New York Times. p. 15.
- Glenn Erickson (August 30, 2005). "DVD Savant Review: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek". DVD Talk.
- TCM Misc. notes
- Schallert, Edwin (1944-03-24). "Sturges Sponsors Hectic Saga of Small Town Girl". Los Angeles Times. p. 22.
- Allmovie Awards
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.