Directed by Arthur Penn. Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Victor Jory, Inga Swenson, Andrew Prine, Kathleen Comegys. United Artists.
Decent Films Ratings
|?Kids & Up*|
Content advisory: Harrowing physical confrontations between Helen and Annie; disturbing description of subhuman living conditions.
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The Miracle Worker (DVD)
A National Catholic Register “DVD/Video Picks” review.
By Steven D. Greydanus
The astonishing story of Annie Sullivan’s dogged efforts to break the isolation in which blind and deaf young Helen Keller lived is brought to stunning life in The Miracle Worker. Originally a Broadway play written by William Gibson, directed by Arthur Penn, and starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, it was brought to the screen by the same creative team, with Gibson adapting his own stage play and Penn once again directing Bancroft and Duke in Oscar-winning turns.
Beautiful black-and-white cinematography, startling performances, and harrowing physicality make The Miracle Worker an extraordinary experience. Duke, 16, is like a feral animal as Helen, unnervingly oblivious, snatching food from other people’s plates and lashing out at unwanted interference with abandon. Bancroft brings iron conviction and a total lack of sentimentality to Sullivan, a tough-minded, nearly blind Boston Catholic whose Yankee directness both unsettles and offers hope to her genteel Southern Protestant hosts.
“It has a name,” Sullivan says again and again, signing nouns under Helen’s fingers as she tries to get her to link sign patterns with physical objects. The cathartic final scene is nothing short of transcendent.