A fair films have a central concept that really haven’t aged well, and Preston Sturges’ The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek is one of the more extreme cases of such a thing. For when a bunch of soldiers have one last night out before heading off to war, Trudy (Betty Hutton) joins them at a dance, drinks some lemonade, and then can’t remember anything until the morning after. As her memory partially returns she remembers she’s married, but it comes as a complete shock that she’s pregnant too.
Sturges never considers this to be date rape, but it’s impossible to see it as anything else. All of which makes this frivolous daft comedy a difficult beast to review, it’s obviously a product of its time and it doesn’t feel like Sturges is suggesting she was raped, but I’ve no idea how you can see it otherwise, the most charitable reading being that she was so drunk she doesn’t remember consenting to sex, but that’s obviously still a fucked up situation and then some. At least Trudy herself isn’t too affected by this, and after she tells her cynical and savvy fourteen year old sister Emmy (Diana Lynn) about what has happened the two hatch a scheme so that Trudy can live a respectable life.
That leads them to involving the incredibly nervous Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) in to proceedings, he’s been madly in love with Trudy since they were kids and so is more than happy to marry Trudy. After he delivers a supposedly lovely but slightly creepy speech explaining just how long he’s been in love with her, Trudy is filled with guilt and so cracks and tells Norval that she’s already married, which he doesn’t take too well, but he still goes along with her plan to get married, though of course it’s a far less simple one than anyone might have hoped for.
The shadow of World War II looms large over the picture, what with Norval unable to go over and fight due to his nervous disposition and high blood pressure, while the dances Trudy attends is the catalyst for the chaos that follows. Trudy’s father (William Demarest) is the local constable and fought in the first world war, and after reading a newspaper storyline about “War marriages” is deeply suspicious of the soldier’s motives (as well he should be), but Trudy is appalled by the suggestion, squealing in response that they’re not like that any more and how “They’re fine, clean, young boys from good homes”.
Sturges was a patriotic man without any doubt, his earlier film Sullivan’s Travels also reflects the war and Sturges stresses the importance of laughter during such dark times, so it’s all but certainly not meant to be an angry attack on the dubious morality of soldiers, yet given what happens it’s hard not to feel that way. The ending even features two very famous historical figures and mocks them greatly, and the censors wouldn’t have passed anything which was anti-American, so I can only presume it was meant to be very gentle teasing at the very most, which makes it even odder, as the soldiers are otherwise shown in a positive light.
Moving on from this very difficult subject, the film is a playful creation with lots of very funny moments in it. Norval is an unusual old fella, so nervous he almost seems like a nineteen forties version of Woody Allen at some points, and his idiocy is at its very funniest when Trudy’s father tries to help him escape from prison but he doesn’t get the hint at all. Trudy also gets some amusing scenes, her drunk acting’s impressive, while her brief bout of depression leads to a discussion of suicide which is quite surprisingly twisted for a forties film.
Sister Emmy is a sassy so and so and may just deliver the best lines in the film, and though domestic violence is played for laughs as her father tries to kick her up the arse at two separate points but falls to the floor each time, it can’t be denied that William Demarest is a strong physical comedian. Discussions about bigamy raise a few smiles if not big laughs, and Sturges script has some quite unusual parts, with the state governor at one point exclaiming “This is the biggest thing to happen to this state since we stole it from the Indians” and such honesty was rare at the time.
The ending is a frenzied piece of madness which entertains, with a cameo appearance from one individual making me burst out laughing, and if you can presume that Sturges didn’t intend to make something deeply upsetting then it’s a comedy that has a great deal of merit and which is at times quietly subversive as well. That said it is a film which is definitely quite problematic, so recommending it is near on impossible without throwing in a worrying amount of caveats, and due to that this will be only of interest to Sturges completists.
★ or ★★★1/2