on July 29, 2001
The most amazing thing about the film version of "The Miracle Worker" is its absolutely timeless quality. It still holds up beautifully for a film that's more than 50 years old.
I've seen "The Miracle Worker" probably a dozen times. And it never gets tiring, boring or unemotional. In fact, after each viewing, I pick up more details - and the tears still come just as they did when I first saw it many years ago.
The Oscar-winning performances by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke are shattering. The grainy flashback and dream sequences involving Bancroft's character, Annie Sullivan, are wonderfully spooky - and the fabulously haunting score by Laurence Rosenthal adds a perfect counterbalance to "The Miracle Worker," bringing emotional resonance to an otherwise purposely unsentimental telling of the Helen Keller story. Yet while I say it's unsentimental, its ending is arguably sentimental, which is why the film's devastating last 10 minutes remain wonderful. The film covers only the short period leading up to Helen Keller's breakthrough to others as a child of intelligence - instead of a child who's incorrectly believed to be mentally handicapped.
Director Arthur Penn, who later went onto to lens his classic, "Bonnie and Clyde (1967), did a wonderful thing translating William Gibson's play to the visual language of cinema. There isn't a flaw I can detect with this film, especially his pans, dissolves, double exposures and grainy images with the dream sequences. It's a remarkable portend of things to come for this director - and frankly, I enjoy "The Miracle Worker" a lot more than "Bonnie and Clyde," an acknowledged classic that for me, is more recognized for its counter-culture storytelling style and shocking violence at the time it was released. That "Bonnie and Clyde" made the American Film Institute's "greatest 100 films ever made list" - and the "Miracle Worker" did not - is the bigger shock. If you go over the list and see some of the junky films that made it on the basis of "name" - instead of quality - you almost retch.
Sharing the New York stage with Patty Duke in 1960, followed by the producer's insistence that Bancroft be kept as the lead for the film version of "The Miracle Worker" - (over bankable names like Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn) - is the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. Then of course, Bancroft gets her Oscar and five years later, she lands the role that's as big to film history as Scarlett O'Hara...(Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate.")
One scene I must comment on...it's the famously long sequence in the dining room where no more than perhaps five lines of dialogue are uttered by Bancroft. It is relentlessly physical, a dazzling and exhausting battle of wills, so entrancing a show by Bancroft and Duke as they run around the room, spoons thrown, with every object getting trashed. It is violence in a different form, one with an extremely productive purpose that makes it impossible to avert your eyes. It's mesmerizing.
In sum, this film is a treasure that pops up on television from time to time, but it's also a film that's worth owning in all of its widescreen glory. The reason many people rent movies instead of buying them - is because so few - are worth watching more than once. Well, "The Miracle Worker" DVD is comparable to what it costs to see a film in a theater, and there's no doubt in my mind that it should be in every person's library.
Perhaps my only regret, as an Oscar buff, is that the film wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I don't mind that "Lawrence of Arabia" won that year (another classic), but to see "The Miracle Worker" get bumped for a Best Picture nomination by the inferior Brando remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" - makes me wonder, "what were those voters thinking?"
The passage of time will do that to you. Just ask people who wonder why Judy Garland lost an Oscar in 1954 for "A Star is Born" - to the "dressed down" performance Grace Kelly gave in "The Country Girl." There's no rhyme or reason for such things. In the end, you've no choice but to take comfort knowing that awards or no awards - "The Miracle Worker" remains one of the greatest American films - ever made.
on February 2, 2000
I'm usually very critical of movies. A movie that really blows me away is rare, but I have never been more blown away in my entire life than by this film - I am deaf, I say this because it is relevant to the subject. I grew up in the same school as deaf/blind children. I assure you, the performance of Patty Duke is INCREDIBLE - totally credulous. Anne Bancroft is overwhelming as Annie O'Sullivan, the schoolteacher. There is not a bad performance in this entire movie. It is emotional and gut-wrenching without the smallest drop of schmaltz or saccharine - something that is very rare in a movie with the subject matter of a disabled child. In fact, it is almost painful and brutal to watch at times, but I am grateful to the director for cutting no punches. The cinematography and black-and-white film are perfectly in tune with the performances and subject matter. So often the easy way is taken out when transferring a stage play to screen - just look at "And Then There Were None" aka "Ten Little Indians" for an example - but here, the ending is presented after a gruelling drama - I honestly think that the ending of this film is a true cinematic moment - it is unsentimental and yet... the emotions, the sheer power, the strength and climax of it all - the realisation. My entire nervous system vibrated for half a hour after watching this film, and still does so whenever I think of it - It is BRILLIANT. Disturbing, disquieting, ferocious, frightening, funny (yes, funny), tender, loving, HATING, calmness and storms. I could say so much about this film - write so many essays upon its different aspects - but I have neither time, nor you the patience, so I shall end with these words: Watch it!
on February 9, 2006
15-year-old Patty Duke and 30-year-old Anne Bancroft are simply magnificent in 1962's emotion-filled and heart-tugging drama, "The Miracle Worker", a film based on the true-life story of Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, but far from dumb.
