At age seven, Helen Keller lived a life of wordless torment. Deaf and blind, she dwelled in a dark world of objects, but had no means to comprehend them. Speech eluded her, as did the very elements of language. Then Annie Sullivan, a visually impaired teacher, entered Helen’s muted sensorium. Based on the prize-winning biographical play by William Gibson, The Miracle Worker is a grand tutorial about that very human need to understand. Anne Bancroft as Annie and Patty Duke as her young ward, in Oscar-winning performances, engage in a strenuous and single-minded duet to rein in Helen’s unfettered feelings and turn them toward awareness. Perhaps the real miracle here is director Penn’s uncanny ability to force sentimentality out of the frame. In the revelatory scene where Helen discovers the correlation between the signs spelled in her palm and the material things of the world, she is set loose in her ecstatic realization. But it’s about touch, never touching. An exquisitely composed film, Penn’s ironic revelation is that a moving picture, cinema’s language, can be worth a thousand words. —Steve Seid
Once the vanguard of 1960s-1970s Hollywood New Wave, director Arthur Penn saw his cinematic fortunes decline with the mid-‘70s rise of more straightforward blockbuster entertainment. Even as he struggled through the ’80s and ’90s, however, Penn’s legacy was assured by such films as Little Big Man (1970), Night Moves (1975), and the pivotal masterwork Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
Born in Philadelphia, Penn was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a watchmaker, but by high school, he knew he preferred theater. While stationed at Fort Jackson, SC, during World War II, Penn formed a small drama circle with his fellow infantrymen, and continued his education as an actor at school in North Carolina and Italy after the war. Though Penn acted in Joshua Logan’s theater company and studied with Michael Chekhov at the Actors Studio’s Los Angeles branch, he opted for a career behind the scenes when he got a job at NBC TV in 1951. By 1953, Penn was writing and… read more
Classic performance film featuring two oscar winning performances from Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. Powerful in that it never gives in to sentiment and takes us along for the battle between a steadfast teacher and her pupil who she believes has an inner awaremess trying to get out. Much parodied over the years but is still a story with some real weight. ...there is a name for it..