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One cannot really make a pastiche movie like this hang together as a coherent whole, but this oddity is interesting for the contributions of the high-powered cast: standing out are Charles Laughton, a disturbingly nasty Richard Widmark, Anne Baxter, and the drily comic Fred Allen, of whom we don't have enough of a film record. However, Oscar Levant's acting skills are really nonexistent; he should have stuck to his career as a musician and professional neurotic. Look for Marilyn Monroe in a cameo in "The Cop & the Anthem".
O. Henry's Full House is an interesting experiment. Introduced by John
Steinbeck, it features adaptations of five of O. Henry's literally dozens of
stories. Two of them have a genuine feel for the early twentieth century New
York the author knew so well: The Cop and the Anthem and The Clarion Call.
The former features Charles Laughton as a tramp with big ideas, and offers
Marilyn Monroe in a bizarre cameo; while the latter is a tough little crime
story about two boyhood friends from Erie, Pennsylvania whose lives could
scarcely have turned out more differently. Jean Negulesco sensitively
directed the sentimental The Last Leaf, the most accomplished of the group.
On the downside, The Gift Of the Magi is ruined by unsympathetic lead
players; and the Howard Hawkes-directed Ransom Of Red Chief is a near-total
A mixed bag, to say the least, the film was doubtless inspired by the success of the British series of movies adapted from Somerset Maugham's stories. This one isn't nearly as good, but is a good try. Had the producers stuck to dealing with O. Henry's more rugged, ironic New York tales the film might have worked out better, but it opted for heavy doses of sentiment and broad comedy instead. This is a pity, as O. Henry's influence on American literature and popular culture was enormous, and can be seen in many television anthology series, such as The Twilight Zone, and in dramatic shows such as The Naked City. In the first two stories in the film one can see much of the irony and love of simple humanity that must have inspired such later authors as Rod Serling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Tis the season to become tired of endless showings of It's a Wonderful
Life. One antidote is to watch O. Henry's Full House. Twentieth Century
Fox took five stories by O. Henry, gave each to a different director
and screenwriter and assigned a number of Fox's top stars to the
project. The result? A movie made up of five charming, sometimes
sentimental tales stuffed with turn-of-the-century Americana and gentle
irony. We learn about human nature, good intentions, humor in
adversity, hope, a bit of despair, and love that's far more important
than money. We're left smiling and contented, with happy endings all
around. Not bad at all. John Steinbeck gives the bridging on-screen
"The Cop and the Anthem" is directed by Henry Koster and features Charles Laughton, Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne. A down-on-his luck, sly and verbose old tramp is determined to be arrested so he can spend the wintery Christmas season in jail where it's warm and he'll be fed. His stratagems backfire, but kindness and his good intentions result in...
"The Clarion Call" is directed by Henry Hathaway and features Dale Robertson and Richard Widmark (doing his Tommy Udo shtick). A police detective and a crazed killer, acquaintances once, find out just who the smarter one is when it comes to repaying a...
"The Last Leaf" is directed by Jean Negulesco and features Anne Baxter, Jean Peters and Gregory Ratoff. A young woman who no longer wants to live believes she will die when the last leaf from a vine outside her bedroom window falls to the ground. A poor painter, ahead of his time, intervenes when he...
"The Ransom of Red Chief" is directed Howard Hawks and features Fred Allen and Oscar Levant. When two hapless confidence men decide to kidnap a young boy for ransom, they can't understand why the parents seem happy to let them keep the kid. Then they learn what they have on their hands and realize there's only one solution...
"The Gift of the Magi" is directed by Henry King and features Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger. This young couple are as poor as mice and love each other with joy. When they each make a sacrifice to ensure that the other will have a Christmas present, the irony is sweet and loving...
Sure, the movie is sentimental, but in a very nice way.
