Every week, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
Part of the reason why I started this column was to show that old movies can be timeless, still entertaining even within today’s standards, but most of all, I wanted to show that old movies can be just as perverse and subversive as modern films. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek accomplishes all of those goals.
Here’s a movie, written and directed by the legendary Preston Sturges, in which a young girl gets unintentionally drunk at a sailor send-off party, gets married in the blackout haze, and consummates the relationship with, you know, whatever random guy she happened to say ‘I Do’ to. Betty Hutton plays Trudy Kockenlocker (seriously, Kockenlocker), a young girl who finds herself stuck in a difficult social position. The nervous Eddie Bracken plays Norval Jones, a doofy guy who’s been in love with Trudy his whole life and is willing to be cuckolded if it means helping out the girl of his dreams. Between him, Trudy’s way-too-street-smart 14-year old sister and a father who keeps trying to hilariously beat his children, it’s easy to see how things continue to get blown out of proportion.
This film is the epitome of subversive – it’s the kind of thing that parents would have taken their families to in 1944. The physical comedy and clever wordplay makes it seem like most other Vaudevillian-style flicks of the day, so Sturges easily hides the completely immoral plot line and character decisions. Because Trudy gives a fake name during the matrimony and was so drunk on Victory Lemonade that she doesn’t remember which sailor she married, she thinks she’s trapped with the social stigma of a baby or, if she happens to marry another man right away to cover it up, that she’ll be guilty of bigamy. Essentially, every option at her feet involves breaking societal mores.
The best part is how happy-go-lucky everything is. Even when dealing with what amounts to drunken date rape that produces a surprise-baby, everyone involved plays sort of faux-manic, slipping easily from melodrama to genuine aw-shucks comedic moments. Laughing at unwanted pregnancy has never felt so sweet.
On the bright side, the story works really well because the situation allows for Norval, a sweet, unassuming admirer, to get his shot with his dream girl – a girl who finally realizes that she loves him as more than her best friend. He’s willing to risk his reputation and, ultimately, jail time in order to save her, and his gesture is grandly rewarded. When their overly-complex, madcap plan to right the wrong goes terribly awry, Trudy’s father loses his job, Norval is arrested, and the family goes into hiding.
Enter the miracle. And what could be more important during wartime than a small-town American girl giving birth to not one or two or three, four or five – but six kids? It shows the virility of the American male! The strength of the American woman! In your face Hitler!
Speaking of Hitler, he makes a cameo appearance. So for those of you keeping score at home, this movie just went from great to awesome. Also for keeping score at home, we have patriotism-inspired drunkeness, eloping, date rape of a minor, accidental pregnancy, bigamy, child abuse, cuckolding, illegal scheming, social outcasts, jingoism, and a Hitler cameo all paraded on screen with the wink-wink-nudge school of antics that marked that era of comedy. Check it out and see how offended you can get over 60 years later.
Editor’s Note: A have to thank my friend Sara for hipping me to this flick and all things subversive.