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The Miracle Worker (1962)



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The parts of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker are two of the strongest, most demanding, and prestigious female roles an actress can undertake. In this 1962 film version, the roles are played by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, respectively. They both won Oscars for their performances, and they certainly deserved them. (Patty Duke, curiously, went on to play Annie Sullivan in the 1979 film version.) Their performances are captivating. The film has only simple and incidental special effects and no action, and yet it is as tense and riveting, and ultimately more satisfying, than the best dazzling action blockbuster of today.

The film's best scene is right in the middle, where Annie tries to get Helen to eat with a spoon. (For those who aren't familiar with the real-life story, Helen Keller was both blind and deaf from infancy, and Annie Sullivan was her tutor.) The scene runs several minutes long, and there's no dialogue. It was always one of my favorite scenes to view on the stage, and I was pleased to discover that the scene is just as potent on film.

The second best scene is the last, the famous scene by the waterpump, when so much is at stake. I love thrillers, but there's something awe-inspiring and admirable about a story that can be as suspenseful as a good thriller without calling upon the artifices that make that genre work. The Miracle Worker is a realistic story -- a true story -- that creates tension simply by having us invest in the characters to such a degree that we couldn't bear the thought of their failure.

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