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Yes, I dare to compare this wonderful, obscure little movie to It's A Wonderful Life!They came out a year a part and both were initially lost in obscurity. A Wonder Life was made at a big time studio (RKO), with a hallmark cast and a director that had several Oscars to his name already. It arose from the RKO vaults in the early 70's and has been shown every Christmas since then. This film actually fell out of copyright in 1976 and then as public domain, was picked up by Republic and put out on VHS about the time that Ted Turner bought the RKO Film Library from General Tire. It Happened on 5th Avenue was made a year (1947)later by a poverty row studio, Monogram (Allied Artists) with a shoe string budget and a venerable director by the name of Roy Del Ruth, from the silent screen days and actors that for the most part ( besides Victor Moore and Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding) had just started acting within a 5-6 year period. The plot was far from ingenious and the storyline was almost comical. What came out was a film that tugged at your heart strings with emotion and sentiment.It has my vote for the all time favorite Christmas film. I am lucky enough to have an original 16mm film copy and a VHS tape of the film. There were few negatives struck of the film for cost reasons so not many positives are in circulation today. I got mine from a TV studio film package I purchased in the early 70's from a Tampa Florida TV station. The copyright was never renewed as in It's a Wonderful Life so any prints out there are public domain. I would love to put out a DVD and let a new generation enjoy this little gem as much as mine has. Remember the line, A man without friends is the most serious form of poverty. That line was a great quote in the film and stands truer today than ever.
In the early 1970's channel 44 in Tampa would play this movie on Christmas day every year. It became a tradition with me to watch it. I soon fell in love with the movie. When I moved to Ft. Myers I went through withdrawal, not being able to get 44. One year WTBS played it and, since I had by then purchased a VCR, I taped it. Unfortunately my VCR was not working properly and my copy is very poor and getting poorer each year. Each year I scan the TV listings, hoping against hope, that some station will run it. Each year I am disappointed. I am planning to burn a DVD from my tape, but what I wouldn't give for a good copy. Now that I have cried on everyone's shoulder, let me talk about why this is my favorite all time movie. The movie was made in 1947 and captures a slice of American history that is unknown to most of us alive today. It shows a view of the hardships faced by ex-GI's in obtaining housing and employment after WW II, this surprises most of us. The movie has everything, comedy, drama, romance, philosophy, sub-plots,a feel good ending, you name it. The message of the movie is that people are more important than possessions, it puts Christ's words of "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul" more effectively than any sermon I have ever heard. This and the humorous, yet poignant interplay between the characters makes it an even better Christmas movie than It's a Wonderful Life. I have indoctrinated my wife and kids to the merits of this movie, and they enjoy seeing it almost as much as I do. I understand that the movie is in public domain, if anyone has a good copy I would be thrilled to purchase a copy of it from you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This charming film had to vie with MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET for the Best
Original Story Oscar of 1947. Although nominated, it lost out to the
venerable Santa Claus tale, but both films share the same premise. A
soul enters the lives of a number of people and changes them for the
Victor Moore is perfectly case as Aloysius T. McKeever, the mysterious
hobo who winters in boarded up mansions on Fifth Avenue. He is obviously
intelligent and seemingly was once wealthy himself, although we never learn
of his origin or his story. While ensconced, he entertains and becomes
involved in the lives of a number of disparate folks, including a group of
GIs and their wives and children and the daughter, husband and wife owners
of the mansion who for their own reasons mask their identities. The latter
are estranged. By the end of the film as McKeever heads into the horizon,
everyone's life is a little richer. Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding are
perfect as the estranged millionaire and his wife, Gale Storm is radiant as
their daughter, and Don DeFore does well as the GI romantic
My personal award nominations would have included the charming Screenplay, the lavish Art Direction, and the amusing Score.
This is a little gem worth pursuing.
This is a very sweet and funny movie. It gently pokes fun at class and
social differences. It has a liberal romantic view of homelessness that
is similar to the romantic view of poverty that Charles Dickens
presents. It is close to "Sullivan's Travels" in its humor.
I watched the movie for Gale Storm who became a big television star in the 1950's on "My Little Margie" and "the Gale Storm Show". She is fine, even more natural, relaxed and open in her performance than on the later television shows.
The big surprise for me was Dom Defore as the romantic lead. He played a best friend on Ozzie and Harriet for five years and was the lead on a dismal 60's television comedy called Hazel for five more years. He's actually quite good here.
