Director Arthur Penn made an interesting movie out of his 1959 stage production of “The Miracle Worker,” based on the play by William Gibson, with additional material from the book, The Story of My Life,” by Helen Keller.
Both Anne Bancroft, as Annie Sullivan, and Parry Duke, as Helen Keller, reprised triumphantly their Broadway roles, winning Oscar Awards for them.
Up until 1973, when Tatum O’Neal won the Supporting Oscar for “Paper moon,” Patty Duke (later known as patty Duke Austin) was the youngest (16) Supporting Oscar recipient
The tale, set in Tuscumbia, Alabama, begins with the arrival of Annie Sullivan to teach the young girl, who is angry, bitter and lost, how to communicate through sign language.
At the first, the goal seems all but impossible, as Helen is both blind and deaf. We later learn that Sullivan herself had been blind at birth; she still has to wear dark glasses to see images.
The story unfolds as a long, brutal, even violent journey, a battle of will between two strong women. One of the most harrowing sequences that shocked critics and audiences at the time was an 8-minute depiction of physical fight.
The struggle end in victory, but before that, there are painful scenes, such as the separation of Helen from her overbearing parents (played by Victor Jory and Inga Swenson, respectively), who are perceived by Sullivan as a major obstacle to the girl’s progress.
Oscar Nominations: 5
Director: Arthur Penn
Screenplay (adapted): William Gibson
Actress: Anne Bancroft
Supporting Actress: Patty Duke
Costume (b/w): Ruth Morley
Oscar Awards: 2
In 1962, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Despite several Oscar nominations, including one for the seminal “Bonnie & Clyde” in 1967, Arthur Penn had never won a legit Director Oscar.
Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft)
Helen Keller (Patty Duke)
Captain Keller (Victor Jory)
Kate Keller (Inga Swenson)
James Keller (Andrew Prine)
Aunt Ev (Kathleen Comegys)
Viney (Bea Richards)
Mr. Anagnos (Jack Hollander)
Helen at age 7 (Peggy Burke)
Helen at age 3 (Mindy Sherwood)
Produced by Fred Coe.
Directed by Arthur Penn
Camera: Ernesto Caparros
Editing: Aram Avakian
Music: Laurence Rosenthal
Art direction: George Jenkins, Mel Bourne.
Costume design: Ruth Morley
Running time: 106 minutes