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Paramount Home Video presents
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

"The only time a woman doesn't care to talk is when she's dead." 
- Constable Kockenlocker (William Demarest)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 06, 2005

Stars: Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken
Other Stars: Diana Lynn, William Demarest, Porter Hall
Director: Preston Sturges

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:38m:27s
Release Date: September 06, 2005
UPC: 097360431247
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AB-B- C-

DVD Review

Even after all these years, and especially if you know and love the movies of Hollywood's golden age, it's still kind of hard to fathom the audacity of Preston Sturges with The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Though the films of the 1920s and early 1930s seem remarkably timid by our standards, especially if you've got cable, they were deemed sufficiently racy and full of enough indiscretions that they were believed to be leading America's youth down the primrose path to immorality. Rather than submitting to governmental interference, the studios agreed on a production code, which became in practice as ham-handed as anything that Washington might have devised. The twin evils, of course, were sex and violence. For the latter, bad guys couldn't be shown performing their crimes, and needed to be punished by the end of the running time of the picture; for the former, there was to be no pre-marital sex, and no sex of any kind, really—the happy couple could kiss at the wedding ceremony, iris in, iris out to nine months later and a baby.

Enter Preston Sturges. One of the most highly regarded screenwriters of 1930s, Sturges became one of the first writers allowed to direct his own scripts, and his run of pictures in the 1940s remains unparalleled. Here and especially in Hail the Conquering Hero, Sturges turned his gimlet eye to the absurdities and extremes of patriotic fervor on the home front during wartime. Welcome to Morgan's Creek, a Midwestern town in an unspecified state, where the boys are being shipped out tomorrow to fight in World War II; of course the girls of Morgan's Creek want to give them a proper send-off, at a Kiss The Boys Goodbye party. Particularly enthusiastic about giving the soldiers something to remember her by is Trudy Kockenlocker, daughter of the town constable; he was a soldier himself in The Great War, and, knowing what's on the boys' minds, forbids Trudy from going to the dance.

Trudy isn't above a little malfeasance, though, and is happy to play poor Norval Jones for a sucker. Panic attacks keep Norval out of the service, and Trudy is only interested in a man in a uniform; she gets Norval to tell her father that he's taking her out, and then ditches him at the movie theater while she parties the night away with the young men of the greatest generation. And that's when the alleged miracles start happening: though she vows that she hasn't been drinking, the next morning Trudy can't recount just what she's been up to. But she's got a washer on her finger as a makeshift marriage band, and immediately thereafter discovers that she's knocked up like a cheerleader.

Trudy dimly remembers tying the knot with a soldier boy, but she gave a fake name to the justice of the peace, and cannot remember the name of her new husband—she thinks it might be Ratzkiwatzki, making her the spectacularly named Gertrude Kockenlocker Ratzkiwatzki. Will Trudy be able to track down the father of her child? Will Norval take the fall for her indiscretions? How will the town of Morgan's Creek react to these goings on? And just how did Preston Sturges get away with it all?

The writer/director's deft touch keeps the movie going at a breakneck speed, and sticks it to the boys in the Hays office—anybody with a bit of intelligence and candor knows what Trudy was up to that night, and it didn't involve making a promise to love and honor until death do them part. The way Sturges pays lip service to Joseph Breen's wholesomeness while sending it up and giving the lie to so much of the hypocrisy of American public life is the great triumph of this movie, the real miracle, in many respects; it's also hilariously entertaining, especially peppered with members of Sturges' de facto stock company. Betty Hutton is a little horsey as Trudy, but she holds on to her innocence and naïveté long after you might think it possible; she's very well matched by Eddie Bracken as Norval, who's pretty much a dope and simp throughout, but an endearing one, and Bracken is a marvelous physical comedian. At least his equal is the fantastically irascible William Demarest, as Trudy's father; he's a hothead who should not have been the father of girls, disciplining his younger daughter with zingers like this one: "Listen, zipper puss, someday they're just going to find your hair ribbon and an ax someplace. Nothing else."

Things get so out of hand in Morgan's Creek that the governor has to step in, providing a reward for Sturges fans: presiding over the state is the title character from The Great McGinty, with Brian Donlevy reprising his role in a cameo, ably assisted by his chief political operative, played by Akim Tamiroff. For decades now, other filmmakers have tried to emulate Sturges, but he remains the master at blending brilliant comedy, both verbal and physical, with a dollop of social commentary—it's a miraculous movie in all kinds of ways, and had been too long absent from DVD.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The gray and grain levels aren't too bad, though sometimes the print looks a little wobbly, almost as if it was transferred with no particular care.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: A little unsteady here, too, with occasional warbling and warping. Still, Sturges' dialogue still sparkles even under these conditions.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Criterion Collection, with its editions of The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels and Unfaithfully Yours, set the bar high and may have spoiled us Sturges fans, so this modest release is a bit of a disappointment. Preston Sturges and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (14m:04s) is an overview of the project, with new interviews with Bracken; the director's widow, Sandy Sturges; and film historians Andrew Dickos and James Ursini, who are especially good on Sturges' comic style, combining the overlapping dialogue of ‘30s screwball with the physical comedy of silent films. Also included are a few snippets of Sturges family home movies, in which everyone seems to be having a merry old time. Censorship: Morgan's Creek versus The Production Code (07m:39s) features interviews with the same four, and with Billy Wilder biographer Ed Sikov; it's a brief history of the code, and of Sturges' parrying with the Hays office as this movie was being made. Also, the packaging and menus for this title are especially ugly, featuring stills tinted with pastels that could serve as the first set of exhibits in the case for the evils of colorization.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

This is one of Preston Sturges' very best outings, thumbing its nose at the production code and so much of the hypocrisy of American public life while never lacking for punchlines, pratfalls, deft set-ups and perfect payoffs. It doesn't get all the bells and whistles that Criterion has provided to some of Sturges' other top-tier films, but it's still a pip of a picture, and a delight to see, finally, on DVD. Most highly recommended.

 


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