The Miracle Worker (1962)
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As Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke could not have been better. The battle of wills and wits between the two is engrossing, becoming quite involved and very interesting. The lengthy dining room struggle alone would make any movie worth watching - it is worthwhile even beyond the interesting action itself, as it brings out aspects of human nature and human learning that go beyond even Helen's own trials.
There is a great deal of substance to the movie that goes beyond the immediate issues and confrontations, and a significant reason for the greatness of the film is the way that Bancroft and Duke tap into the imagination of the viewer. The concept of seeing an unseen world (and the challenge of helping someone to see it) is brought out in ways that are profound yet accessible.
The two leads carry almost the whole picture, as the other characters are there primarily for Annie and Helen to play off of. Accordingly, the supporting cast keep their characters more simple, and their performances stylized and almost exaggerated, which allows Bancroft and Duke to have most of the moments of significance. The production also enhances the picture through simple but well-conceived settings, use of lighting, and other features that nicely complement the main action.
It's always rather unfortunate that movies like this one, which take a little effort to appreciate fully, are not given more attention. If you stop to consider what Helen Keller had to face in life, it is a situation far more terrifying than facing any of the cartoonish, artificial movie villains that gain so much notoriety. And if you consider the job that Annie Sullivan had to do, her accomplishment is far more impressive and worthwhile than almost any scientific discovery, feat of athletics, or military exploit.
That this movie is able to convey such themes makes it a memorable classic that is much more worthwhile than many movies that have received far more acclaim.
The other supporting roles were, of course, a bit stilted in the traditional Southern way, but added to the drama nonetheless. I still gave this movie a "10" despite having issues with the way director Penn handled the flashback scenes...a bit cheesy and not quite in keeping with the underlying plot in all cases. That said, the dinner scene with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft is 100%+ riveting in a way seldom seen and the movie deserves its accolades just for that scene alone.
The most intense acting is done without any dialogue, especially where Anne Sullivan insists that Helen learn how to eat properly.
Such incredible performances (very Oscarly deserved!) and even more incredible story to boot!
Unlike many period films shot in the sixties, this one was true to its setting. It hasn't dated a bit. And unlike many films of plays, it never seems stagebound. The black and white camerawork and editing, by people who, strangely, had very limited careers, is superb. The dining room scene is one of the most brilliantly shot and edited sequences I have ever seen. The music is subtle when it needs to be and powerfully effective in the big scenes. The use of flashbacks for Annie's troubled past is done artfully, and in a way true to the emotional content of the memories. The acting by Bancroft and Duke is of course legendary, but the supporting roles are equally well played. But it's probably the director Arthur Penn who is most responsible for the film's success. He saw the play through its journey from live television drama to Broadway to film.
justifiably legendary performances. Anne Bancroft's Annie and Patty Duke's
Helen become such living, breathing, feeling characters. We are of course
caught up in the story and the suspense of how all the scenes will unfold, but we are also captivated. These two stunning actresses make us embrace their
characters--much as they embrace at the beautiful conclusion of this heartfelt film. They are artists of the highest order--and the entire film feels like a great, piece of music. It has a wonderful shape, moments of intense feelings,
moments of peaceful repose, and is filled with rich details to savour--Helen
tossing about in the hanging laundry, Annie's rich Scottish accent, the riveting fight scene, the moment of Helen's revelation which is one of the most
emotionally satisfying moments of any film, anywhere. The photography,
exceptional music score, and once again--that amazing acting--makes this a
film to treasure.
Until this point, Helen had no understanding of the meaning of words. This changed when Anne led her to the water pump and spelled out the word water as she pumped the water over Helen's hand. She is said to have learned thirty words the same day and eventually learned to read. In 1904 Helen graduated from Radcliffe College, becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The film could have easily descended into melodrama, but Penn keeps his focus and the result is enormously moving without being maudlin. The Miracle Worker is a miracle.
Bancroft is magnificent as Annie, a character who is haunted by her early years of abuse and misery, not to mention nearly losing her own sight completely. But she is feisty, intelligent, and fiercely determined. She overcomes. It would take nothing less to tackle her charge. When we meet the child Helen, she is wild, animalistic, and out of the control of her parents. Patty Duke's portrayal is absolutely awe-inspiring. Her acting abilities at the (actual) age of 16 are uncanny. Watching her Helen collide with the outer world from an utterly isolated state really stirred my imagination into exploring, as it never had, how dark, unknowing, confused, and primitive such a person would be. Duke seemed to understand this about Helen on the deepest level.
The script presents a journey toward transcendent understanding on Helen's part, though it is effectively measured with a mixture of setbacks and small triumphs. Annie's journey, too, is well told: she is new to tutoring, and her constant tussles with Helen's family require the firmest belief in herself. The dining room confrontation is masterfully acted and directed. Its forceful and violently physical clash of wills leaves you exhausted. The other scene to equal it in intensity is Helen's breakthrough connection of water, indeed all things in her life, to language. Here Annie's hard work has paid off, and the floodgates open inside the ecstatic Helen. It's the peak of the film, and is guaranteed to make most of us cry after an hour and a half of unrelenting buildup.
This is one of those singular and extraordinary films that simply everybody should see. The indomitable human spirit, the capacity to adapt and grow (this applies to all members of the cast), the will to persevere through impossible odds...all of it and more is captured in this mesmerizing story.
The film, based on the play by William Gibson, is an extremely well-acted film, brilliantly opened up on the big screen. Anne Bancroft as teacher Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as young Helen Keller are outstanding. Sullivan's determination to communicate to the deaf and blind Helen made for a compelling story on stage as well as on screen.
I understand that when Hollywood wanted to make this movie, the powers-that-be did not want Bancroft or Duke. After finally seeing the movie, I'm glad that director Arthur Penn and producer Fred Coe chose to make this movie outside the so-called Hollywood establishment.
One scene that was discussed in some other posts was the dining room in which Sullivan forces Helen to eat food from a spoon and not her hands. It almost felt like I was watching a fierce wrestling match. It was a physical, as well as an emotionally draining, sequence. A battle of wills between teacher and the unwilling student. It was brilliantly edited and directed.
The film was not without faults. According to the IMDb, a number of flashback scenes were filmed in their entirety but did not work out very well. Those scenes were incorporated within the movie and it looked rather clumsy. The scenes could have been easily edited out completely.
As with all plays adapted to the big screen, some scenes were a little bit stagy. But that involved just a few scenes and, overall, it did not ruin the movie.
What I really liked about the movie was that the filmmakers were very successful at not succumbing to sentiment. This movie could have easily been very corny and sappy. Perhaps Bancroft and Duke and their performances had something to do with that.
I've been a fan of Anne Bancroft for many years and I'm very glad that I had the chance to see her well-deserved Oscar-winning performance.
RIP Ms. Bancroft.