Bancroft (Anne "Annie" Sullivan) and Duke (Helen Keller) fight tooth-and-nail throughout a goodly portion of "The Miracle Worker", which is a movie which was inspired by the real Helen Keller's autobiography "The Story Of My Life". It was, indeed, literally a "tooth"-and-nail battle for Miss Sullivan in parts of the movie, as she attempts to communicate with young Helen, with Annie getting a tooth knocked out of her head at one point thanks to a hearty smack across the face from her student.
But through an undying combination of caring, kindness, persistence, and unwavering toughness, Annie finally gets through to Helen, and by the film's final act we can see that Annie has taught Helen more than just the meaning of the words "water", "tree", and "key". Annie has taught her the meaning of the word "love" as well -- as we see demonstrated so well and tenderly in the very last moments of this motion picture.
Patty Duke's performance as Keller is so realistic and genuine, it's nothing short of awe-inspiring. Not once did I detect even the smallest sign that Patty was "acting" here. I would swear she was totally blind throughout this motion picture. And Miss Bancroft is every bit Patty's equal in this 106-minute film. The thick accent and that wonderful pair of ever-present dark glasses help to define the character of "Annie", the tough teacher, formerly blind herself, who performs the "Miracle" that Helen's family had never thought was possible.
Both Duke and Bancroft were justifiably rewarded for their laudable work in "Worker", as each received a 1962 Oscar statue when that year's Academy Awards were handed out in early 1963.*
* = No small accomplishment either, especially in that movie year of '62, which (IMHO) was one of the top years for big-screen entertainment in the history of cinema. "The Miracle Worker" shared theater space that same year with such great films as: "To Kill A Mockingbird", "Lawrence Of Arabia", "The Longest Day", "The Manchurian Candidate", "Cape Fear", "Mutiny On The Bounty", "Days Of Wine And Roses", "The Music Man", "Birdman Of Alcatraz", "Advise & Consent", and "How The West Was Won".
Bancroft beat out a pretty impressive foursome of opponents in the "Best Actress" category -- Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Geraldine Page, and Lee Remick.
While Miss Duke took "Best Supporting Actress" of '62 over the likes of Thelma Ritter, Mary Badham, Angela Lansbury, and Shirley Knight. Patty became the youngest person ever to take home an Oscar statue (at age 16, when she won the award).
"The Miracle Worker" made its USA premiere on the 23rd day of May back in 1962 (in New York City). The film, which debuted elsewhere in the United States on July 28, 1962, was nominated for three additional Academy Awards as well, including a nomination going to Arthur Penn for "Best Director" (with David Lean ultimately picking up that win for his work behind the camera of "Lawrence Of Arabia").
For a good "workout" (so to speak), without having to get up out of your chair, I'd recommend viewing Chapter #7 of this DVD. That's the chapter that contains one of my favorite scenes from "The Miracle Worker" (and one where hardly a single word is spoken) -- that being the dining-room scene with Annie and Helen, during which Annie is, in effect, telling Helen "You're going to eat your dinner using this spoon if it takes all damn night!".
That extraordinary scene is a 9-minute, non-stop lesson in perseverance and dogged determination, and is also a chance to watch in awe as two gifted actors display their finely-tuned craft. Patty and Anne must have been literally worn to a frazzle at the end of filming that lengthy scene. Heck, I was wrung out just watching it.
Inga Swenson, Victor Jory, and Andrew Prine co-star in "Miracle", and all do a fine job as the supporting cast to Anne and Patty. Jory's "Captain Keller" seems a trifle "over the top" at times (maybe a tad more than a trifle actually), but his softer, caring side emerges too, making up for his scenery-chewing moments (IMO).
Some of my favorite "Miracle" dialogue (from Miss Bancroft) -- "Mrs. Keller, I don't think Helen's worst handicap is deafness or blindness ... I think it's your love ... and pity. All of ya here are so sorry for her, you've kept her like a pet. Why, even a dog ya housebreak!"
A little bit about the real Helen and Annie...........
The real-life story of Helen Keller is one of the most remarkable in history. After scarlet fever rendered her blind and deaf at the age of only 19 months, Helen would eventually learn to read (in multiple languages), and she would go on to write more than a dozen books! She also learned to speak. Helen even graduated (with honors) from Radcliffe College in 1904.
Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in the small northern Alabama town of Tuscumbia. When she passed away (just weeks before her 88th birthday) on June 1, 1968, Helen was one of the most-admired women in the world, having become friends with ten U.S. Presidents and also having received honorary degrees from several different universities worldwide.
