Wednesday 16 January 2008

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) Preston Sturges

While I've been doing some solid catching up on Frank Capra, I've found it hard to track down the other name usually mentioned in the same breath: Preston Sturges. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is one of the films I've seen mentioned a lot, while I know precisely nothing about it. When TCM finally added it to their schedule, I leapt at the chance to see it.

Behind the credits, the editor of the Bugle rings Governor Brian Donlevy about the town of Morgan's Creek, which he's never heard of even though it's in his state. The world seems to be descending on the town and he wants state police and the rest of it to avoid complete chaos. Our film is the discovery of just what they're talking about and it doesn't take long to we discover the source of the chaos is Trudy Kockenlocker, daughter of the town cop. Trudy herself is Betty Hutton, who comes off here like a cheap version of Ginger Rogers but delights nonetheless.

While Constable Kockenlocker won't let her go, Trudy so wants to send off the boys to war in a good mood that she sneaks her way out to their last night dance. She needs devoted and lovestruck young Norval Jones to help her out and he gets to spend the night sitting outside the movie theatre waiting for her while she paints the town red, finally arriving back at eight o'clock in the morning worse the wear for drink, with a lack of memory of the previous night and, it soon becomes apparent, married. Worse than that, it doesn't take long to discover that she's pregnant to boot.

Luckily her precocious young sister finds a way out for her: keep her mouth shut and marry Norval. However she finds she can't quite do it and falls for him while turning him down. So they have to find some way to get round the problem and decide to marry under false names in order to use the certificate to... well, I never did work out quite how that part of things work but it's as believable as it doesn't seem to make any sense. Naturally the plan goes south and everything escalates into a cause celebre.

I'd heard that this film was funny, but it's completely hilarious. It's quick and witty, both in subtle ways and uproarious ones. Sturges was Oscar nominated for the script and that's completely justified. What's most cool is that one of Sturges's competitors was himself: he had two of the five nominations, though both lost. Talk about splitting the vote. His direction is fine but it's his script that really shines, with no greater tribute to his talent than the fact that the code didn't stop him. And the joyful comedy is so good that I had tears running down my face.

Best of all are a whole bunch of irascible old men. There's Alan Bridge as the first lawyer I think I've ever enjoyed seeing, and the most obviously truly dishonestly honest. There's Emory Parnell as Mr Tuerk, Norval's boss. There's Donlevy as the governor and Akim Tamaroff There's William Demarest, who my wife knows best as Uncle Charley from My Three Sons but I know from thirties and forties cinema, including every single one of the Preston Sturges movies I've seen thus far. He seems to have been a regular, appearing in eight out of thirteen of the films Sturges directed, and he's awesome here: honest, athletic and quick to anger. He's just like Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story.

The leads are interesting too, as much as I'm watching Demarest over everyone else. I'm really not a fan of the sort of actor Eddie Bracken seems to be, but he's perfect for the role. He reminds me very much of someone and as soon as I paste this into this blog without remembering, I'll remember, making it the best way forward, I'm sure. He's annoyingly nervous, with a believable stutter under pressure, and that's precisely what he needed to be. Hutton is annoyingly dumb, but again precisely right for the part. Diana Lynn is excellent as her precocious young sister. In fact everyone is exactly what they need to be, in a perfectly cast movie. And I'm going to shut up now because I'm just raving.

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