Sunday, January 13, 2008

Doing a Lot of Funny Things Outlandishly

It's amazing that, among last year's spate of unplanned pregnancy movies, no critical space was devoted to a discussion of the greatest unplanned pregnancy movie ever made: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).

This gaspingly funny farce found its way into my living room today (via TCM) and just blew me away. The premise is quite shocking, really, for 1944 (or am I just old-fashioned?). A young girl, Trudy Kockenlocker, gets hastily married and knocked up during a night of carousing with soon-to-be-shipping-out soldiers. When she comes to the morning after, she has only the vaguest recollection of the events in question, confirmed by the presence of a curtain ring on her finger. Horrified, she tries to dupe local pencil-neck and Army reject Norval Jones into marrying her, but he's so sweet and sincerely in love with her that she just can't do it. The rest of the film follows their hijinks as they concoct a plan to salvage her honor, but end up foiled several times along the way.

Which got me thinking: How does Miracle of Morgan's Creek stack up to 2007's twinset of baby-comedies? Let us compare:

1. Heroine Comparison

Juno is smart, worldly, and wise beyond her years, Katherine Heigl, dull, bland and cow-eyed, and Trudy Knockenlocker is naive as a newborn, filled with a strong desire to make each and every serviceman's last day on American soil as sweet and memorable as possible, lamenting, "Oh the poor orphans!" Her careful orchestration of the evening suggests she has got a brain under that mop of blonde curls, but her lack of comprehension re: just exactly what a "good time" entails for a soldier means her good heart trumps brains any day.

Verdict: Being smart is no guarantee you won't get yourself up the pole, and, though brains can help you make witty remarks afterward, being a little scatterbrained makes for even better comedy.

2. Decision-making time

Juno can't go through with the abortion because it makes her too sad, so she opts for adoption, Cow-Eyes plods on placidly, and Trudy can't bring herself to con poor Norval, since he's such a sweetheart.

Funniest decision-making scene: Sobbing to her sister, Trudy says, "He said he's been in love with me since I was no bigger than a fire hydrant or something, and that he took all these classes like cooking and sewing just to be with me --" and her sister says, "Perfect! He can do all the housework!"

3. Complications

During a sham wedding ceremony, Norval fails to remember his fake name, Ignatz Ratziwatski, and the jig is up. Hijinks, arrests, and jailbreaks ensue. Meanwhile, Trudy is falling in love with the nerdy Norval due to his selfless, self-sacrificing actions.

In Juno, things get complicated when one half of the loving adoptive family turns out to be a total douchebag. In Knocked Up, things get sour when it turns out boys are eternal men-children who never grow up, but women age with an inexorable swiftness until they're too old and fat to get into hip nightclubs, which leads to depression all around.

Verdict: Comedy is all about upsetting the natural order of things, and nothing is more chaotically disruptive than an unplanned pregnancy, especially an unwanted one. Babies are comedy gold (but, like flattening someone with an anvil dropped from a height, significantly less amusing in real life). Morgan's Creek is head and shoulders above the other two films in terms of poking gaping holes in the fabric of proper society in general, which is what makes it seem much more shocking and hence funnier. The complete bumbling idiocy of everyone involved adds to that as well, probably. Also, Miracle is the only movie that throws a shotgun marriage into the mix, which only adds to the laughs. The hasty marriage ceremony showcases the two unwitting participants as a bundle of nerves on display, about to be lashed together for eternity by an indifferent officiant in a hurried ceremony. This is also comic gold, and Sturges gets plenty of mileage out of shopworn anti-marriage jokes here ("You think you're nervous now? If you know what what the rest of it was like you'd be even more nervous.").

Also, Miracle is the only film to feature funny insults like, "zipperpuss."

That being said, Juno and Knocked Up are not without their moments, but ultimately they tend to treat relationships and childbirth with a sanctity that undercuts the humor. Sturges cuts through the treacle and remains a satirist up to the very end, the moment when that poor sap Norval realizes what he's unwittingly allowed to be thrust upon him.

Remember, Spinsters: "No man is going to jeopardize his present or poison his future with a lot of little brats hollering around the house unless he's forced to. It's up to the woman to knock him down, hogtie him, and drag him in front of two witnesses immediately if not sooner. Anytime after that is too late."

And write down the names of everyone you sleep with, and get their contact information, just in case.


Levi Stahl said...

And it's got William Demarest!

I do love The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. I remember laughing so hard my stomach muscles hurt the next day.

Campaspe said...

What a marvelous idea to compare these movies. I giggled through the whole thing. When I wrote about "Miracle" myself (here, if you want to see) I also hit on the fact that it hasn't dated. Isn't it delicious that good old rock-ribbed conservative Preston Sturges came up with a far less stodgy and predictable take on the battle of the sexes than our supposedly modern filmmakers?

Spinster Aunt said...

Delicious indeed -- I spent much of the film wondering how he ever got away with it!

"There's not much water in the creek this time of year" ... great line!