Christmas at Comet’s: “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947)

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It’s easy for this Christmas film to slip through the cracks.

It isn’t as well-known as other Christmas classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “White Christmas.” And many of the leads are character actors rather than superstars who star in other Christmas films like Barbara Stanwyck or Loretta Young.

You may have never seen or heard of “It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) but this film is far too charming for that not to be remedied- and soon.

The story begins with homeless Aloysius McKeever (Victor Moore) sneaking into the wealthy mansion of Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), the second richest man in the world. The O’Connors live in Virginia during the winter. For the past four winters, McKeever has stayed in the O’Connor home in New York from November 3 until March 13 while the family is away.

McKeever eats their food, wears Mr. O’Connor’s clothes and occasionally dusts off the furniture.

When the O’Connor’s come back to New York, McKeever heads to their winter home in Virginia.

Homeless McKeever (Victor Moore) dressed in Michael O'Connor's clothes as he stays in his home.

Homeless McKeever (Victor Moore) dressed in Michael O’Connor’s clothes as he stays in his home.

With a set of keys to several mansions in New York, McKeever explains one day he got tired of working and has been house hopping for the last 20 years and never has been caught.

But this winter, McKeever has company for the first time.

He meets Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), a veteran who was recently evicted from his apartment. The apartments are going to be torn down by Michael O’Connor’s company to build a skyscraper.

McKeever finds Jim sleeping on a park bench and invites him to his home, vaguely explaining that he is a guest of the O’Connor family.

But the O’Connor house gets more crowded than just the two men.

O’Connor’s daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) runs away from finishing school and goes to the house for clothes. The men think she is a thief, and she doesn’t correct them, but they let her stay.

Then Jim runs into his old Army buddies (Alan Hale, Jr., Edward Ryan) with their wives and children who are living in a car. They are invited to the O’Connor mansion too until they can find a home.

Wives of Jim's Army buddies use the foyer of the O'Connor home for hanging laundry as the house gets more crowded.

Wives of Jim’s Army buddies use the foyer of the O’Connor home for hanging laundry as the house gets more crowded.

The kicker is when Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) and his ex-wife, Mary (Ann Harding), stay at their home-pretending to be homeless- in search of their daughter.

All the while, Jim and his Army friends are trying to bid on an Army camp for veterans who can’t find a home. Their bidding opponent is O’Connor.

“It Happened on Fifth Avenue” was originally supposed to be a Frank Capra Liberty Film, but he chose to make “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) instead, according to “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas” by Alonso Duralde.

Wealthy Michael O'Connor (Charles Ruggles) exchanges his fancy clothes to dress like he is homeless.

Wealthy Michael O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) exchanges his fancy clothes to dress like he is homeless.

The film was originally supposed to be released during the Christmas season in 1946 but wasn’t released until Easter of 1947, Duralde wrote.

It isn’t surprising that Capra considered this film. The theme of the poor creating life lessons for the rich is similar to many of his other films.

“It Happened on Fifth Avenue” is funny, far-fetched and charming.

It’s a comedy that makes fun of the rich, like the O’Connors, and makes the poor the heroes. The O’Connors have an opportunity to look at their lives with the help of McKeever: Michael has disregarded everything for money, Mary lives in Palm Springs and denies she’s middle-aged, and Trudy is unhappy.

Romance blossoms between Trudy (Gale Storm) and Jim (Don DeFore)

Romance blossoms between Trudy (Gale Storm) and Jim (Don DeFore)

Money is what broke up Michael and Mary O’Connor’s marriage. It takes a homeless man to bring them back together again. Trudy finds love and happiness with Jim, the unemployed veteran.

“There are richer men than I,” O’Connor says of McKeever.

Amongst the life lessons and heartwarming scenes, the movie is also very funny.

With lines such as:

“That joint is as empty as a sewing basket in a nudist camp”

And

“He called me ‘Sugar,’ because I was hard to get”-referencing rationing during World War II.

While on a mission to see every classic Christmas film I could get my hands on, I came across “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” back in 2010 when it was shown on Turner Classic Movies. Since then, it has become a family favorite in the Pickens household.

Add this one to your yearly Christmas viewing and see that, “a house is only what its occupants make it.”

 

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Island of misfit Christmas movies

 

Stanyck, Bondi, MacMurray, Patterson and Holloway in “Remember the Night”: My favorite Christmas movie

Tis the season for Christmas posts. For these last five days before Christmas, I’m going to try to post several posts. Probably not every day, but at least throughout the week.

This post deals with two things my family and I love combined together: Christmas and movies.

