The Miracle Worker
William Gibson (Play: William Gibson; Book: Helen Keller)
Anne Bancroft, Victory Jory, Inga Swenson, Andrew Prine, Kathleen Comegys, Patty Duke
Buy on DVD
There are times when two actresses are so in sync when performing together, they feel as if they are but one character and one performance. Such is the case for The Miracle Worker featuring Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan a visually impaired teacher attempting to get through to blind and deaf Helen Keller played by the talented young actress Patty Duke. They work together like few thespians can, drawing us into their contested relationship and keeping us glued to their successes and failures.
Duke had not yet started in the wildly popular self-titled Patty Duke Show, but she’d been a constant presence on television and in films prior, and even in the stage version from 1959 to 1961, so it comes as little surprise she was given the challenging big screen role. While she’s barely been a strong presence in either medium over the last couple of decades, there was little doubt of her talent and capabilities and The Miracle Worker may well have been the one film she should be most remembered for. Bancroft, however, continued an excellent career for many years. Yet her performance in Miracle Worker is astounding for its technical brilliance and emotional resonance. Neither role lacked significant challenges and both actresses delivered fine career-defining and eventually Oscar-winning performances.
A rather interesting side note: it is strange watching Inga Swenson as Helen’s mother. I first came to know Swenson as the bitter, confrontational German housekeeper on Benson, so it’s a bit weird seeing her in such a dramatic role and one in which she has no trace of her familiar German accent. She’s a bit over the top in the film, but not compared to her bombastic and irritating husband played by Victor Jory.
As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but that’s more a statement on its rather unusual style than the actual quality of the film. Using interesting camera techniques and focus issues to display the harried emotional state of Annie Sullivan. And while displaying her flashbacks as grainy and difficult to see is hard on the audience, it helps bring them into Sullivan’s visually-impaired world in a way that works better in retrospect than while watching the film. Matter of fact, as the film started, I was having a hard time watching it as it was so different from what I’d seen and for 1962, it was a rather brave choice. Yet, when I got to the emotional finale, I couldn’t help but admire the skill and technique that got us there.
September 6, 2010