The Miracle Worker (1962)

Synopsis:

Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) plays teacher Anne Sullivan, who is hired by a wealthy Southern family to teach their deaf, blind, and mute daughter, Helen Keller (Patty Duke, Valley of Dolls), how to communicate with the outside world.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Obedience without understanding is a blindness too.”

I believe true greatness can’t be quantified in an ordinary manner, nor can it be attributed lightly. Let’s face it, some people are so great that no book, movie, or play could fail in capturing a bit of their magic. Such a person is Helen Keller, the remarkable woman who, regardless of never gaining her sight and hearing, eventually graduated from college and dedicated her entire life to support the handicapped community.

Based upon William Gibson’s play of the same name, The Miracle Worker is a dramatization of Keller’s first encounter with the woman who changed her life. In choosing to concentrate on this particular moment, the film also showcases the pillar in which the greatest accomplishments stand on: perseverance.

Anne Sullivan, lifelong teacher and companion to Keller, represents exactly that. Sullivan’s determination is the driving force of the story. In attempting to remove Keller from the world of darkness and teach her to be self-sufficient, Sullivan managed to achieve the impossible — she was indeed a miracle worker.

Written by Gibson and directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), The Miracle Worker somehow betrays its stage origins. Penn succeeds in creating a movie rather than just filming a play. The director plays a game of shadows and lights to illustrate, literally and figuratively, the world of darkness in which Keller lives.

There is also an interesting feminist subtext here. It’s subtle and so cleverly integrated into the narrative that it feels totally organic. Sullivan realizes that she can’t fight for her pupil’s wellbeing unless she’s willing to stand up for her own rights. In other words, the teacher demonstrates that power is irrevocably linked to freedom.

This is a great movie enhanced by superb acting. The freshness displayed on many emotionally charged scenes conceals the fact that Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke had been playing their roles for almost two years on Broadway. Bancroft and Duke deservedly won Oscars for their superb performances.

The Miracle Worker established Bancroft as a bona fide star and made Duke, at 16, the youngest person (up to that point) to have ever won the award. Also starring Inga Swenson (Miss Gretchen, TV’s Benson) as Helen’s mother, Victor Jory (The Fugitive Kind) as Helen’s father and Andrew Prine (The Devil’s Brigade) as Helen’s half-brother. Beah Richards (In the Heat of the Night) plays the Kellers’ maid.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Miracle Worker is a powerful story about  patience and endurance. I’ve seen the play on stage, but this movie version of the play remains unbeatable; it has two amazing performances, and Arthur Penn’s imaginative direction. Remade in 1979, with Patty Duke as Sullivan, and Melissa Gilbert as Helen, and yet again, in 2000. There is also a sequel of sorts titled The Miracle Continues (1984), with Blythe Danner as Sullivan, and Mare Winningham as Helen. B&W, 106 minutes, Not Rated.

10 responses to “The Miracle Worker (1962)

  1. Great review, Eric. I loved this film. It holds a fond memory–I was in the high school theatrical production of Wm. Gibson’s play. The film version with Anne Brancroft is the best adaptation. I’m so glad you highlighted this film 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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