For at least the past 22 years, it’s a Christmas family tradition for us to watch “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “A Garfield Christmas” (1987) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Of course we also watch classic holiday films such as “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “White Christmas” (1954), “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946); just to name a few.

But instead of doing a worn out review of all of these wonderful classic films, I want to highlight some holiday films that are sometimes forgotten by the general public:

 

Rogers and Niven celebrating the New Year in “Bachelor Mother”

Bachelor Mother (1939):

I always forget this is a Christmas movie and I bet you do too. Polly Parish (Ginger Rogers) is working as a sales girl in a department store during the Christmas holidays. One day she finds a baby on the steps outside an orphange and picks it up before it rolls down the stairs. No one believes that it isn’t her’s and she is forced to take it home.  The store owner, J.B. Merlin (Charles Cobern) and his son David (David Niven) make sure that Polly doesn’t get rid of her baby, all during the Christmas season. To review: I love movies with babies and this is a very funny movie. My favorite part is when Rogers and Niven go out to celebrate the New Year.

Beyond Christmas (original title: Beyond Tomorrow) (1940): Last year, I had my mother tape this movie and we randomly watched it in the middle of the summer. This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. The movie stars Harry Carry, C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger as three old bachelors who live together. Every Christmas they drink their Tom and Jerry’s and do nothing more.  But this year, the men decided to invite strangers off the street for Christmas dinner. The strangers (Jean Parker and Richard Carlson) eventually fall in love. The three old men die shortly after Christmas in a plane accident, but their ghosts help bring the couple together and work through rough times.  To review: It’s a really heartwarming, cute film. The whole thing might not take place during Christmas, but it reflects the spirit of Christmas.

 It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947): I only just saw this movie last Christmas and think it is really charming. McKeever the hobo (Victor Moore) lives in wealthy folks mansions when he knows they are away in another home. He invites recently evicted Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) and Bullock’s homeless army buddies to stay in millionaire Jim O’Connors (Charles Ruggles) mansion for the Christmas season. O’Connor and his daughter and ex-wife (Gail Storm and Ann Harding) come back to their mansion after family problems and live amongst the homeless folks, never telling them their real identity. To review: Its a really cute movie and also rather funny. Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding are perfect in it, and Victor Moore always plays the best absent-minded characters.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938): Mickey Rooney usually drives me bananas, but I really enjoy the Andy Hardy movies and this is my favorite.  Christmas doesn’t come without crisis for the Hardy family.  Mom Hardy has to go take care of sick grandma and Andy is swamped with girls:
– Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) is going away for the holidays leaving Andy without a date for the Christmas dance
– Andy Hardy agrees to take Beezy’s girl, Cynthia Potter, (Lana Turner) to a dance to discourage other dates
-Betsy Jenkins (Judy Garland) comes back to Carvel a grown up woman.
All the women causes a lot of confusion and crazy Mickey Rooney moments.  The Hardy’s are worried mom won’t be able to come home for Christmas, but in the end it all works out. Andy gets his date to the dance, Betsy sings and mom makes it home on Christmas Eve. To Review: It’s a really cute movie, and a chance to see Judy Garland treated like a young woman rather than a child. It’s also fun to see three of Andy’s love interests all in one movie.

Remember the Night (1940): A couple of years ago, Turner Classic Movies premiered this Preston Sturges film. With the release of the DVD last year, it’s gaining popularity, but still isn’t up to par with other Christmas classics. Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) steals an expensive diamond bracelet and is on trial only a few days before Christmas. Prosecuting lawyer John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) postpones the trial until after Christmas, since it is hard to get a jury to convict someone as guilty before Christmas. John hates to see Lee spend Christmas in jail so offers to for her to stay with his mother (Beulah Bondi), aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) and farm hand (Sterling Holloway) in Indiana.  To review: This is my favorite Christmas movie. The two old women together bickering is adorable, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have fantastic chemistry and Sterling Holloway offers a lot of comic relief.

Hattie McDaniel putting the presents under the tree that General Hilton sent to her in “Since You Went Away”

Since You Went Away(1944): 

This is a World War II movie that takes place on the American home front. The film follows a year with the Hilton family: Ann (Claudette Colbert), Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple) as they struggle with their father away at war, rationing and taking in boarders. The whole movie isn’t a Christmas movie, only at the very end. The family has a Christmas party with friends and a few soldiers. They play games and try to forget that their father isn’t there to join in the fun and some loved ones were killed in the war. But in the end, they get the best Christmas present they could ever ask for. To review: This is sort of like “Meet Me in St. Louis”: The whole thing isn’t a Christmas movie, but can be considered a Christmas movie. It’s one of my all time favorite films. I think that it really shows the true Christmas spirit and what is imporant at Christmas: family.

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