One of the pleasures of O. Henry's Full House is a chance to be reminded of Fred Allen. He's largely ancient history now, if he's remembered at all. In the Thirties and through the mid- Forties, he was one of the very best and most successful radio comedians America ever produced. Unlike Bob Hope and Jack Benny, his wit and his personality never made the bridge to movie or television success. Allen eventually was done in when radio discovered game shows after WWII and his audience migrated to a low common denominator. Allen was acerbic, inventive, very funny...and, week after week he wrote most of his own material. If you've ever heard his slightly nasal, questioning delivery you won't forget it. His autobiography, Treadmill to Oblivion, concentrates on his years in radio and what it was like grinding out wit every week and dealing with pigmy executives and humorless network censors. Fred Allen's Letters gives us a large sample of his witty, literate correspondence with all sorts of people.
O. Henry's Full House was Twentieth Century Fox's answer to Britain's three movies featuring stories by Somerset Maugham, Quartet in 1948, Trio in 1950 and Encore in 1951...all fine movies and worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think my mom & I stayed up late one night years ago & watched this;
thanks to TCM, I've seen it again & recorded it for posterity.
"Full House" is film versions of five O. Henry short stories & stars the top box office draws of the day. My favorite remains "The Last Leaf," a heart tugger about a love-torn woman (Anne Baxter) & the grumpy abstract artist (Gregory Ratoff) who rescues her from her near-death funk. Marilyn Monroe has a brief appearance as a prostitute who seeks momentary solace in Chas. Laughton's plight in the old chestnut, "The Cop & the Anthem." All five are turn-of-the-20th-century period pieces & are introduced & narrated by writer John "Grapes of Wrath" Steinbeck. I don't know what kind of business this movie did in theaters back in '52, but it probably didn't help that "The Ransom of Red Chief" starred two top radio wonks of the day, Fred Allen & Oscar Levant: Oscar did fare better on screen & on TV than poor old Mr. Allen, although neither could carry 15 to 20 minutes of film.
I've seen this available somewhere on VHS, but you might see it sooner on TCM or premium cable, so check your local listings.
Each segment is well done, but most are quite predictable, even if
expertly produced and performed.
The Ransom of Red Chief is the exception. It still seems fresh and original. Both Allen and Levant are good, as is the kid. Hawks's direction is eminently assured. The general predictability of the stories as a whole, though, is probably unavoidable, as it emanates directly from the source, O. Henry's tales. O. Henry is strictly minor league stuff and has not worn well.
But, still, they are professional executed and well-done for the most part.
Only Red Chief seems inspired, however.
Disappointed when i bought this DVD...that i liked so much when i was younger.Really the Laughton part is merely a replica of Moeden Times where Charlie tries to end up in jail. THE CLARION....boring but luckily. Richard WIDMARK saved the scenes. The worst...Red Chief. I plausible story not funny for a second and already uses in OUR MERRY WAY.The LAST LEAF was good....but Jean Peters is not convincing enough as the grieving sister. The winner is MAGI......beautifully acted and feel good segment. IF it was for me Monroe.....Levant....Peters.......would not have gotten the roles. ALL and all im happy i bought it......but was a huge disappointement from the first time i saw it back in the sixties.
Given the amount of talent the results are disappointing. Actually, the
amount may be the problem since no one need feel responsible for the
overall result. The episodes themselves remind me of tepid half-hours
of early TV. Like any anthology, some are better than others, but none
are memorable, though each has a mildly O Henry twist ending. Trouble
is each is overridden by a prevailing sentimentality, with the possible
exception of Clarion Call. But even that cop-gangster episode is
compromised by Widmark's delirious parody of Kiss of Death('s)
psychotic Tommy Udo.
I do confess a soft spot for The Last Leaf, maybe because the usually over-emoting Ann Baxter gives an affecting performance. Red Chief, however, may be one of the worst acted narratives I've seen. Hard to believe Howard Hawks had something to do with it. In fact, the episode bears none of his trademark stamps, which suggests the entire 120-minute production was under the careful control of studio higher-ups. That wouldn't be surprising since the anthology format was new and therefore a financial risk. Note, for example, how the flat visual style doesn't vary from one entry to the next, which suggests the directors were limited in their individual approaches. I hope they were paid well for lending their names if not their well-known artistry.
Anyway, I'm not surprised the format failed to catch on. Then too, TV was beginning to offer for free what this movie did not. Still, it is a chance to see and hear one of our great novelists of then and now, John Steinbeck.
