Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Even though this film was made by one of my favorite directors — Frank Capra, I have delayed watching it because Capra discusses it with such pain in his autobiography, The Name Above the Title.  A remake of a film he originally directed in 1933 (Lady for a Day), Pocketful of Miracles was the last film that Capra ever made, primarily because he felt he had lost the decisiveness needed in directing.  Apparently during the production there were continuing disputes between Bette Davis and Glenn Ford over numerous trivial issues that created daily tension on the set.

Well, we finally watched the film yesterday, and we probably won’t be watching it again. I can’t be sure whether it was my pre-judged hesitations about the film or the movie’s disconnectedness that will keep it off future holiday watch lists.  It certainly has loads of wonderful character actors, but except for the young Peter Falk, they seem to be tired and give only half-hearted performances.

I also found that the film being shot in color was a distracting disconnect.  Would it have been a better fit with the setting (1933 just after the end of Prohibition) to have shot the film in black and white?  And Capra’s attention to detail, so noticeable in films such as It’s a Wonderful Life, seems missing here.  What a disappointing way to end a marvelous career.

PLOT SUMMARY

Apple Annie, a Times Square denizen, sells apples to Dave the Dude, a gambler and gangster who has come to rely on her lucky apples to help him in all of his risky businesses.  The alcoholic Annie, the chief organizer for a group of panhandlers and hustlers, has been secretly sending money for years to raise her daughter in a Spanish convent.  The daughter, who has been led to believe her mother is a rich socialite, has fallen in love with the son of a Spanish count, and they all want to come to New York to meet Annie.  Desperate for help, Annie turns to the Dude, who arranges a penthouse, a new wardrobe, a pretend step-father and even a large society reception to announce the engagement.  Despite numerous near miscues that risk revealing the truth, all goes well and the daughter sails back to Spain to live happily ever after, while Annie returns to her panhandler organizing.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The film begins at Christmas with a few snowy scenes on the streets of New York, but soon the setting changes to a indeterminate time of year.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Hope Lange (Queenie Martin) had roles in films such as Bus Stop (1956) and Peyton Place (1957).  She co-starred in  TV’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968-70). Her father, Arthur Lange, was the music arranger for Florenz Ziegfeld.

Arthur O’Connell (Count Romero) had notable supporting roles in Picnic (1956), Bus Stop (1956) and numerous TV shows during the 1960s.

Peter Falk (Joy Boy) had played a small-time gangster seriously in  Murder Inc. (1960) and then was again nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his comic portrayal in this film. He is best known as TV’s Columbo (1971-2003), but he had notable roles in films such as  It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Murder by Death (1976) and The Princess Bride (1987).

Thomas Mitchell (Judge Blake) was previously seen in It’s a Wonderful Life, also directed by Capra.  Like Capra, this was Mitchell’s last film.

Edward Everett Horton (Hudgins) was previously seen in Holiday.

Sheldon Leonard (Darcey) also appeared in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Ann-Margret (Louise) made her debut in this film, which was quickly followed by some big hits, including State Fair (1962), Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Viva Las Vegas (1964). She appared with Peter Falk in The Cheap Detective (1978).

Barton MacLane (Police Commissioner) played a similar role in the Torchy Blane movies in the 1930s.  He appeared in two Humphrey Bogart films: High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).  On TV he had an extended role as General Peterson on I Dream of Jeannie (1965-69).

John Litel (Police Inspector) was previously seen in Christmas Eve.

Jerome Cowan (Mayor) was previously seen in Miracle on 34th Street.

Frank Ferguson (newspaper editor) appeared in A Star Is Born (1954), Sunrise at Campobello (1960) and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).  He played Eli Carson in TV’s Peyton Place (1964-69) and had an extended role on Petticoat Junction (1964-70).

Willis Bouchey (newspaper editor) appeared in films such as From Here to Eternity (1953), The Big Heat (1953) and A Star Is Born (1954).  He was one of the frequent rotating judges in TV’s Perry Mason (1960-66).

Fritz Feld (Pierre) was previously seen also playing a hairdresser in O. Henry’s Full House.

Ellen Corby (Soho Sal) was seen in two previous films on our holiday watch list: All Mine to Give and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Mike Mazurki (Big Mike) appears in films such as  Come to the Stable (1949), Some Like It Hot (1959) and  It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). He had an extended role as Clon in the odd, short-lived TV series  It’s About Time (1966-67).

Hayden Rorke (police captain) is best known for his role on TV as Dr. Bellows in I Dream of Jeannie (1965-69).  He also had a small, notable role in An American in Paris (1951).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Frank Ferguson appeared with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949).

WHY WE LOVE  DISLIKE THIS MOVIE

The New York setting seems particularly superficial, as does the connection with Christmas.  Finally, it’s the disjointed nature of the various elements of the film, something so contrary to Capra’s usual production values, that keep us from liking this film.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Pocketful of Miracles is not currently scheduled on Turner Classic Movies but is available for $2.99 on Amazon Prime.

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