An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2020) with… Pocketful Of Miracles (1961)

Continuing on with our Christmas holiday run of movies, we have the 1961 movie Pocketful Of Miracles, starring Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Hope Lange and Arthur O’Connell!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pitchin’ Woo At The Zoo (1944)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 6 minutes, 51 seconds)

Popeye and Olive are walking through the zoo, and zookeeper Bluto tries to impress Olive. Yes, it’s a lot of the old “Bluto and Popeye trying to one-up each other to impress Olive” routine, but it’s still a bit of fun. The animals add to the fun, as Popeye has to square off with a tiger, a crocodile, leopards, an elephant, and many more! Especially having been restored, this cartoon now looks great, making the colors more vivid, and allowing you to enjoy the details! Certainly worth seeing every now and again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s the end of Prohibition. Gangster leader and bootlegger Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) has become a big man in New York City, at least partly due to the success of the nightclub he’s been helping his girlfriend Elizabeth “Queenie” Martin (Hope Lange) run. He also has had some good luck because of his “lucky apples” that he routinely buys from beggar woman Apple Annie (Bette Davis). Now, he faces the prospect of being part of a bigger mob syndicate being led by its “king,” Steve Darcey (Sheldon Leonard), but he wants in on his own terms, not Darcey’s. Trouble arises, however, as Apple Annie finds herself in a pickle. For years, she’s been sending money that she’s gotten from Dave buying her apples and from the other panhandlers on Broadway to her daughter, who lives in a Spanish convent. Their only contact has been the letters they’ve been writing each other, with Annie embellishing her own life by making herself out to be a big society lady under the name of Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. Now, her most recent letter from her daughter Louise (Ann-Margret) indicates that she will be marrying the son of a Spanish count, and the three of them would be coming to America by boat to visit her mother. Apple Annie is distraught and unsure of what to do. At first, Dave is unconcerned about her problems and only wants his “lucky apple,” but Queenie convinces him to help Annie out. He sets her up with a room in the Hotel Marberry, with Queenie helping to give her a makeover. They also enlist the help of judge Henry G. Blake (Thomas Mitchell) to act as Louise’s stepfather. When the boat comes in, Annie, the judge, Dave and Queenie are there to meet them (along with the rest of Dave’s mob to help keep away any nosy reporters). Over the next few days, Annie enjoys her reunion with Louise, while Dave has his own worries. Among them, some reporters show up to find out about “Mrs. Manville,” so Dave has them tied up and stashed in the pantry. Count Alphonso Romero (Arthur O’Connell) decides to announce the engagement of Louise and his son Carlos (Peter Mann) at a reception for Annie’s “society friends,” and, after some discussion, they decide to try using Dave’s gang and Queenie’s showgirls to pose as the guests. The newspapers start to make things miserable for the police and the Mayor (Jerome Cowan) due to the disappearance of the reporters, and the police start to suspect Dave of being involved. In the midst of all this, Dave’s friend and second-in-command, Joy Boy (Peter Falk), is sweating it out as he constantly nags Dave about the potential deal with Darcey. Can everything come together, or will Annie’s lies be found out?

Pocketful Of Miracles was based on the Damon Runyan short story “Madame La Gimp.” Director Frank Capra had previously filmed the story for Columbia Pictures in 1933 as Lady For A Day, but had wanted to do a remake for a while. He had some trouble with Columbia’s executives, who owned the screen rights and were reluctant to do a remake. In 1960, he was able to buy the rights himself, but continued to have troubles with casting it. Actor Glenn Ford offered to help finance the movie if he could be cast as Dave the Dude, and while Frank Capra didn’t think he was right for the part, he agreed to his terms, just so he could make the movie. The troubles didn’t end there, though. Throughput filming, Frank Capra had health issues, with many headaches caused by the stress, resulting in this being the last feature film that he directed.

For some, it might be a bit of a stretch to call this one a Christmas movie, but not me! They admit at one point that the movie does take place during December, and we do get to see a few decorated Christmas trees in the background of some scenes. The score also includes some Christmas music, including music from the Nutcracker Suite at key points of the story. But, ultimately, the story itself maintains some Christmas spirit. We see Dave the Dude go from caring only about himself and what he wants, to doing things for others and encouraging some of his gang to do things without reward (and we also see the effects radiate out to others that he deals with). As the judge himself says at one point, pointing to his heart, “In here, it’s Christmas.” And that is enough for me to call this one a Christmas film.

I really enjoy this film, with its score, its story, and all the performances of the various actors involved. In particular, though, I think the movie is worth it just to see Peter Falk in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated role as Joy Boy, and Edward Everett Horton as Hutchins, the butler. Both of them are generally hilarious throughout the movie, and even funnier during the few moments that they interact with each other. The only real sour note this movie has, in my opinion, is a scene of domestic violence between Glenn Ford’s Dave the Dude and Hope Lange’s Queenie Martin when he finds out she’s walking out on him, with the whole thing playing out like foreplay, until Peter Falk’s Joy Boy interrupts them (and it feels worse considering Glenn Ford and Hope Lange were an actual couple at the time this movie was made). Apart from that minor complaint, this is a movie I always look forward to watching around Christmastime, and I certainly would give it my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

And if you are interested in joining in on my month-long “Star Of The Month” blogathons for 2021, whether for next month (Doris Day), February (Clark Gable) or beyond, please be sure to check out my Coming Soon In 2021: “Star/Genre Of The Month” Blogathons post to sign up!

Film Length: 2 hours, 17 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

It Started With A Kiss (1959) – Glenn Ford

Another Man’s Poison (1952) – Bette Davis

Down To Earth (1947) – Edward Everett Horton

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