Twentieth Century Fox anthology film based around five O.Henry short
stories, with each story introduced by John Steinbeck. The stories are:
"The Cop and the Anthem", directed by Henry Koster, stars Charles Laughton as a homeless man trying to get arrested so he may have shelter for awhile. He tries numerous tactics but nothing seems to work. Marilyn Monroe figures into one of these attempts. It's a humorous but brief appearance by her. This is an amusing beginning, with Laughton giving a good performance.
"The Clarion Call", directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Dale Robertson and Richard Widmark. Robertson is a cop who follows a murder clue to an old friend (Widmark). But he owes Widmark $1000 from an old debt and his honor won't allow him to arrest him. This story started off well but its contrived premise doesn't hold up and the ending I saw coming too early. Widmark is fantastic though.
"The Last Leaf", directed by Jean Negulesco, stars Anne Baxter and Jean Peters as sisters. Depressed Baxter becomes deathly ill and Peters can do nothing to help her. This is a simple story. A little corny, I suppose, but it made me smile just the same.
"The Ransom of Red Chief", directed by Howard Hawks, stars Oscar Levant and Fred Allen as two con artists who kidnap a boy, only to discover he's more than they bargained for. Hilarious story, even though we've seen whole movies built around "problem children" in the years since.
"The Gift of the Magi", directed by Henry King, stars Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain as a poor young married couple who make sacrifices for each other at Christmas. Probably O. Henry's most famous story and justifiably so. It's a beautiful, heartwarming Christmas story. They saved the best for last. This is a good anthology film. There's not a bad story in the bunch. The second story is the weakest but it's still watchable thanks to Richard Widmark. Definitely a film you should check out.
Perhaps I am getting too old, but this film grows in my eyes as the years pass. The old saying they don't make films like this anymore is set in granite here. The under 40 generations has perhaps heard of a few of the stars here, but each in his day and time has their moment in the sun. They made a moved called Ragtime a few years back, it never hit the spot, marked the era as well as this film did. 1890-1910, the United State from the small towns to big New York City. The more you know about history the more I think you can feel the verse and sense the style of this movie. Ragtime, 1900 in New York, the city of Teddy Roosevelt, The time of Ben Hecht and Ring Lardner.... The Clarion Call is to my mind, a classic that seems to ring out a sense of the era. The other critics think that Richard Widmarks over the top performance was a bit much. No way, he was playing a type, a person you might find in Guys and Dolls that at one time and day did exist. The feel of the day, the period of Yellow Journalism, the sense of honor and betrayal. all speak to me. I give the Clarion Call a big thumbs up. The Last Leaf and The Gift Of The Magi will leave romantics smiling or crying. Short films are not made like this anymore. Each of these stories is put to film by a master filmmaker and most people just need to sit back and move back to those days of yesteryear's. For a story to read, O'Henry will knock the sock off your average reader as he lived much of what was in each story. The Ransome of Red Chief and The Cop And The Anthem....Are each good casting and funny and ironic. Marilyn Monroe fans will want to watch this movie to see her at her most lovely. If you missed Oscar Levant or don't know about Fred Allen, here a time to pause and reflect. The time is 1900,Scott Joplins music is playing, Tin Pan Alley really exists...The coin of the realm is an Indian Head Penny and O'Henrys characters come alive in this classic movie. Too bad you don't get to see Alias Jimmy Valentine, or the Cisco Kid and his tales of Old California. but for the price of admission you can be taken back to yesteryear when the 20th century was new. American society is so different now, but ... if you turn off the lights... put this movie on, you too can start to better understand America. Marilyn, its time for your close up.........
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
William Sydney Porter was a citizen of North Carolina who (following
the period of Reconstruction) moved to Texas. He married and worked in
a bank. His wife became very ill. Now he was charged with embezzlement
(presumably for his wife's medical bills). He fled the U.S. to Latin
America, and then returned when he heard his wife was dying. After her
death he was arrested tried and convicted for embezzlement and got four
years in prison.
