Combustible Celluloid
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With: Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Hope Lange, Arthur O'Connell, Peter Falk, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, Mickey Shaughnessy, David Brian, Sheldon Leonard, Peter Mann, Ann-Margret, Barton MacLane, John Litel, Jerome Cowan, Jack Elam
Written by: Hal Kanter, Harry Tugend, based on a screenplay by Robert Riskin, and on a story by Damon Runyon
Directed by: Frank Capra
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 136
Date: 12/18/1961

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Apple of My Eye

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Frank Capra's final feature film was a remake of his own Lady for a Day (1933), based on a story by Damon Runyon, though this one runs nearly a full hour longer, filling out the story and slowing the pace. Capra himself reportedly hated it, but it's not bad. It's set at Christmastime, and though there are few overt references to the holiday, there are decorations and a general background atmosphere that makes it kind of a holiday classic in its own right.

Glenn Ford plays an ex-bootlegger, "Dave the Dude," who hopes to move up in the New York underworld. He won't do anything without buying a good luck apple from panhandler "Apple Annie" (Bette Davis). In the meantime, Annie has been keeping up an elaborate ruse for the sake of her daughter, Louise (Ann-Margret). Louise has been living abroad and is now almost engaged to the son of a Spanish count, and Annie has been letting her believe that she's well-off and married, rather than a poor, lonely beggar. So in order to keep his good luck afloat, Dave the Dude and his lady, Queenie (Hope Lange), prepare an elaborate con to convince Louise, her fiance, an the count, that everything is fine. Meanwhile, a powerful gangster is trying to make a huge deal with Dave that keeps getting postponed while more and more problems with Annie arise. Peter Falk gives a great, Oscar-nominated performance as "Joy Boy," Dave the Dude's right-hand man, who is forever irritated with all the goings-on.

The movie is known for its weird, old-guard, new-guard feel, with a cast (and crew) of older legends as well as a handful of brand-new, up-and-coming stars. In particular, it was the final film of Oscar-winner Thomas Mitchell and the first film of young and lovely Ann-Margaret. Edward Everett Horton, a veteran of Ernst Lubitsch movies, has a fine role as a wise butler. Capra's direction, in spite of his irritation, is fairly seamless, hitting all the right comedy and tearjerker marks, and showcasing his expert skill. Those looking for a Christmas movie that's funny and entertaining but not too goopy or too Christmasy, this is a good pick.

Kino Lorber released the 2014 Blu-ray edition, with optional subtitles and a trailer.

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