Monday, December 8, 2008

It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947)

Tagline of this movie: "It's Happier Than Heaven ... the Hit of '47!" Are you kidding me? Who wrote that? :-)

Hobo Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) looks forward to winter every year as that is when the O'Connors leave their mansion on New York's Fifth Avenue for three months. He takes the opportunity to move in and enjoy the lap of luxury behind their backs. This year is different though. First off, McKeever meets Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) who just lost his apartment and invites him to be his guest. Second, the O'Connors daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) shows up at the mansion unannounced. She thinks the duo seem more fun than her finishing school so she poses as a runaway to keep her identity secret. Soon her father (Charlie Ruggles) comes looking for her and she begs him to pose as a panhandler as well. More people move in, more sub-plots and more confusion. One thing is certain, the O'Connors and their new friends will never forget this Christmas.

Gale Storm (seriously, is that her real name?) and Don DeFore

I decided to watch this one because I was in the mood for some sort of a holiday movie. This isn't exactly what I would call a holiday movie, but it does take place over Christmas and New Year's therefore it comes close. It has a feeling of warmth and community and I loved that about this one. Over New Year's, with the whole crowd at the table, McKeever says, "I would like to feel that you are all my friends. For to be without friends is a serious form of poverty." Very touching and true words.

Not only is this a comedy on the surface, but it also has a little bit more of a serious level underneath that. One level is the funny shenanigans of McKeever and all the people moving into the home. On the deeper level is the theme of social reform as to what is left if rich developers buy up affordable housing? What are the young folks starting out and the old folks who no longer work supposed to do? Of course, the ever present theme of money not buying happiness is there throughout the film as well.

Some of the funniest lines are given to two night watchmen type characters who are hired to check in on the mansion every night. One of the watchmen says to the other, "How would you like to live in a joint like this?" The other says, "What? And have room for the rest of my wife's relations?" Another funny line is when a detective shows up looking for Trudy. One of the night watchmen says, "She ain't in there. That joint is as empty as a sewing basket at a nudist's camp." I also liked the deadpan of McKeever in a scene with the watchmen. One of the watchmen, upon seeing McKeever in a Santa's suit, says, "Well I'll be a monkey's orphan." McKeever deadpans, "Oh, come sir. Your family connections must be better than that."

One of my favorite scenes is towards the end of the movie when Trudy and Jim are in a Latin restaurant. While they discuss the very serious matter of if he should take a job that takes him out of the country or stay, they keep having the unstable, rocking table problem due to uneven table legs. The physical gag of the table combined with a persistent waiter and the serious conversation, oh, and Latin singers serenading of course, cracked me up. I am a pushover for physical sight gags.

There were also a few things that I didn't like about this one. It seemed they were using a pre-filmed moving backdrop in every outdoor scene. I understand this was 1947 and I understand budget constraints, but still, I found this very distracting from the scenes. Surely they could have improved that with a little more creativity.

I also got annoyed by McKeever's character pretty quick. At first he was a cute old hobo, with a cute little dog, very nice and mischievous. However, after being in the house with a crowd of people, he suddenly turns into bossy boots. Suddenly he acts like the patriarch of this mis-matched family, correcting their every behavior while not pitching in to help. I kept thinking "If I see his finger waggle at someone one more time, I may have to break it." Of course, I don't expect everyone would feel this way. It probably goes back to my disdain for authority figures. :-)

Lastly, I think the pacing was a bit off. It is rather obvious that Mr. O'Connor is going to be the character that goes through the biggest change. At the critical moment when the movie looks like he is going to change, he doesn't. Then the movie drags on for another 30 minutes. I think they missed the opportunity to tighten the movie up a bit there. I am not saying lop off the whole last 30 minutes, but it should have been written tighter with Mr. O'Connor seizing the first opportunity, not letting it pass him by. I don't think that added anything but time to the movie.

Lastly, one of the strangest things that occurred to me while watching this was that McKeever could be the character of Johnny Case from "Holiday", many years later, if he never found love. I kinda liked that thought - that Johnny Case would while away his elder years reading in other people's mansions and enjoying his time. Yes, I know, I am weird.

This was a good movie, but not a great one. There were good comedic elements, but it didn't all come together quite as well as in some of the other great holiday themed movies. If you have the time and opportunity, this is worth a look.


kda0121 said...

Rear Projection and painted backgrounds were very much the norm in that time period. Location shooting was expensive and back when all the studios had big backlots, it just made sense. Painted backdrops seem more noticeable in color, than in black and white and rear projection is pretty easy to spot in either.

AbbyNormal said...

I hear what you are saying, but I point to "Stanley and Livingstone" as a good example of how to do it. They used a skeleton crew to get on-location shots and interspersed those with rear projection shots with the leads. Honestly, I didn't notice the rear projection shots in "Stanley and Livingstone" nearly as much so that leads me to blieve they did a better job with it in some movies versus others.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Agreed - rear projection is a real distraction here. McKeever offers some wise words of wisdom, but he does come across as really lazy.