Prison destroys many inmates, but it has occasionally helped some writers. John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, wrote part of it in prison. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was imprisoned for debt and began DON QUIXOTE. Porter wrote some of the prison newspaper, and the chief guard in the prison, Mr. Orrin Henry, persuaded Porter to try writing as a career. Porter did, when he left prison, and proceeded to become one of America's greatest short story writers. In honor to his friend the prison guard, Porter wrote under the still remembered pseudonym, "O. Henry".
Porter / "O.Henry" died in 1910. Therefore he really missed the full effect of motion pictures. In his own lifetime only one of his stories, "A RETRIEVED REFORMATION", became dramatized as ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE. He did not do the dramatization. He was working on a play at the time he died. Also a novel. Given his sharp characterizations, and his fast moving plotting that leads to a surprise ending, we just don't know if he could have done either a play or novel as well as a short story. But we know he was never approached to do a movie script...the films didn't begin talking for seventeen more years until after his death.
In the late 1940s another master of the short story, William Somerset Maugham made a three picture deal in which he narrated introductions to a total of ten of his short stories. The three films, QUARTET, TRIO, and ENCORE remain great examples of how real literature can be brought to the screen without loss, and certainly were a hard act to follow for other film makers. There were few contemporary takers (Hemingway and Faulkner just did not seem to be the type to introduce some of their shorter fiction). 20th Century Fox managed to get the only other master writer of the period, John Steinbeck, to do the equivalent introductions that Maugham did.
The resulting film, O.HENRY'S FULL HOUSE, was a good one but not as good as the Maugham films. Don't forget, Maugham's introductions were to stories HE wrote, whereas (despite Steinbeck's respectful comments) Steinbeck's introductions were to stories written by someone else. So the impact is a little different. Pity it was not Hemingway (if they could have gotten him) introducing some of his short stories.
The five choices are fine. The best ones (to me) are "THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF", "THE LAST LEAF", "THE COP AND THE ANTHEM" and "THE GIFT OF THE MAGI". Were they the best possible choices? Well, I have always liked "A MUNICIPAL REPORT", which is light-years ahead of it's "Jim Crow" era views on race relations (and by a Southerner, for that matter). It could not get into the film because of Southern distribution. The one failure as an episode is "THE CLARION CALL". One of the other reviewers faults Richard Widmark's giggling 19th Century "Tony Udo" as the cause, but the story is not very exciting to begin with, and for once the trick in the conclusion is rather routine.
The two comic episodes are amusing as they prove Bobby Burns' "The best laid plans of mice and men..." (a comment that Steinbeck would be familiar with). In "THE COP AND THE ANTHEM" the hero Soapy is a hobo, determined to spend a month or so on a any charge so he can have a warm place to be (i.e. prison) while avoiding the winter. He keeps failing to get arrested (including one interesting episode with Marilyn Monroe - her only time with Charles Laughton). Then, at it's bleakest moment he hears an anthem coming out of a church, and starts recalling how he heard it as a boy. He softens and begins to consider reforming. Then comes the conclusion. "The Ransom of Red Chief" stars Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, who mistakenly think kidnapping a child is a piece of cake. They learn quickly the word "hellion". Howard Hawks directed that episode, and his touches for farce help it tremendously.
"THE LAST LEAF" is about two sisters, Anne Baxter and Jean Peters, in a rooming house, living beneath a grumpy artist named Behrman (Gregory Ratoff). Baxter is dying, and Ratoff takes an interest in her health and mental condition. It is late autumn, and the leaves on the trees are falling, and Ratoff hears that Baxter believes she will die when the last, topmost leaf falls off the tree. But the last leaf is still there after a storm rips all the foliage off the tree, and Peters is sure this will give Baxter her grip on living again. Then comes the final, sad surprise.
"THE GIFT OF THE MAGI" has been reprinted more frequently than most stories (and spoofed - Durwood Kirby and Carol Burnett spoofed it delightfully on the old Gary Moore show once). Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain are happily married, but in straightened circumstances, each with one prize possession. Christmas is coming, and both want to get fitting gifts for each other. They do at tremendous personal cost, but they realize how deep their love is at the conclusion of the story.
Not as good as the Maugham films but worthy of being seen.
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