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In some ways, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE is like a reworking of the marvelous 1941 film, THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES. Both films consist of an old rich crank (in THE DEVIL it was Charles Coburn, here it is Charlie Ruggles) assuming the identity of a poor man--and finding friendships and love among the working poor. However, the set up for this film is truly bizarre and clever. It seems that hobo Victor Moore has made a career out of breaking into mansions while the owners are away and living like a king. But, in an odd twist, his solo act starts to include others--others who are homeless due to the housing shortage following WWII. Soon, there are eight living in the mansion of the second richest man in the world (Ruggles) and soon Ruggles himself pretends to be in need of a home--at the insistence of his lovely young daughter (who has fallen for one of the squatters, Don Defore). There's a heck of a lot more to the film's plot than this but I don't want to spoil the film by discussing the plot further.
If you think too much, the movie really is quite silly and hard to believe. However, it works very well--mostly because of the marvelous direction. While the film could have been played for wacky laughs (and there are many opportunities for this), the director instead chose to emphasize the humanity of the characters as well as a fundamental sweetness to them. In many cases, the laughs take a back seat to allowing this goodness to slowly come out through the course of the film. In doing this, it avoided overt laughs but instead is a very sentimental and nice film--but never cloying. Of course, the acting sure helped as well. Victor Moore was a joy to behold and this is one of his best roles (for his best, I suggest you see MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW). Likewise, Ruggles is excellent as the rather befuddled but ultimately likable mega-millionaire. As for the rest of the cast, they were very good as well and it was nice to see Ann Harding (who had virtually retired from films since being a star in the 1930s), Don Defore ('Mr. B' from "Hazel") and Alan Hale, Jr. (in a non-goofy role that is light-years from "Gilligan's Island").
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