Helen was just seven years old when the events depicted in "The Miracle Worker" actually took place in the late 1880s. Patty Duke, quite obviously, was much older than that when called upon to portray the 7-year-old Helen, and Patty was almost not cast as Helen for the film. But, despite the discernible age differential, Duke was given the part .... and movie-lovers are all the better for that wise casting decision.
A webpage containing an excellent mini-bio on the life of Helen Keller can be found here:
The 100th Anniversary ("Centennial Edition") of Keller's autobiography, "The Story Of My Life", is available at Amazon. Here's a quick link:
Anne Sullivan was born Johanna Mansfield Sullivan in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, on April 14, 1866. In 1886, Anne was named class valedictorian of the "Perkins Institute For The Blind". The following year, in March of 1887, she began her work with Helen. Sullivan died in New York at the age of 70 on October 20, 1936.
This MGM "Vintage Classics" DVD, released in March 2001, sports a very fine-looking version of "The Miracle Worker" in its original Widescreen (1.66:1) aspect ratio. The video is not enhanced via the anamorphic process, but the black-and-white film looks quite detailed and sharp nonetheless. A few spots have a slightly washed-out look, but overall it looks great to my eyes. Close-up shots of the actors' faces are especially pleasing and blemish-free. Miss Bancroft looks just fabulous in her screen-filling close-ups here.
An example of how good the movie looks on this disc can be obtained by watching the Theatrical Trailer for the film (which is included here as the DVD's lone Special Feature). The 1-minute, 45-second trailer is filled with dirt specks and lacks the crispness of video quality that can be found in the film itself.
As far as the audio goes, all of the dialogue is clear and easily understood. MGM Home Entertainment has provided three different Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtracks for this disc -- in English, French, and Spanish. All three of these DVD soundtracks, however, do have quite a bit of background hiss and are a bit scratchy-sounding underneath the dialogue. But this minor audio imperfection didn't keep me from enjoying every last minute of this movie.
Given what I can detect on the movie's original English soundtrack, it appears that the filmmakers were forced to do a lot of dubbing of dialogue after several of the outdoor scenes were filmed, in order to make the actors' words more clearly audible. I'm very grateful for this dubbing, too, because I have a feeling that without it the viewer would be left to scratch his or her head in a "What did he say there?" manner during some scenes (particularly during the very funny "ladder" scene, which features Miss Bancroft being piggybacked to safety by Captain Keller). The dubbed scenes seem to be done quite well, though, in that they don't sound overly artificial, with the end result being bold and clear dialogue during those out-of-doors re-dubbed parts of the film.
Other DVD Stats:
>> Subtitles are available in French and Spanish (but not English).
>> The Chapter count is 16, with four separate Sub-Menus for direct chapter access.
>> Menus are simple and non-animated, without music.
>> No booklet or insert.
>> Keep Case box.
"The Miracle Worker" (1962) is a brilliant and touching character-driven story, featuring two acting performances by Miss Bancroft and Miss Duke that can never be forgotten. This is a motion picture (and a DVD) to be treasured for a lifetime.
on October 26, 2002
ever committed to film are on display in this 1962 classic by Arthur Penn. Based on the stage play of the same name, it tells the story of how Annie Sullivan brings light into the dark world of Helen Keller. This is one of the best films of any era.
Patty Duke is amazing as Helen Keller. She is a young girl isolated in a way by her blindness, yet totally controlling of the environment and people around her because of it. Patty manages to capture the frustration Helen has, that of being an intelligent person unable to fully express herself and grow. She conveys this all without saying a word until the climatic moment at the end.
Anne Bancroft is Annie Sullivan. Partially blind herself, she is a young woman who has seen and experienced more than her share of poverty and misery in her life. It is her experience as a child of the institution that shapes the woman she has become and prepares her for the assignment she takes on in teaching Helen. Anne conveys vulnerability, strength, determination and compassion; and love, as exhibited in the closing scene where she is holding Helen and singing "Hush Little Baby" on the porch. It is a deeply felt and affective performance.
It is beautifully shot in black and white, which helps keep the film close to its stage roots. Victor Jory is the "Captain," Helen's gruff, no nonsense father, who doesn't know what to make of this young "Yankee" woman. Inga Swenson is Helen's younger, fragile mother, hoping for a miracle and reluctantly letting Annie take control of the daughter she loves. Andrew Prine is Annie's main supporter as Helen's half brother. They all lend terrific support.
I was 12 years old on that Christmas Day in 1972 when I first saw this film. I was deeply affected by Anne Bancroft's performance and became a fan for life. For anyone who wants to be an actor, this is required viewing. A CLASSIC!