The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
directed by Preston Sturges
(Paramount, 1944)

Tired of Christmas movies that are overrun with angels, sugarcoated with cliches or too weighed down with woe to do you or the characters any good? This year treat yourself to one of the few holiday flicks television hasn't found a way to ruin, that rare American classic that really deserves the name classic: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

Miracle tells the story of Trudy Kockenlocker, a young woman who takes it upon herself to see that the young men going off to World War II get a proper sendoff. With the aid of some spiked lemonade and a low-hanging disco ball, however, propriety gets set aside. The next day, Trudy wakes up with a curtain ring on her finger, and the vague memory of one of the soldiers saying "Let's all get married."

Trudy's troubles might have been short-lived but for two things: she can't recall the name of the soldier she's hitched to, and she's pregnant.

Now that may not sound like the stuff of either Yuletide yarns or high comedy, but in the hands of writer-director Preston Sturges, it quickly becomes both.

Sturges, best-known for satirical comedies like Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story and Hail the Conquering Hero, turns his skeptical eye once again on small-town follies and the carefully cultivated capacity of people to misread just about any situation, especially if it works to their advantage.

In Miracle, however, the person who's most misunderstood isn't Trudy, who has trouble enough, but her longtime admirer Norval Jones, who against his will agrees to run interference for Trudy so she can go to the soldiers' sendoff dance.

Before he knows it, Jones is not only the town scandal, but a fugitive from justice. And all because he wanted to give Trudy a husband, even if it wasn't the right one.

As usual, Sturges worked here with a seasoned Hollywood cast: Eddie Bracken, the nonhero of Hail the Conquering Hero, took the part of Jones; singer-dancer Betty Hutton was Trudy; and William Demarest, best known as the frustrated gumshoe in at least a hundred detective movies, played Trudy's overprotective father and the town constable.

Miracle was probably the closest Demarest ever got to a lead role, and he made the most of it, ranting, raving, throwing the occasional wild punch and keeping the running gags running at all cost.

Like all Sturges' satires, Miracle features sharp visuals, some good sight gags, dialogue designed as much to keep you off-balance as to keep you informed, a world view that's both off-center and right on target, and protagonists who triumph through no fault of their own.

Ultimately, too, there's the question of faith, which is what makes Miracle of Morgan's Creek a Christmas movie, and Sturges' answer, which is what makes this Miracle such an exceptional gift.

It's guaranteed to stick with you -- long after the sugar is dissolved and the angels have flown.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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