Another fantastic offering from the Warner Archive, and another installment in my month-long Warner watch-a-thon! This time it is THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, a truly wonderful film from the brilliant mind of Preston Sturges. The miracle of this film just might be that he managed to get it past the censors because this is one of the most pre-code post-code movies I have seen!
Governor McGinty, played by Brian Donlevy, (an inside joke for you Preston Sturges fans) is in his office just before Christmas when he receives a frantic call from the editor of a newspaper in a little town called Morgan’s Creek. He has a fantastical tale to relate to the governor, and when the governor finds out what the story is about he calls all his advisors and aides to his office immediately to hear the story. The editor begins his tale…
The Morgan’s Creek newspapers are full of warnings about the dangers of young women and soldiers having a good time. Beware the horror of the wartime marriage! After reading this the town policeman, Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), decides that there is no way that his daughter is going out to the farewell dance for the soldiers that night! His eldest daughter, Trudy (Betty Hutton), is devastated by his refusal but soon comes up with a plan. She believes that it is her patriotic duty to go out and support the boys, so she enlists the help of her childhood friend Norville (Eddie Bracken). Poor homely, stuttering, Norville is in love with Trudy but is unable to impress her by enlisting because of his blood pressure. Trudy had already turned Norville down for a date earlier that morning, so he is beyond thrilled when she calls up and tells him that she changed her mind. He is still thrilled when he picks her up and says good-bye to her father and younger sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), and drives to the local movie theater. He becomes decidedly less thrilled when Trudy reveals her true intentions and asks Norville to wait for her in the theater while she goes to the dance alone. He finally agrees and even lets Trudy take his car, intending to stay at the theater until 1AM when the last picture is finished. Trudy happily drives off and is soon having the time of her life at the dance. However, just one farewell dance is not enough and Trudy goes to not one, not two, but three parties with the soldiers. Dancing and drinking lemonade everything is going wonderfully until Trudy accidentally jitterbugs into a chandelier. The next thing she knows it is 8AM and she has just arrived at the theater to get Norville, who keeps implying that she is drunk even though she never had a drink before in her life! She cannot remember anything about the night before or where she has been, and poor Norville is forced to take the brunt of her father’s anger upon their late return.
Later, while taking off her party clothes, Trudy is chatting with Emmy when all of a sudden she has a flash and remembers someone mentioning something about getting married. The two sisters laugh off the thought until they look down at Trudy’s ring finger. Desperate to remember who it was she married, Trudy tries to come up with a name but all she can get was that it had a Z in it…sort of like “Ratzkiwatzki”. When Emmy suggests that they simply go and look up the license Trudy remembers that everyone used a fake name, making it impossible to find out the truth! Things go from bad to worse when, sometime later, Trudy comes out of the doctor’s office with the news that she is pregnant. Emmy and Trudy try to come up with a plan of what to do, even going to the local attorney to try to get the marriage deemed illegal. Unfortunately, even though neither party used their real names and Trudy has no idea who her husband is the marriage is indeed legal. Emmy now comes up with a new plan and it again involves Norville. Even though up until now Trudy has resisted Norville’s advances, Emmy now tells her to encourage them as Norville is the perfect candidate to marry Trudy. Initially resistant to the idea, after all it is bigamy isn’t it, Trudy finally agrees and invites Norville over for dinner.
After a lovely meal with the family, Emmy and her father go off to clear the dishes while Trudy and Norville go out on the front porch to talk. Trudy hints to Norville that she is open to the idea of marrying him at last and Norville, devoted to Trudy since childhood, is stunned. He eventually takes the hint and proposes, and then promptly falls off the front porch. Touched by Norville’s kindness and goodness of heart, Trudy refuses to deceive him any further and tells him everything. Shocked at first, Norville reiterates his desire to marry Trudy but she refuses. Now Trudy has begun to see the real Norville and has fallen in love with him for real. Because of her love, she will not marry him and make him a party to bigamy. By this time, however, rumors have begun to swirl throughout the small town and these rumors soon make their way back to Trudy’s father. Unaware of Trudy’s true situation, Officer Kockenlocker uses all of his fatherly talents (and his service revolver) to help convince Norville to propose.
Having recovered from his “talk” with his future father-in-law, Norville now has a flash of brilliance! Marriage by proxy! Or at least something like that. In order for Trudy to get a divorce from Ratzkiwatzki she needs a marriage license with the right names on it. Norville goes about gathering the needed supplies, ring, money, and military uniform (which appears to be from the time of the rough riders), and returns that evening to retrieve Trudy. Under the guise of a normal date, the two make their way to the Honeymoon Hotel just about twenty-five miles outside of Morgan’s Creek. Once there the two begin the ceremony of getting married but when the time comes to sign the license there is a problem. Trudy has signed her rightful name and Norville has signed his, but has told the proprietor that his name is Ratzkiwatzki. The man now believes that Norville has kidnapped Trudy and is marrying her against her will, and promptly draws a gun. Calling to his wife to phone the police, Trudy and Norville are warned not to move. Imagine the surprise of Emmy and her father when Norville and Trudy return from their date in the back of a squad car, escorted by a bevy of police.
This was a movie that I had heard mentioned several times but had never seen. And yes, I will admit, I am late to the party but this is a fantastic film! Watching this I was constantly amazed at the cleverness of the script and the acting in its ability to slip things by the censors. No one ever mentions drinking alcohol, they talk about drinking lemonade. The first time that Trudy actually says that she is going to have a baby isn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, prior to take it is all done with implications and knowing glances. One of the extra features on the disc from Warner Archive is a short film about Preston Sturges and his circumventing of the Hayes Office when making this film. Sturges never provided the censors with a completed script, giving them only a few pages at a time which prevented them from seeing some of the racier content in context. He also played a good game of following the rules to the exact letter and no more. For example when the censors suggested that a line be changed from “…people aren’t as dirty-minded as when you were a soldier…”, Sturges changed the line to “people aren’t as evil-minded as when you were a solider”. See? All fixed! I think that is part of what makes this film so much fun, because it is an exercise by Sturges in thumbing his nose at the censors and having them thank him in return. The fact that a film that talks about bigamy, drunken marriage, one night stands, pregnancy, divorce, abortion, and suicide can not only get by the Hayes office but be fun and funny as well speaks to the genius of its creator. The genius of Preston Sturges is also the subject of a short film which is another bonus feature on the disc. Speaking of the disc, the film itself looks gorgeous and is just as crisp and clean as you could hope for. The Warner Archive has done a great job in remastering this film and putting out the disc!
Betty Hutton is hysterical and remarkably self-assured for being only twenty-two at the time this movie was made. Rumor has it that she and Eddie Bracken were constantly trying to outdo one another when it came to the physical comedy in the film, which lead to some great moments. In fact, Norville walking through the screen door was a complete ad-lib by Eddie Bracken. Eddie Bracken was not an actor I was overly familiar with, but his portrayal of Norville certainly won me over. He is really funny as the stuttering “boy-next-door” but he is more than just a fall guy. I think that this film works so well because of the terrific cast. Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and Diana Lynn (who really steals the show as Emmy) are so great together that you can’t help but loving them and rooting for them.
This was also a film that poked fun at things that you weren’t allowed to make fun of in the movies like the army, the police force, and family life, I think it allowed audiences to see themselves in the story and even laugh at some parts of their own lives. When this film first came out it was so popular that it was literally standing room only in theaters and no wonder. They don’t make movies like this any more, but I really wish they did.