Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

This was the Christmas I finally caught up with IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), and I enjoyed it very much. Like REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) and BEYOND TOMORROW (1940), it's a Christmas film being rediscovered in recent years thanks to Turner Classic Movies.

The Oscar-nominated original story for IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE started out as a property bought by Frank Capra. Capra passed the story on to producer-director Roy Del Ruth and Allied Artists when he became busy with a project that turned into IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE was the first film released by Allied Artists, a new "high end" division of the Poverty Row studio Monogram.

Aloysius "Mac" McKeever (Victor Moore) is a hobo who slips into the O'Connor mansion on Fifth Avenue each year when the owner heads to Virginia for the winter months. Mac lives there quite comfortably during the coldest part of the year, then moves out each spring just before the owner returns home.

Mac meets Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), a veteran who's just lost his apartment in a condemned building, and invites him to spend the night. Jim accepts, not realizing at first that McKeever isn't exactly an "invited" guest. Mac and Jim are soon joined in the mansion by Trudy O'Connor (Gale Storm); Trudy is actually the daughter of the mansion's owner, but Mac and Jim assume she's homeless too. Trudy is attracted to Jim and plays along; she wants to find out if Jim can like her for herself and not her family's fortune.

Before you know it, a couple more veterans (Alan Hale Jr. and Edward Ryan) have moved in with their families, followed by Trudy's father Mike (Charlie Ruggles), who poses as yet another homeless person so he can size up Jim. Then Mike's former wife (Ann Harding), Trudy's mother, moves in and cooks for everyone...well, it all gets very crazy and complicated, but it's a lot of fun, too. (And some of the storyline, focusing on Evil Big Business, seemed to have been ripped from modern headlines!) Watching Mac boss around Mike in Mike's own home is rather amusing, and at the same time Mac seems to have a knack for helping the mansion's residents solve their problems. The film builds to a moving climax with a tear-inducing, absolutely perfect closing line.

It's a well-written film with everyone in the large cast having a moment to shine in the 116-minute running time. There's just one thing I wondered -- the film completely skips over Jim learning that Trudy (Storm) is the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Michael O'Connor. It's just inferred at the end that now he knows! I wonder if the scene was left on the cutting-room floor?

I recently saw Gale Storm in BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950), which I think was the first sizeable role I'd seen her in. I enjoyed her in that and liked her even better in this; she's both spunky and sweetly charming. And she really looks like she could be Ann Harding's daughter! I naturally assumed Storm did her own singing and was surprised to read that she was completely frustrated by director Roy Del Ruth, who refused to let her sing.

The film has a pleasant score by Harry Revel, with the Christmas Eve song "That's What Christmas Means to Me" particularly noteworthy. TCM has the song available in a video clip. I've played that song a couple of times while writing this post; I really enjoy it!

Don DeFore is someone I've been reevaluating in light of seeing more of his '40s work. Like Fred MacMurray, I thought of him for years as a '50s/'60s "TV dad," and was thus rather startled by his charismatic performance in the Western noir RAMROD (1947), which came out the same year as IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE. DeFore a very credible leading man in IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE; I'm gaining new appreciation for his talent and look forward to seeing him in more movies. One of his sons has a Don DeFore Fan Club.

In all honesty, Victor Moore is someone I generally don't enjoy. He's the one thing that keeps Astaire and Rogers' SWING TIME (1936) from being a perfect film in my eyes. But I must say I thought he was quite good in this, in a low-key performance which is more appealing than I generally find him. One of my daughters likened his character to Mary Poppins, someone who's a bit mysterious swooping in to work his magic on those around him before he leaves again.

When a patrolman played by Edward Brophy enters the mansion on Christmas Eve, that same daughter said, "He sounds like Timothy Mouse!" And she was absolutely correct, Brophy provided that voice in Disney's classic DUMBO (1941). Brophy had over 140 credits in his four-decade career.

Another policeman in the film was played by Edward Gargan, who had over 300 screen credits, and an apartment building landlord is played by Charles Lane, who had over 350 credits. Eddie Marr, the tour bus spieler, also had a long career which included many appearances on Lux Radio Theater.

IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE has been released on DVD in several different editions, including a TCM collection of Christmas movies and a different Christmas collection. It also had a release on VHS.

The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

Finally, for the past few years IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE has been a December staple on Turner Classic Movies.

IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE is recommended as a quite enjoyable change of pace from the usual Christmas classics.

Decemer 2020 Update: This movie has been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.  My review of the Blu-ray is here.


Blogger mel said...

So strange that Del Ruth refused to let Gale Storm sing for herself (I first knew Gale Storm as a singer).

Just as strange: Juanita Hall, a musical comedy actress, recorded twelve songs for an album which was released in 1958. In the same year she repeated her stage role, Bloody Mary, in the movie South Pacific - in which the producers insisted that her singing voice be dubbed... how illogical!

What about Rosalind Russell, who appeared and sang in stage and television musicals, whose singing voice was partly dubbed in the movie version of Gypsy?

And the funniest of all: Betty Noyes dubbed for Debbie Reynolds dubbing for Jean Hagen (singing "Would You?") and Jean Hagen herself dubbed for Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont screen dialogue in Singin' In The Rain...

10:11 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Agreed about Victor Moore. The supporting cast is just lights out, starting with Charlie Ruggles and Ann Harding. Maybe, they are not in support, but lead an ensemble. Don Defore and Gale Storm, billing not withstanding, certainly not the stars. And, it is always a plesure to see Alan Hale, Jr.

Re The Dubbing. There appears to be no reasonable explanation.

12:04 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I had never seen this film up until a couple of days ago and Laura, you are dead-on. It's a terrific Christmas film and pretty much unknown to the general public. Hopefully, with the advent of home-video and TCM it will become better known as the years go by........


5:35 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

The first time I saw the movie, I groaned at Victor Moore's name. He always seems whiny to me.
In the TCM blurb on this movie, Gale Storm said that she thought the director was very hard on Victor Moore, demanding many takes. It's the only role I really liked him in. Maybe the director felt the same way and was trying to tone Moore down. Whatever the reasons, it worked. The whole ensemble is a pleasure to watch.
Charlie Ruggles was another character actor who sometimes worked too hard on his patented affectations, but he also nicely underplayed in this one.
In the beginning of the very sad "Make Way for Tomorrow" when Moore as the father is explaining to his children that they've lost their home to the bank, I thought "I'm surprised he didn't lose it sooner", because the character seemed rather stupid. It's Moore's voice that gets to me. Sometimes a character actor's "act" is best in small doses. Sometimes very small doses.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for your comments! I'm a bit behind on answering this week due to the holidays.

Mel, those are great examples of strange dubbing stories. Another is that Russ Tamblyn wasn't allowed to sing in WEST SIDE STORY, though existing recordings show he was perfectly capable of singing "The Jet Song." What's especially confusing is that Tamblyn's singing was done by Tucker Smith, who plays Ice and also sings for himself!

Since I'm just becoming acquainted with Gale Storm's work and hadn't heard her sing before, I assumed she was doing her own singing and was quite surprised to learn she was dubbed.

Interesting to learn that I'm not the only film fan with reservations about Victor Moore. Panavia, I like your theory that perhaps the director being "hard" on Moore may have helped result in Moore giving a more toned-down and appealing performance.

Brad, glad you just caught this for the first time this week as well! It's such fun to discover a "new old" Christmas movie.

Best wishes,

9:17 PM  
Blogger Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Laura, I wondered the same thing about Jim learning Trudy's true identity. Where's the 'Oh, I would love you no matter who you are' scene? Odd. Don DeFore does nothing for me in this film. He struck me as slightly arrogant. Why would Trudy fancy him? I wondered about Gale Storm and if she was singing. Thanks for the mention. Funny how she went on to a singing career.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's too bad they couldn't use Charles Coburn as the interloper in this movie.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for the additional comments! I like the idea of Charles Coburn playing the Victor Moore role.

If I ever learn more about Storm's singing I'll post it here! There's a lot of commentary out there on the internet about this being the only film in which she was dubbed, but I have yet to come across the name of the person who was singing.

Best wishes,

11:49 PM  

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