Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Miracle Worker (1962)

A baby girl (Patty Duke, eventually) loses her sight and hearing to an illness and becomes more and more unmanageable. Out of desperation her parents hire an unconventional carpetbagger (Anne Bancroft) to work a miracle, maybe.

This is the story of Helen Keller, the deaf, dumb, and blind kid from those witty and original jokes of my youth. The movie did not address whether or not she could play a mean pinball. My mother knew of Keller in her youth as a motivational speaker, so I guess she wasn’t actually dumb in either sense of the word. Back to the movie.

Here are some things that struck me: Fifteen year old (and victim of 2016) Patty Duke was tiny, no bigger than a child of eight. In adulthood she topped out at five foot nothing which aided in her portrayal as a much younger child. Playing a deaf and blind child can go oh so very wrong in oh so many ways, but Duke’s experience playing the character onstage payed off. Her performance felt amazingly authentic, without even a hint of camp.

The Miracle Worker was a very low budget production. With a budget of half a million (chicken feed even by 1962 standards), it shows in the titling, score, and film grain quality. This did not hurt the story, in fact a more Hollywood polished product may have detracted. The task at hand did not need to be romanticized.

Helen’s mom was played by none other than Inga Swenson, better known to me as Ingrid Swenson from Soap and to a lesser extent Gretchen from Benson. She didn’t play a very endearing character on television and it was surprising to see her all young and hot, and with an accomplished southern belle accent.

This fascinating character study and battle of wills has only the power of the acting performances going for it, but power it has in spades. Helen’s behavior and the events ring very true, although it did look silly sometimes when she would push Anne Sullivan and she’d go flying. Still, even though it’s fifty five years old, I’d recommend it to anyone dealing with a less than compliant child. AMRU 3.5.
“Mrs. Keller, I don't think Helen's greatest handicap is deafness or blindness. I think it's your love and pity. All these years you've felt so sorry for her you've kept her like a pet. Well, even a dog you housebreak.”

No comments:

Post a Comment