The Miracle Worker (1962)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Although this movie may often be considered by many people to be Helen Keller’s story, it is really the story of Anne Sullivan’s triumph in opening up the world for Helen. There have been several remakes of this movie, but the original which was nominated for so many Academy Awards is the best. Anne Bancroft (who played Anne Sullivan) won the Best Actress Oscar and Patty Duke (who played Helen Keller) won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The story, both Oscar-winning performances, as well as the work by the other supporting actors and the excellent direction of Arthur Penn, who was also nominated for an Oscar, make The Miracle Worker a must see movie.

The story begins in the Keller home which has a physician visiting the infant Helen because of an illness (“acute congestion”). Apparently there had been serious concern over whether Helen would survive the episode but the doctor now considers her to be out of danger. However, when her mother Kate (Inga Swenson) is left alone with the child she discovers that young Helen can no longer see or hear. She cries out, summoning Captain Keller (Victor Jory), who also discovers Helen’s situation. The scene changes to the Keller home years later when Helen has reached older childhood. Her mother’s abiding concern is still very deep. When Aunt Ev (Kathleen Comegys) mentions the Boston Perkins School, Kate expresses a desire to contact them. Capt. Keller is initially opposed, but eventually Kate wins out and the Captain assents to write them.

The story’s focus changes to Anne Sullivan in a train station about to leave Boston on a journey to the Keller home and her new assignment to teach Helen. With Anne is Mr. Anagnos of the Boston Perkins School who wishes her well while admonishing her “sauciness.” He gives her a good bye present and the traumatic rail journey begins. While on the train Anne remembers experiences she and her brother had in an asylum before she went to the Perkins school. When Anne arrives in Tuscumbia, Alabama she is met by Helen’s half brother James (Andrew Prine) and Kate Keller at the depot. Anne, who has been hired as Helen’s governess, is very anxious to meet her new charge. When they meet Anne gets a hint at how great a challenge she has in store as Helen is quite wild and prone to violence out of frustrated rage.

The movie depicts the battle of wills between Anne and Helen, as well as between Anne and Capt. Keller – an obstinate and aristocratic Southern newspaperman, in Anne’s struggle to tame and teach the wild and exceptional young Helen. Although Helen Keller was not able to see or hear she was still a very gifted child. Anne Sullivan saw that gift and dedicated a large part of her life to opening the world for Helen and releasing the spirit made captive by her inability to see and hear. The Miracle Worker is a movie about the worth of every individual and the effort that can be made to find that value even though in some cases its existence may not be obvious.

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