Genre: Screwball Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.
Release Date: January 19th, 1944 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Preston Sturges Actors: Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Diana Lynn, William Demarest, Porter Hall, Emory Parnell, Alan Bridge, Julius Tannen, Brian Donlevy, Akim Tamiroff
old the presses!” By tomorrow morning, midwestern Morgan’s Creek will be the most popular town in all of America. Thanks to an editorial by local newspaper The Bugle, focusing on the presence of swarms of soldiers and the town’s pretty girls, something sensational is at work. The story begins with music store employee Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), who promises to appear one evening at a farewell dance before the troops are sent away. This disappoints poor bank teller Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), who wishes to join the military – perhaps only to fit in and to wear the uniform – but his health issues prevent him from being up to the task. Ultimately, the unwilling civilian really just wants to woo Trudy, though she has her mind set on attending the big event, full of strapping young men in celebratory moods.
“People aren’t as evil-minded as they used to be,” insists Trudy’s 14-year-old sister Emmy (Diana Lynn), a young woman wise beyond her years. Her regular commentary on every subject is hilarious, primarily because of her stern, combative attitude toward her old-fashioned father, Constable Ed Kockenlocker (William Demarest in one of his most perfectly cast roles), whom she must reel in when his blood boils. The cantankerous elder expectedly forbids Trudy from going to the military sendoff, causing her to call up Norval to be a decoy. All it takes is for her to shed a few tears, and he’s suddenly embroiled in a conspiracy to sit through a triple-feature at the theater alone, while Trudy heads off to the dance – taking Norval’s car in the process.
With writer/director Preston Sturges at the helm, the opening moments transpire at a breakneck speed. Conversations overlap and run into one another, like a multiple-car pileup on the highway. It’s fast, furious, and funny, setting up a premise quite unlike anything else from the early ’40s. Drunk and with a loss of memory, as if her supposedly harmless lemonade was spiked, Trudy returns to Norval, camped out in the lobby of the theater (“I’ll bet I’m a couple minutes late”), at the ungodly hour of 8:00 AM. Promiscuity, an impromptu marriage, inebriated copulation, and an unwanted pregnancy are certainly controversial topics for a classic screwball comedy. “Trudy! What’s that on your finger?”
Slapstick, hysterics, and delirious repetition (as well as stuttering) arrive at every turn, augmenting a terribly serious plot, injecting laughs and levity amid heartbreak and tears. Scatterbrained Norval is manipulated and used (and strangled) continuously, yet Trudy is sensible enough to exhibit guilt, regret, and shame over her disagreeable intentions. Nevertheless, she needs a dupe to mask her accidental marriage and unexplained pregnancy. Fortunately, the script has the intelligence to inform the characters of the conundrums, thereby alleviating the horrors of actually entangling the couple in an uninformed union. “I can’t keep on marrying people, no matter how sweet they are!”
As the film examines – or spoofs – carelessness, responsibilities, suicide, bigamy, ostracization, jurisdictional complications, abduction, jailbreak, perjury, and murder (alongside the black-out-drunk marriage and consummation), it generates comical explanations and justifications for what could have been a remarkably depressing ordeal. With generous helpings of humor, neuroticism, and facetious confusion, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” becomes an uncommonly charming, good-natured, romantic affair. As with many classic Hollywood pictures, the protagonists have to undergo extreme hardships in order to realize they’re meant to be together; here, the lengths they go are not only exceedingly intricate, but they’re also the kind that grow out of proportion – to the point that there’s no sound way to undo it all. Of course, it’s handled with a spectacular hilarity and cleverness; when the hole is dug this deep, the only way out is through further outrageousness.
– Mike Massie