The Miracle Worker (1962 film)

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The Miracle Worker
Original poster
Directed byArthur Penn
Produced byFred Coe
Screenplay byWilliam Gibson
Based onThe Miracle Worker
by William Gibson
StarringAnne Bancroft
Patty Duke
Music byLaurence Rosenthal
CinematographyErnesto Caparrós
Edited byAram Avakian
Playfilm Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • July 28, 1962 (1962-07-28)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.5 million (rentals)[1]

The Miracle Worker is a 1962 American biographical film about Anne Sullivan, blind tutor to Helen Keller, directed by Arthur Penn. The screenplay by William Gibson is based on his 1959 play of the same title, which originated as a 1957 broadcast of the television anthology series Playhouse 90. Gibson's secondary source material was The Story of My Life, the 1903 autobiography of Helen Keller.

The film went on to be an instant critical success and a moderate commercial success. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director for Arthur Penn, and won two awards, Best Actress for Anne Bancroft and Best Supporting Actress for Patty Duke. The Miracle Worker also holds a 96% score from the movie critics site Rotten Tomatoes.[2]


Young Helen Keller (Patty Duke), blind and deaf since infancy due to a severe case of scarlet fever, is frustrated by her inability to communicate and subject to frequent violent and uncontrollable outbursts. Unable to deal with her, her terrified and helpless parents contact the Perkins School for the Blind for assistance. In response, they send Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), a former student, to the Keller home as a tutor. A battle of wills ensues as Anne breaks down Helen's walls of silence and darkness through persistence, love, and sheer stubbornness. In the midst of the battle, Anne ultimately teaches Helen to make a connection between her hand signs and the objects in Helen's world for which they stand.


Production notes[edit]

Despite the fact Anne Bancroft had won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in the Broadway production, United Artists executives wanted a bigger name cast as Anne Sullivan in the film adaptation. They offered to budget the film at $5 million if Elizabeth Taylor was cast but only $500,000 if director Arthur Penn insisted on using Bancroft. Penn, who had directed the stage production, remained loyal to his star. The move paid off, and Bancroft won an Oscar for her role in the film.

Also, despite the fact that Patty Duke had played Helen Keller in the play, she almost did not get the part. The reason was that Duke, 15 years old at the time, was too old to portray a seven-year-old girl, but after Bancroft was cast as Anne, Duke was chosen to play Helen in the movie.

For the dining room battle scene, in which Anne tries to teach Helen proper table manners, both Bancroft and Duke wore padding beneath their costumes to prevent serious bruising during the intense physical skirmish. The nine-minute sequence required three cameras and took five days to film.[3]

The film was shot at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California and Middletown, New Jersey.

It was remade for television in 1979 with Patty Duke as Anne and Melissa Gilbert as Helen as well as in 2000 with Alison Elliott and Hallie Kate Eisenberg in the lead roles.

The film ranked #15 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies.


In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote "The absolutely tremendous and unforgettable display of physically powerful acting that Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke put on in William Gibson's stage play The Miracle Worker is repeated by them in the film...But because the physical encounters between the two...seem to be more frequent and prolonged than they were in the play and are shown in close-ups, which dump the passion and violence right into your lap, the sheer rough-and-tumble of the drama becomes more dominant than it was on the stage...The bruising encounters between the two...are intensely significant of the drama and do excite strong emotional response. But the very intensity of them and the fact that it is hard to see the difference between the violent struggle to force the child to obey...and the violent struggle to make her comprehend words makes for sameness in these encounters and eventually an exhausting monotony. This is the disadvantage of so much energy. However, Miss Bancroft's performance does bring to life and reveal a wondrous woman with great humor and compassion as well as athletic skill. And little Miss Duke, in those moments when she frantically pantomimes her bewilderment and desperate groping, is both gruesome and pitiable."[4]

TV Guide rates the film 4½ out of a possible five stars and calls it "a harrowing, painfully honest, sometimes violent journey, astonishingly acted and rendered."[5]

Time Out London wrote "It's a stunningly impressive piece of work...deriving much of its power from the performances. Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft spark off each other with a violence and emotional honesty rarely seen in the cinema, lighting up each other's loneliness, vulnerability, and plain fear. What is in fact astonishing is the way that, while constructing a piece of very carefully directed and intelligently written melodrama, Penn manages to avoid sentimentality or even undue optimism about the value of Helen's education, and the way he achieves such a feeling of raw spontaneity in the acting."[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Director Arthur Penn Nominated
Best Actress Anne Bancroft Won
Best Supporting Actress Patty Duke Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium William Gibson Nominated
Best Costume Design – Black-and-White Ruth Morley Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source The Miracle Worker Nominated
Best Foreign Actress Anne Bancroft Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Arthur Penn Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama The Miracle Worker Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Anne Bancroft Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Patty Duke Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Female Won
Grand Prix Best Film The Miracle Worker Won
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated
Top Female Dramatic Performance Anne Bancroft Nominated
Top Female Supporting Performance Patty Duke Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films The Miracle Worker 3rd Place
Best Actress Anne Bancroft Won
Photoplay Awards Gold Medal The Miracle Worker Won
San Sebastián International Film Festival OCIC Award Arthur Penn Won
Best Actress Anne Bancroft Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film The Miracle Worker Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama William Gibson Nominated

Other honors The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Miracle Worker, Box Office Information. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Miracle Worker at Turner Classic Movies
  4. ^ New York Times review
  5. ^ TV Guide review
  6. ^ Time Out London review Archived 2009-02-03 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  9. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-14.

External links[edit]