Blog Directory CineVerse: Up the creek without a censor

Up the creek without a censor

Monday, October 5, 2020

Many film fans assume that Hollywood in the 1940s avoided rocking the boat – and rocking the baby carriage when it came to promoting wholesome and upstanding family values. But an exception to that rule is Preston Sturges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, which depicted a sexually uninhibited woman possibly engaging in premarital relations and having a baby out of wedlock (sort of): topics rarely tackled for a 1943 picture that normally wouldn't have passed muster with the censors. Our CineVerse band performed a closer examination of this comedy gem last week; here’s a summary of our analysis (listen to a recording of our group discussion of this film here).

How would this film have been controversial and unique for a 1943 movie – one many wouldn’t have expected to slip past the censors?

  • Virtually no movies of this era broached the subject of sexual promiscuity with a stranger and pregnancy that could disgrace a family and a town. The Production Code strictly forbade these kinds of topics in Hollywood films.
  • The story serves as a kind of comedic spin on the immaculate conception/virgin birth. Consider that Norval plays a befuddled Joseph to Trudy’s formerly virginal hometown girl who is clueless as to the mysterious father’s identity. There is a nativity scene of sorts in which the Kockenlocker family has to leave town, where there is no room for them at the inn of social and moral acceptance, and at least one barnyard animal is present: a cow. Plus, the sextuplets (fitting that the director chose a number that would use the word “sex”) are born on Christmas day.
  • The name Kockenlocker itself is a double entendre word suggesting that Trudy is willing to entrap a man (Norval) to cover up for her mistakes.
  • The picture appears to be lampooning the conservative values of small-town America and its judgmental citizens.
  • Trudy’s sister Emmy is a precocious, streetwise character who seems to know a lot more than she should for a 14-year-old.
  • The movie takes swipes at women, marriage, motherhood, and the choice to have several children.
  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek even turns politically farcical when it showcases Mussolini and Hitler look-alikes.
  • Turner Classic Movies wrote: “The film was made at the height of World War II, with patriotic fervor running high, and Hollywood was busy extolling the virtues of brave soldiers overseas, faithful women on the home front, and the homespun values of Anytown, USA. Then along comes a movie skewering small-town life and attitudes, with a hapless lead character declared unfit for service and a fun-loving unwed mother with the last name of "Kockenlocker," all of it wrapped in a wicked parody of the Christmas nativity story (including a shot of livestock in the room with the pregnant heroine). And this at a time when film censorship was at its most rigidly institutionalized.”

What else from this film stood out as impressive or unexpected?

  • There is a variety of comic stylings at work, including slapstick, verbal wordplay, sight gags, and visual comedy, and social satire.
  • Actor William Demarest executes a lot of cringe-inducing pratfalls, without the use of a stunt double, even though he was 50 years old at this time.
  • This is a rare instance of a meta-movie in which characters from a previous film briefly crashed the party: in this case, the title character and “big boss” from Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty.
  • Impressively, the director shoots two long-form walking scenes in nearly uninterrupted takes.
  • The Sturges stock company of character actors is deep and memorable, including Porter Hall as the justice of the peace, Akim Tamirof as the boss, Alan Bridge as Mr. Johnson the lawyer, and many other familiar faces.

Other movies that share commonalities with The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

  • The 1958 remake Rock-a-Bye Baby starring Jerry Lewis
  • The Great McGinty, also directed (earlier) by Preston Sturges, which features characters that make cameos in this film
  • Knocked Up

Other films written and directed by Preston Sturges

  • The Great McGinty
  • The Lady Eve
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • The Palm Beach Story
  • Hail the Conquering Hero
  • Christmas in July

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