Films that make us cry: The Miracle Worker

Miracle workerThe Miracle Worker is a cathartic experience for me. Each time I watch the film, there’s a visceral reaction at the end when the truth is revealed to the young Helen Keller. The poignant innocence of the child, and the parents love for their strong-willed daughter is such a powerful and universal message. Yet it is the strong and silently steadying influence of the teacher, Anne Sullivan, portrayed with brilliance by Anne Bancroft, that gives this film the strength to inspire for generations to come.
Pitting the will of the child against the powerful force of enlightenment is a metaphor that rings through in the building clash of wills between the two, the teacher and her unmanageable student. But the moment that brings tears to my eyes in each viewing is the moment of enlightenment.
Knowledge means everything to Helen Keller, a brilliant human trapped in a body without the means to express herself. With the advent of the most illuminating of AH-HA! Moments in cinema, Bancroft and the young Patty Duke transfix the audience as we watch that most intimate and tender of moments when the teacher breaks through.
As they gyrate in tandem with the hand signals that indicate water, the two artists perform the most beautiful dance imaginable. Art and knowledge triumph over darkness and ignorance in one graceful swipe of a gesture as the blind and deaf Helen Keller realizes the meaning of water, and the communicating symbol will open up a new world for her. The teacher, Anne Sullivan, truly becomes a worker of miracles.

Recommended viewing: Films that got away

Turner Classic Movies happens to be showing some great films that got away this month. Check the listings to see when they are airing in May.


Nadine 1987

*Nadine is one of the best Kim Basinger films. A quirky actress who worked best playing a vulnerable yet ultimately strong survivor. She is at her nervous best in the title role of this 1987 film with another great actor, Jeff Bridges.
They play a slightly kooky married couple with some issues to work out in their relationship. The two get embroiled in a crooked land deal when Nadine’s nude photos get mixed up with the blueprints of the shady scheme. This Robert Benton comedy shows off Basinger’s greatest features, her breathless beauty and at times inscrutable nature. Basinger is a well-matched foil for Bridges good-natured comic relief.

across the pacific pix 1942

*Across the Pacific is another one that got away. Bogart was at his finest when he was teasing some beautiful woman, and Mary Astor fills the bill in this B-role film shot during World War II. Like Casablanca, the plot is of no consequence, but the part to watch is the episode on the ship when Bogie teases Astor unmercifully while she is laid up in her bunk and seasick. Some of the dialogue is in the best tradition of the Thin Man series.

j guitar 2

*Johnny Guitar could be one of the best of the bad B’s, perhaps? Bad B’s are defined as something you just can’t look away from. They don’t make them like this anymore. Sterling Hayden is the love object and Joan Crawford is ready to fight Mercedes McCambridge for the love of Hayden who is Johnny Guitar.
Crawford in a Western setting is macabre enough. But the quirky nature of the plot simply adds to the delicious awfulness of this film. Johnny Guitar has a history with Crawford’s character, Vienna. He was the one that got away. Now she is determined to keep him safe in the middle of some contrived plot centering on a railroad coming through town and the sudden appearance of the elusive Johnny Guitar. Directed by Nicholas Ray, the plot makes little sense but is memorable for the strong female leads facing off in the end instead of the usual hokum with the men shooting it out.

can't take it with you

*You can’t take it with you is Capracorn at its best! One of my favorite Capra films, as it gives us a whole other dimension of Lionel Barrymore’s range. Barrymore is of course, best known as the infamous villain of the piece, Mr. Potter, from It’s a Wonderful Life. This film was taken from the 1936 play of the same name by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. The film version does seem to work best as a series of acts in the best tradition of theatre.
Jimmy Stewart is young and idealistic, with a scowling Edward Albert as his father. Jean Arthur is wonderful as his effervescent fiancée who must introduce Stewart to her delightfully dippy family. Reminiscent in part of Arsenic and Old Lace, the characters dance and glide through the landscape as the madness unfolds with Barrymore cheerfully holding court in the midst of the madness.
Capra himself had the same type of insouciance and joie de vivre that was captured and is seen as the essence of this film. It’s not as widely shown as It’s a Wonderful Life, but it serves as a great companion piece to that classic tale.

If you have a chance to watch any of these classics, do so, as they are not shown as often as many other lesser films in their respective genres.