THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK – It’s not about rape

I have officially had it with Christmas-themed political correctness. I kept my mouth shut when everyone started yakking about the supposedly sinister subtext of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” But nobody is going to mouth off to me about Preston Sturges and get away with it.


Sturges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) manages to make comedy hay out of, of all things, the pregnancy of an (for all intents and purposes) unwed mother. If you’re not familiar with the movie, I have previously summarized and raved about it here on this blog. If you don’t agree with me that Miracle is hysterically funny, that’s your loss. But a blog named Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two has tried to argue that the movie is about a case of rape. (You can read their take on the movie here.) This will not stand.

Ellen and Jim — who, for the purpose of brevity, I will hereafter refer to as “the blog” — state that they read the shooting script for the movie as well as watching the film itself. Yet in order to make their point, they leave out miles of crucial plot points and manage to twist many of the remaining plot points into Christmas licorice.


The movie’s pivotal plot twist comes when the heroine Trudy (Betty Hutton), having deserted her long-adoring 4-F male friend Norval (Eddie Bracken) to attend a party for soldiers going off to war, gets accidentally knocked on the head and later finds that she is pregnant from her night of frivolity. The blog labels this incident as a “rape” and uses the R-word repeatedly before it ever deigns to (vaguely) mention another major plot point.

At one point before Trudy gets bumped on the head, one of the partying soldiers declares, “Hey, I got a crazy idea — let’s all get married!” Everyone laughs derisively at the idea, but the movie implies that the deed took place. When Trudy returns Norval’s car to him in a damaged state and drunkenly tries to recall the evening’s events, the camera focuses on a relic that Trudy unknowingly left in the road — a sign that had been placed on the back of the car that read, “Just married.”

Now, Sturges might have inserted this plot point simply to appease the censorious Hays Office. Yet the blog goes so far as to say, “It passes because in the words of the script [and the movie, I might add] she has not been raped; she was married and therefore cannot have been raped. Tease this out and we could imagine a scene of marital rape.”

Well, I suppose we could, and we could also extrapolate any number of biased theories from the movie’s plot points, if that’s all we wanted to do. What I find especially bothersome about the blog is its implication that the movie is laughing derisively at a woman who finds herself pregnant and, though she is supposedly married, has no father to speak of for her baby. (In a reply to a query from one of the blog’s readers, the blog answers, “I feel for [Trudy’s] distress — if the movie would allow it, but it does not, and that is why it’s made up of laughter betrayed.”)


But I don’t see it that way at all. The movie takes quite seriously Trudy and her young sister Emmy’s (Diana Lynn) reactions to the news of Trudy’s pregnancy, and their dread of how apoplectically their stern father Edmund (William Demarest) will react to the news.

The blog also opines that Sturges “has [female] characters say they cover up for and prefer men who hurt them.” Where’d they get that one?? Norval, who has pined over Trudy ever since they were in grade school, wants nothing more than the best for Trudy. Widowed father Edmund is shown to be far more bark than bite, softening up quite a bit as the movie progresses.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but none of them occur by cheapening the characters or making fun of Trudy’s very real plight. And along with the laughs comes plenty of pathos, of the kind that Chaplin surely would have applauded. It appears that, when it comes to Preston Sturges, Ellen and Jim have a chip on their shoulders, two.

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944) – Preston Sturges’ Christmas gift to the world


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Small-town girl Trudy Kockenlocker (reflect on that name for a moment) is torn. Trudy (Betty Hutton) wants to give a good time to the soldiers who are having a farewell party before leaving to fight in the war. But the small-town part of her regrets once again turning down a date with well-meaning 4-F-er Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), who has longed for Trudy ever since they were kids.

(And Trudy’s brusque father, Constable Edmund Kockenlocker [William Demarest], would prefer to see Trudy and her younger sibling Emmy [Diana Lynn] locked up in chastity belts until their honeymoons.)

Trudy takes the worldly way out and wishes the soldiers well all night long. This results in a bump on the head, a quickie marriage to some soldier whose name she can’t quite place (“Ratzkywatzky? I know there’s a ‘Z’ in it somewhere”), and yet another bump — the kind that’s the outcome of a marriage you can’t quite remember. All of this quite rattles the good citizens of Morgan’s Creek — particularly Norval, who usually has a bad case of the nerves on his good days.

All of this results in risque, just-this-side-of-bad-taste comedy that left many contemporary censors, critics, and moviegoers in (often delightful) shock (it’s stated that the movie often played to SRO houses in its day) and still leaves you wide-eyed and laughing with its refreshing frankness. This movie looks as though it was filmed for about 50 cents, and it really doesn’t matter — because, as with the best movie comedies, all you really want is a camera to follow the characters around and watch as they get deeper and deeper into their mess. And that’s pretty much what writer-director Preston Sturges does; you can almost see him behind the camera, licking his chops as his actors make the most out of every situation and pratfall.

As for those actors, what’s not to like? Hutton and Lynn are thoroughly winning as they hatch their schemes under the lurking eye of their assertive father. Bracken takes a character who’s potentially grating and gives him an undercurrent of naive charm. Demarest is superbly blustery (and who knew he could take such falls over and over?). There’s always one scene in each of Sturges’ movies that ensures it for posterity. I couldn’t resist embedding this movie’s highlight/scene below. It’s the one where the constable/father gives a very threatening speech to his potential son-in-law, who is already near hysterics from all of the movie’s goings-on.

Sturges brings the story to a head right on Christmas Eve. That’s enough for me to qualify it as my favorite Christmas movie ever. It’s a miracle, all right — a miracle of comedy.