This is the first year we have included this film by Preston Sturges in our Christmas cinema rotation, not because we didn’t love this film but because we usually haven’t thought of it as a holiday film per se, since only the last section of the film occurs at Christmas. When I first discovered Preston Sturges decades ago (I think Sullivan’s Travels was the first one I saw), I have watched and re-watched his whole filmography ever since. For a decade he wrote and directed some of the best screwball comedies in Hollywood’s history, starting with The Great McGinty (1940) through Unfaithfully Yours (1948). I’ll pretend that embarrassment The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949) didn’t happen. Sturges wove wonderful satiric stories with witty dialogue and silly slapstick bits into movies that reward you on every viewing. Few directors could be almost simultaneously cynical and idealistic, while giving both stars and character actors juicy dialogue and breakneck comic business. All of those touches and the reliable members of his stock company are here in this film.
Trudy Kockenlocker convinces Norval Jones to help her sneak to an all-night party for soldiers leaving their town of Morgan’s Creek for World War II. Norval, whose high blood pressure and tendency to see spots whenever stressed have made him ineligible for service, reluctantly agrees. After the party Trudy wakes up to find herself married and pregnant, but she can’t remember her soldier husband’s name. To prevent a scandal, she convinces Norval, who has always loved her, to marry her, and when she realizes how much he loves her, Trudy realizes she loves him as well. Now what to do about the first marriage, for which she has no certificate and used a fake name. Norval comes up with a scheme to marry Trudy under a fake name, get a divorce, and then remarry Trudy with his real name, but at the Justice of the Peace the plan falls apart and Norval is arrested for a host of crimes. He escapes from jail to go look for the first husband, but after taking money from the bank where he works, he is accused of bank robbery as well. In disgrace, Trudy’s family leaves town to await the birth of the child. Norval returns just before Christmas, having been unable to find the first husband. Trudy goes into labor and ends up having sextuplets. The “miracle” of Morgan’s Creek ends up making international news. Trudy and Norval are now heroes, and all ends happily.
The film begins just before Christmas and then proceeds in flashback to tell the story that led up to the “miracle.” The final action resumes during the holidays, and there are some funny scenes of Trudy’s father (WIlliam Demarest) decorating a limp Christmas tree.
J. Farrell MacDonald, who plays a county sheriff, provides the link to yesterday’s film, Christmas Eve, where he played a policeman. We have already seen him once, as Sourpuss in Meet John Doe, and we will see him again toward the end of our Christmas cinema garland in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Jimmy Conlin, has a small role as the head of the town council at the end of the film. He is the link to tomorrow’s movie, The Great Rupert (1950), so look for more about this wonderful actor then.
Eddie Bracken plays Norval in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and had the lead in Preston Sturges’s next comedy, the even more irreverent Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).
Betty Hutton plays Trudy in this film. She was the star of several top-rated films in the 1950s, including Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). She portrayed 1920s nightclub star Texas Guinan in Incendiary Blonde (1945) and had a brief TV series The Betty Hutton Show in 1959-60.
Diana Lynn plays sister Emmy in this film, reprising a similar role as the smart-aleck sister in Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor (1942). She played opposite Ronald Reagan in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951).
William Demarest, who plays Constance Kockenlocker, was a reliable member of Sturges’s stock company of comic character actors. This may be his best role in that extended series. Demarest began his career in vaudeville and ended appearing as Uncle Charley in TV’s My Three Sons 1965-72.
Porter Hall plays the justice of the peace and has already been seen in The Thin Man and will see seen once more in Miracle on 34th Street.
Nora Cecil, who plays one of the nurses, appeared in many fine comedies, including Easy Living (1937), I Married a Witch (1942), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). We will see her again in Lady on a Train (1945).
Julius Tannen, who plays Mr. Rafferty, started as a vaudeville monologist and then had a long career in movies, especially as part of the Sturges’s stock company. In the classic Singin’ in the Rain, he played the man demonstrating early sound pictures.
Emory Parnell, who plays the banker, appeared in such classics as Mr. Lucky (1943), Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942) and The Major and the Minor (1942). We will see him again soon in Larceny Inc. (1942).
Victor Potel, who played the newspaper editor, appeared in many Sturges’s comedies, such as The Palm Beach Story (1942), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Lady Eve (1941), Christmas in July (1940) and The Great McGinty (1940).
Georgia Caine, who plays Mrs. Johnson, played Eddie Bracken’s mother in Hail the Conquering Hero. We will see her soon in a very dark role as Barbara Stanwyck’s mother in Remember the Night.
Betty Hutton starred with Fred Astaire in the film Let’s Dance.
Victor Potel plays the second bartender in the wonderful “One More for the Road” number in The Sky’s the Limit (1943).
Jimmy Conlin appeared with Astaire in his film Second Chorus (1940).
The team of William Demarest and Estelle Collette appeared in vaudeville with the Astaires in 1915 (Providence, RI) and 1916 (Milwaukee). Demarest also appeared on the bill for a benefit sponsored by Flo Ziegfeld on December 7, 1930. He appeared on WEAF radio with Astaire in 1933.
Julius Tannen appeared on stage with Fred at a Lambs Gambol, the Ziegfeld Benefit (for which he was the master of ceremonies) and a New York American Christmas Relief Fund benefit in 1930.
Georgia Caine appeared with the Astaires on Broadway in Smiles. She was a student at the Claude Alviene school, where the Astaires first took dancing lessons after arriving in New York City in 1905.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
When Preston Sturges hits the mark there is no one better. His blend of caprice, cynicism and clever dialogue in this film is especially good. The remarkable last 10 minutes showing the “miracle” that the whole film has been building can’t be beat.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Unfortunately Turner Classic Movies doesn’t have this film scheduled any time soon. It’s a very pricey DVD on Amazon, but it streams on Amazon Prime for $9.99.