Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) is a screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges. The film stars Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Diana Lynn and William Demarest.

Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff reprise their roles from Sturges' 1940 film The Great McGinty as Governor McGinty and The Boss.

The film was nominated for a 1945 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Just before Christmas, the editor (Victor Potel) of the Morgan's Creek newspaper anxiously calls Governor McGinty (Brian Donlevy) to announce some astonishing news. Although McGinty is impatient, the editor begins to relate a long-winded story:

Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) wishes to attend a wild farewell party for a group of soldiers about to go overseas during World War II. However, after reading an editorial in the Morgan's Creek newspaper on sudden war marriages, grumpy town policeman Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest) forbids his nearly adult daughter Trudy from attending a farewell dance for soldiers.

Trudy pretends that her childhood friend Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), whose enlistment has been rejected because of his high blood pressure, is taking her out to the movies. While Trudy attends the dance, Norval reluctantly sits through three features at the movie theater.

Trudy, meanwhile, drinks and dances with soldier after soldier. While dancing the jitterbug at one point, Trudy is knocked on the head by a chandelier.

The next morning at 8AM Trudy picks up Norval at the movie theater. Trudy does not remember where she has been and as Norval drives off to take Trudy home, a just married sign falls off the back of the car. When they arrive home, Norval takes the brunt of her father's anger.

Later, while talking with her younger sister Emmy (Diana Lynn), Trudy begins to vaguely recall the events of the night before. She remembers someone talking about getting married and realizes she has a wedding band on her finger. However, Trudy can't remember the man's name. Her sister suggests finding the marriage license but Trudy remembers someone saying not to give their real names. All Trudy can remember is her husband's name is something like Ratzkiwatzki.

Trudy's worst fears are realized when she learns she is pregnant. Trudy and her sister visit a lawyer and learn the marriage is valid even if a false name is given. Trudy doesn't know what she is going to do. Her sister suggests she just marry someone else. Trudy decides to marry Norval. Norval has been devoted to Trudy since childhood.

However, Trudy's conscience will not allow her to deceive Norval, and she confesses her predicament to him. Trudy also realizes she loves Norval. She refuses to marry him as it would constitute bigamy. Her father is unaware of his daughter's situation and intimidates Norval into the marriage, as the town is already talking about Trudy and Norval.

Norval has an idea, he will pretend to be Ratzkiwatzki and they will get married to obtain a marriage license, then Trudy can divorce Ratzkiwatzki and marry Norval. However, at the justice of the peace, everything is fine until Norval accidently signs his own name.

The justice of the peace accuses Norval of having abducted Trudy, who is a minor, and impersonating an officer. Norval and Trudy are brought home by a bevy of police, who have brought nineteen charges against Norval. The justice of the peace tears up the marriage certificate for Constable Kockenlocker.

Emmy and Trudy then explain the whole situation to their father. Norval who is now in jail, is encouraged to escape by Trudy's father. However, Norval is too honest refuses until Kockenlocker forcibly removes him from jail.

Norval then slips into the bank where he works and takes $900 from his account, intending to search for Ratzkiwatzki. Norval escapes in Kockenlocker's car after he sets off the alarm, and Emmy and Trudy tie up their father and knock him out to mitigate his involvement in the break-in.

Norval returns approximately six months later, an escaped prisoner and bank robber. He was unsuccessful in his search for Trudy's husband. As Trudy's former boss is about to take Norval to Trudy, he is picked up by police. We learn that Kockenlocker was fired from his job and moved out of town.

Trudy learns of Norval's return and insists on returning to Morgan's Creek to tell the truth, but she is prevented she goes into labor and gives birth to sextuplets, thereby making national headlines.

Governor McGinty drops all charges against Norval, arranges for Trudy's first marriage to be annulled, and insists that she has been married to Norval all along.

The effects of the birth of sextuplets are felt around the world, and Norval himself becomes hysterical.

The film ends with this epilogue: But Norval recovered and became increasingly happy for, as Shakespeare said: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Preston Sturges played fast and loose with the censorial restrictions of mid-1940s Hollywood that critic James Agee noted that "the Hays office must have been raped in its sleep" to allow the film to be released. Afterall, a comedy about a girl who gets drunk at a party with a bunch of soldiers and wakes up the next morning hung over and pregnant, with no memory of who the guilty party might be (except that his name sounded like "Ratzkiwatzki"), hardly conformed to Hollywood's ideal at the time.

Although the Hays Office received many letters of protest because of the film's subject matter, it was one of Paramount's highest-grossing film of 1944.

This is a delightful screwball comedy and Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken and William Demarest are at their best.

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