Victor Moore as the Hobo and Charlie Ruggles as the rich man are delicious. The scenes where they trade places are hilarious. There's a nice chemistry between these two old pros who actually starred in silent movies.
The director, Roy Del Ruth, also started out in silent films as a gag-man and writer for the great Mack Sennett (who discovered Charlie Chaplin). His silent film background contributes to the many delightful visual gags in the film. The first ten minutes could almost be a silent film.
It is a nice family movie, well worth seeing. While times were never as sweet as this movie portrays them, the movie does suggest that a more humane ethic existed at this time than we generally see around us today.
Victor Moore is fantastic as a homeless man who journeys between a wealthy, self made man's (Charlie Ruggles) winter and summer homes when the wealthy man is at his other home. The last words by Charlie Ruggles will make you cry for joy. "Remind me to board up that fence next year. He's coming in the front door." A unique, wonderful story. I wish everyone could see it, especially around Christmas time when it would be most appropriate.
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").
Aloysius T. McKeever spends his winters living uninvited as a guest for the Fortune 500's houses. For the past three winters, McKeever has been living at the house of Michael O'Connor, wealthy industrialist. McKeever has also invited Jim Bullock, war veteran, who has been recently evicted by O'Connor to make way for his new building. O'Connor's daughter, Trudy, comes back to the mansion after running away from finishing school, and is about to throw out the two guys, but lets them stay and tells them she is just like them. After finding out the location of his daughter, O'Connor comes back from his vacation early, but is convinced by Trudy to let the people living in the house stay (Jim also invited two war buddies Hank and Whitey, plus their families to stay) and have him pretend to be the new butler. Jim and friends decide to solve the housing shortage the three war buddies, plus several hundred others have, by renovating a series of army barracks, but O'Connor sees the profit in there as well, and tries to buy the barracks for his interests. Will the philosophical lessons of McKeever, the new relationship with his ex-wife Mary, and the love of Jim and Trudy, help O'Connor change his ways? Okay film, but I was expecting more. The film could have been trimmed of a few scenes since many of them are recycling the sentimental hash that we saw a few minutes earlier. Del Ruth's direction doesn't surprise you, but is able to tug at the heart strings of those who watch it. The cast is very good, especially Ruggles and Harding as the O'Connors. The film does have a nice moral message of self worth, beautifully told through its characters (especially Moore's McKeever) and makes for holiday watching. Rating, 7.
One of the cutest holiday movies for the entire family to see. I just wish that Del Ruth had allowed Gale Storm to sing instead of having to lipsinc someone elses voice. Mr. Del Ruth decided that you can either act or sing; pick one. Had he put Gales voice in the movie in 1947 we would not have had to wait another decade before she started recording hits. The movie has a beautiful story to tell; showing that even when you invade some one elses property, you do it with grace and respect. And when you leave, you improve the conditions from your original arrival. All the actors were meshed in the scenes and created a realistic holiday cine that should be released on disc so all familys can rent or buy. James Stewarts Christmas classic did not hit at the theatres, but time made it into a classic. This movie could earn the same admirers. It's ready for holiday release, it's ready for the family to see and enjoy...and it's ready to show the talents of these young performers. You might even recognize many who went on to stardom either on television or in the cinemas. Almost all of those who appear in this keeper of a money went into television and became quite successful.
This a movie for all to see for it is so superb in the story, the actors and the directing!!! I would recommend it to everyone and it sure would be wonderful to be able to see it on television or even better to have a copy on DVD or VHS. It is so sad that great movies like this are forgotten in lieu of action films of today that are all too often do NOT have a good story or acting! Most are full of foul language and sex scenes which are not at all necessary for a truly great film such as "It Happened On Fifth Avenue". In summary this is a wonderful Family Film that will truly bring tears to your eyes.
For me this is a "new" classic that will go on my List of Greatest
Films on my Website:
Greatest Movies of All Time. Victor Moore proves what a terrific actor he was with this film among his others. He is the "heart" of this great film and is supported by a topnotch cast including Charlie Ruggles, Gale Storm, Don DeFore, Alan Hale Jr. and others. The film is charming, heartwarming, funny, poignant and has a strong message. I highly recommend it. It is a part of The Warner Brothers Holiday Collection on DVD. The DVD is bare-bones but a really nice print.
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