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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

Preston Sturges's The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) is a film in perpetual motion. Rarely does a writer-director display enough confidence in his material and actors to forego the language of cinema itself, but in key moments Sturges is content to roll film on the stars for takes lasting several minutes while they walk along town streets. The effect of these unbroken shots is both cumulative and somewhat marvelous, as the rapid-fire dialogue gains inertia within a static, and yet moving, frame — not to mention the fact that one flubbed word would inevitably send the entire crew back to square one a few blocks away. The breezy, somewhat lightweight comedy, coming on the heels of the more sobering Sullivan's Travels (1941), concerns Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), a young woman who lives in the small American town of Morgan's Creek with her teenage sister Emmy (Diana Lynn) and stern father, the town's Constable Kockenlocker (William Demarest). Keen to dance into the night with local soldiers scheduled for wartime deployment, Trudy's free-spirited ways don't sit well with her widower father, who's certain too much contact between young men and women will lead to unwanted outcomes. Sullen and defiant, Trudy turns to her local admirer, the homely, stuttering 4-F Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), asking him to pick her up for a night at the movies but drop her off at the dance instead. Norval's disappointed, but nonetheless agrees. However, Trudy remembers little of the dance the next morning — except that she apparently married someone, using a false name and an ersatz ring. A visit to the doctor reveals even worse news — she's pregnant. Upon Emmy's advice, a desperate Trudy approaches Norval, now with marriage on her mind, but neither can anticipate the "miracle" that will arrive before the year is out.

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Drawn from a threadbare concept — like Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) and the lowly corporate accountant who lets out his flat for the sexual shenanigans of executive bosses — Preston Sturges himself began sketching out The Miracle of Morgan's Creek by recalling how, as a younger man, he once served as a beard for a female friend who wanted to date a boy her parents did not approve of. And while starting production with just ten pages of completed script, the film would go on, 13 months after it was completed, to become a sensational hit for Paramount, Sturges's home studio. Unfortunately, during the intervening months Sturges had severed ties with the lot where he forged his legend, perhaps eventually to both parties' regret. The picture was bolstered by excellent casting, in particular Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken, who had appeared together in two previous films — in this turn, they virtually feed off each other's manic energy. William Demarest, one of the director's lauded "stock company" players, earns his best role under Sturges here, full of bluster, pratfalls, and moments of tenderness as Constable Kockenlocker, while 14-year-old Diana Lynn delivers moments of urbane cynicism like a young Katherine Hepburn. The movie contains far less social commentary than Sullivan's Travels, but such didn't prevent Sturges, and his provocative script, from prodding the Production Code, which demanded several revisions. Sturges also explored pure filmmaking to a greater degree — the three aforementioned long takes required not only intricate preparation, but 11,000 feet of stock for a mere 400 feet of completed film. And just like those long walks, Morgan's Creek definitely is going somewhere — although the "miracle" itself is saved for the final moments, captured in yet another image of perpetual motion as the perplexed Norval Jones is taken to his wife's hospital room, thrust ever forward by the riotous crush of rowdy celebrants. Paramount's DVD release of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33 OAR) with monaural audio on a Dolby Digital 2.0 track — the black-and-white source print is nearly flawless with only the barest hint of collateral wear and strong low-contrast details, while the audio is clear and intelligible with little in the way of ambient noise. Supplements include two featurettes, "Preston Sturges and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (14 min.) and "Morgan's Creek and the Production Code" (7 min.), featuring Eddie Bracken, Sturges's widow Sandy Sturges, and others. Keep-case.

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