We’re here again for the second part of today’s Christmas-themed triple-feature, and this time, it’s the 1947 movie It Happened On Fifth Avenue, starring Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore and Gale Storm!
For a number of years now, Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) has survived by staying in the homes of various wealthy people (when they’re not around). In particular, he has been staying in the mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City that is owned by millionaire Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) for the last three winters, while Michael is living in Virginia during that time of year. McKeever has mainly been living by himself (well, and his dog too), but this year will be a little different. He comes across veteran Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), who has been evicted by Michael so that a new building can go up. Without any place to stay, Jim is sleeping on a park bench when McKeever comes across him, and offers him a place to stay. That night, they are interrupted by an interloper: Trudy O’Connor (Gale Storm), who has run away from the finishing school she had been sent to! Of course, Jim and McKeever don’t know who she really is, as they assume her to be a thief (since she was trying to take some of her own fur coats out of the place). In doing so, McKeever reveals to Jim that he is not living there by Michael’s invitation, and so they cannot turn Trudy in to the police (which she overhears, and decides not to reveal who she really is). The next day, she gets a job at a music store, and Jim walks her home afterwards. They run across his old army buddies Whitey (Alan Hale, Jr.) and Hank (Edward Ryan) (and their families), who are struggling to find a place to live (so, of course, they also movie in). Michael has come back to New York to find Trudy, and when they come across each other as she is leaving her job, he tries to start in ordering her around. She refuses to go back to finishing school, and tells him about Jim (whom she has fallen in love with). She convinces him to disguise himself as another homeless man to meet Jim (since she worries about Jim loving her for her sake and not for her father’s money). “Mike” tries, but it isn’t long before he is irked at his treatment by the others, and he confides to Trudy that he will have everyone removed from the house. Unsure of what to do, Trudy brings in her mother, Mary O’Connor (Ann Harding), to help. Meanwhile, Jim and his friends are trying to buy the army barracks at Camp Kilson, with the intention of remodeling the barracks to be housing. The problem is that Michael O’Connor has also been bidding on them, and he tries to stop them (and even has one of his companies offer Jim a job out of country). Will Mike come to his senses, or will everybody be thrown out of the mansion?
At the time, Monogram Pictures was a Poverty Row studio mainly known for releasing “B” pictures. They started a new division, Allied Artists Pictures, which would attempt to release more “A” films, and It Happened On Fifth Avenue was the first movie released under Allied Pictures. The film proved to be a decent hit, and was nominated for a Best Story Oscar (although it lost to another Christmas classic, Miracle On 34th Street). The movie ended up being part of a package of movies licensed by Monogram/Allied Artists for television broadcast in the early days of TV, where it still enjoyed some popularity (mostly because the major studios hadn’t licensed out any of their stuff yet). When the bigger studios did license their films for broadcast, It Happened On Fifth Avenue faded into the background, eventually staying off the air for nearly twenty years from the 90s on. When the film was released on DVD finally, in 2008, the movie started to make a comeback, eventually becoming a regular holiday film on TCM.
I probably saw the movie for the first time through TCM within a few years of when it came back, and took a liking to it on that first viewing! The cast here is wonderful! Of course, the main standouts are Victor Moore and Charlie Ruggles as their relationship is the most fun to watch. In general, it’s hard to fault any of the characters, as they all seem to be decent people at heart. Victor Moore’s character may seem to be a sponge, as he lives in the homes of the wealthy, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe in stealing either, as we see when he comments about needing to restock the food stores. And while Charlie Ruggles’ rich character starts off on the wrong foot, as he is all business (and how to make more money), he slowly comes around to the idea that life is not all about money, as he tries to help the others out.
As a whole, this movie is full of many fun moments. I know I get a good laugh near the end of the movie, with Don DeFore and Gale Storm’s characters out at a restaurant with a wobbly table (and a waiter trying to fix it). And I know I get a chuckle out of watching Don DeFore’s character and his buddies stuffing Homer Bedloe – er, I mean Charles Lane in a drinking fountain (sorry, after having watched several seasons of Petticoat Junction, I can’t think of actor Charles Lane as anybody else 😉 ). But it’s the Christmas scene that certainly sticks with me. The movie has a few songs by Harry Revel in it, but it’s the song “That’s What Christmas Means To Me” that sticks with me. For me, that song (while not a well-remembered one over the years) speaks very much to what the Christmas season does indeed mean to me, with the company of family and friends all together, and peace to all! This is such an overall wonderful movie. If it has much in the way of flaws, it’s the use of rear-screen projections whenever the characters are out walking on the streets, as the action doesn’t quite fit with the footage (but, again, this wasn’t from a major studio, so I can forgive it). Seriously, this movie is a lot of fun, and one I would highly recommend (mainly at Christmas, but it’s nice to watch throughout the rest of the year, too)!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947)
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. This new release makes use of a restoration from a 4K scan of the best surviving nitrate elements, and it looks wonderful! The detail is superb, and all the debris is gone. Seriously, this classic Christmas movie hasn’t looked this good for a while, and it also includes a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast that adapted the story, with original cast members Victor Moore, Don DeFore, Charlie Ruggles and Gale Storm! This Blu-ray is certainly highly recommended!
Film Length: 1 hour, 55 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Don DeFore – Romance On The High Seas (1948)
Balalaika (1939) – Charles Ruggles
Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Victor Moore
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