The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a farcical comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's in the National Film Registry and ranked on AFI's 100 Funniest Films list, so it's well-regarded. I'll give you my thoughts in a moment, but let's get through the plot first. This one's... weird.

Filmed and set during World War II, the plot centers around the character of Trudy Kockenlocker, a policemen's daughter deeply concerned for soldiers heading off to war. Against her father's wishes, she meets six soldiers at a farewell dance then winds up having too much to drink (and maybe slightly concussed from an impact with a hanging decoration) and wakes the next morning a little uncertain as to what occurred. She pieces the night together a little later and realizes she got married to one of the departing soldiers, but - due to her foggy memory - isn't sure which one or what his name was. The matter becomes more pressing when she discovers she's pregnant.

She confides in her younger sister, who tries to convince her to marry Norval, a dimwitted local boy with a lifelong crush on her, under the assumption her actual husband, whoever he is, probably doesn't remember the incident any better than she does. In addition, they both used fake names, so the paperwork is at best sketchy.

She successfully cons Norval into proposing, then immediately breaks down and confesses everything to him. He's still ready to help her, however now she's unwilling to place him in legal jeopardy, since marrying her would constitute bigamy. He comes up with a relatively clever plan to pretend to be the soldier she initially married, go to a Justice of the Peace, and get married under the fake name Trudy thinks the soldier used. This way, she'll at least have proof the child isn't born out of wedlock.

Then Norval screws everything up by signing his actual name, which alerts the Justice something's up. This gets Norval arrested for a host of crimes. Trudy's father helps him break out of prison and leave town in the hopes he'll be able to find the soldier who got Trudy pregnant.

We then jump ahead to just before Christmas. Trudy's nine months pregnant, and Norval returns, having failed to find the soldier. Also, he's re-arrested before he can get to Trudy, who gives birth on Christmas Eve.

Then she gives birth again. And again. And... you get the idea. In the end, there are six boys, which immediately becomes international news, serving as wartime propaganda. In order to pave over any difficult aspects of the story, the governor arranges for Trudy's initial marriage to be annulled, her marriage to Norval to be ratified, and for Norval's legal issues to evaporate.

The film ends pretty abruptly after this, closing on a joke at Norval's expense (or arguably his fortune, since this is more or less what he always wanted). Needless to say, there's a lot to unpack here, and most of it comes down to how well the movie does or doesn't hold up in different areas.

I'll start with the comedy, because that's the easy part: this is still funny. I'm not sure it's as funny as it once might have been, but overall the absurd characters and ridiculous physical comedy still work. I'm actually a little surprised, given how much centers around prat falls and cheep jokes at the expense of idiotic characters, but... yeah. I found it funny.

Now then. Let's talk about how well the subject matter holds up...

This is where things get complicated, because your mileage may vary depending on how you interpret the movie's intended themes and whether you think that matters. Is it a surface-level cautionary tale about the dangers of sleeping with soldiers who are heading off to war (i.e.: a spoiler warning for the "baby boomers")? Was it just an excuse for Sturges to thumb his nose at the censors? I came across both interpretations online. Sturges claimed it was the latter, though I'm not entirely sure I buy that was his only goal.

While I was watching the movie, I had a more charitable reading: that the film was intended as a satire lampooning the hypocrisy of conservative cultural rules and expectations. But while I think that may have been an aspect of the movie, it doesn't really explain the ending, which...

The point is she slept with all the soldiers, right? That there are six babies, because each of them fathered one? In other words, it's all a big sex joke built around her blacking out after drinking in an era before society understood the concept of informed consent.

But before we judge this too harshly, I want to point out the movie is from Trudy's point of view, and - for the most part - it doesn't feel as though it's judging her. If anything, it's judging those who would judge her and elevating those who show her compassion. It goes so far as to elevate her to the status of the Virgin Mary, though if Wikipedia is to be believed censors directly forbade Sturges from going in this direction (if so, he did it anyway).

Oh yeah, as far as I can tell, that's why this is a Christmas movie, at least to the limited extent that label applies. Aside from a frame story involving the governor on a phone call, only the last twenty minutes are set at Christmas. But, since Trudy's arc is either paralleling or contrasting Mary's, it's fairly clear Christmas is central to the story.

I'm still trying to decide which I think they were going for. The birth of the six babies is portrayed as a sort of salvation for the main characters (it's the event that buys everyone a happy ending) and possibly for the war itself (we see the news circling the world, even pissing off Hitler).

But there's a part of me that thinks Sturges was more interested in dangling the holiday and - for all we knew until the end - literal virgin birth (since Trudy has no memory of the night in question) as a fake-out. I briefly thought that's where this was going, that the movie would reveal she'd never actually been married and was a virgin, and that the child born would be the second coming of Christ or something.

So maybe this was using Christmas to set that expectation in order to subvert it for a punchline. If so, that's certainly an unusual (and possibly even unique) use for the holidays in film.

If it seems like I'm of two minds about this one, it's because I am. I enjoyed the comedy and pace of this film - it was fun to watch and wonder where it was going. But when it got there, I wasn't sure what to think. That's a better end point than you sometimes reach with older movies, but it certainly wasn't as satisfying a conclusion as I was hoping for.

I've been going back and forth on whether to recommend this and, frankly, just changed my mind. I honestly was going to hold off, but...

It's the fact this was told from Trudy's perspective. Not her father's or even Norval's (though he comes close to being an equal lead), but Trudy's. This is her story, and the movie - whatever its intent - respects that. Because of this, and because the comedy really does hold up, I'm going to go ahead and recommend it, despite some reservations. Just don't expect anything profound.