The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is finally back! This is one of my favourite blogging events, so I was very excited to participate again. As always, it is hosted by the fantastic Aurora from Once Upon a Screen, Kellee from Outspoken and Freckled and Paula from Paula’s Cinema Club. Today, we start the month with “The Actors” category. Last year, I explored the Best Supporting Actress category with my article on Helen Hayes in Airport. Today, I’ll be writing about Anne Bancroft’s unforgettable performance in The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn, 1962)
1962 certainly was a BIG year in the acting field. It seems that a bunch of actors should have won an Oscar, and not only four of them. Anne Bancroft won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker and Patty Duke for her portrayal of Helen Keller in the same film, but I think the entire cast, without exception, deserved an Oscar.
The Miracle Worker was based on the play of the same name by William Gibson (also starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke), itself inspired by the book The Story of My Life, an autobiography by Helen Keller published in 1902. As both Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan are among my idols, I HAD to see this film.
When she was 19 months old, the young Helen Keller (Patty Duke) caught bad scarlet fever, leaving her deaf and blind, and certainly isolated from the rest of the world. Her devastated parents finally decided to contact the Perkins School for the Blinds for some help. The young Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) was sent to help Helen. This was her first job as a tutor. Her objective was to find a way to allow Helen to communicate. She had created a sort of alphabet for people in Helen’s condition. This wasn’t an easy job at first, as Helen was too accustomed to her parent’s pity, who allowed her to do everything she wanted. Ann didn’t only have to teach her how to communicate but also how to behave. She managed to do some miracles.
The film is only about the first moments of Anne Sullivan’s intrusion into Helen’s life when Helen still was a little girl. Anne was part of Helen’s life for 49 years, first as a teacher and then as a friend.
I sooner said that all the actors in this film deserved an Oscar. Andrew Prine was perfect as the brother, Victor Jory and Inga Swenson were well cast as Helen’s parent. I could have written about Patty Duke’s performance because that was a real tour de force, but I decided to go with Anne Bancroft’s one. There’s something so special about it. It’s hard to explain in words, but I’ll try my best to let you know why she absolutely deserved this Oscar.
The Miracle Worker is, first, a great way for us to observe Anne Bancroft’s versatility as an actress. Playing Anne Sullivan, a strong young woman with courage and dynamism, certainly was pretty different from interpreting what remains today Anne Bancroft’s most well-known role: Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. But, in both cases, she did an amazing job and it’s hard to imagine someone else cast for both roles. She received an Oscar nomination for The Graduate but lost it to Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who Coming to Dinner?
Apart from the fact that this proved Anne Bancroft’s versatility, what impressed me the most about this performance is how difficult it should have been. It’s, of course, a very physical role, because Anne Sullivan doesn’t communicate with Helen with words, but with gestures and sings. One of the best scenes to prove it is the dinner scene when Anne is determinate to show to Helen how to behave. It’s one of the most dynamic and physical scenes of the film. From the beginning to the end, we’re short of breath, wondering what will finally happen and this is due to Anne Bancroft’s determination to give us the most realistic performance she can. And it works. IMDB informs us that this part contains only two spoken words “good girl”, said by Anne Bancroft naturally.
Anne could also act with her voice (!) and this is often proved to us in the film. She’s able to express anger when she is too honest with Captain Keller (Victor Jory), joy when she succeeds to accomplish something with Helen, discouragement when she isn’t able to. This is far from being a comedy, but Anne Bancroft manages to add some humour to it with lines told in a sarcastic voice tone.
“Disinter… disinterested… disinterested… where’s discipline? What a dictionary this is. You have to know how something is spelt before you can look it up to see how it’s spelt. Discipline… Huh. ‘Diskipline.'”
[To Helen]: “Now all I have to teach you is one word – everything.”
The Miracle Worker is a film full of hopes and this is mostly due to the final scene. So, if you haven’t seen the whole film, I suggest you not to watch this clip. I honestly think it’s one of the most beautiful and touching scenes in cinema’s history. Helen finally understands how to communicate or, more precisely, what a “word” is. Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke transmit us a bunch of emotions in this scene and proves us that hope is never in vain.
In this film, we can also observe how Anne Bancroft acts with her eyes, her look, even if she’s wearing sunglasses. But she doesn’t wear them all the time. Some of my favourite Anne Bancroft’s acting moments are those when she observes Helen with such an intensity. She seems fascinated and captivated by her, by her moves, by her way to communicate.
Finally, we all know that an actor, to be good, doesn’t only have to know how to act, but also how to react and, therefore be able to do a good teamwork with the other actors. This is a success for Anne Bancroft. Yes, Anne Sullivan and Helene’s relationship is difficult at first, but this is how the good teamwork is proved to us. Anne and Patty had to find a way to act and react together to convince the public of this difficult relationship. Anne also finds a certain complicity with Andrew Prine as James Keller and with Inga Swenson, the one who believes in her. Some of the most interesting Anne Bancroft’s reacting moments are those when she’s having an argument with Victor Jory as Captain Keller. In all cases, the teamwork was perfectly done and Anne is a sensation on screen.
The other actresses that were nominated that year were Bette Davis for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Katharine Hepburn for Long Day’s Journey into Night, Geraldine Page for Sweet Bird of Youth and Lee Remick for Days of Wine and Roses. They are all great actresses, but, in my opinion, this was NOT an Oscar snub. There’s something so incredible, so unique about Anne Bancroft’s performance, something I had never seen before.
The Miracle Worker also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Patty Duke) and was nominated for Best Director (Arthur Penn), Best Adapted Screenplay (William Gibson) and Best Costumes-Black and White (Ruth Morley). I honestly DON’T understand why it wasn’t nominated for the Best Picture as well… The mysteries of life…
A big thank you to our three marvelous ladies for hosting this blogathon!
Here is the link to read the entries for the first week (The Actors). Enjoy!