The powerhouse performances of Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) and Patty Duke (Valley of the Dolls) are the heart and soul of director Arthur Penn’s (Bonnie and Clyde) screen adaptation of The Miracle Worker. Working on familiar ground (having directed Bancroft and Duke in the Broadway play), Penn would find a fresh approach in transitioning the story of Helen Keller from stage to screen by opening up the action with on-location shooting, unique camera work by Ernest Caparros (TV’s Naked City), razor sharp editing by Aram Avakian (Lilith) and several bravura set pieces.
The young Helen, blind and deaf since infancy as a result of scarlet fever, becomes prone to violent outbursts that grow more frequent and intense, resulting in her parents, Captain Arthur Keller (Victor Jory, Gone with the Wind) and Kate Keller (Inga Swenson, Advise & Consent), reaching out to a school for the blind for help. That help arrives in the form of Anne Sullivan, a teacher whose personal struggles have provided her with the tools to assist Helen. And so begins a battle of wills between the obstinate Helen and the equally stubborn Anne (a breakfast scene between the two becomes a virtual wrestling match). Through sheer willpower and compassion, the walls separating Helen from the outside world begin to crumble, as student and teacher forge a connection.
The Miracle Worker is directed by Arthur Penn, written for the screen by William Gibson (based upon his stage play), produced by Fred Coe and features music by two-time Academy Award nominee Laurence Rosenthal (Best Score, Becket – 1965; Best Musical Adaptation, Man of La Mancha – 1974).