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  Pocketful of Miracles Concluding Capracorn
Year: 1961
Director: Frank Capra
Stars: 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, Mike Mazurki
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Apple Annie (Bette Davis) makes her living as a street vendor, walking up and down the highways and byways of New York City hawking her shiny red apples to all who will pay for one, and corralling a selection of similarly destitute sellers. With the money she makes, she has spent what's available on sending to her daughter (Ann-Margret) who is in Spain, and enjoying the kind of education Annie never had for herself, completely unaware that her mother is on such a low income. Local gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) looks after Annie, however, because he believes her wares to be the source of good fortune for his business interests - but even he doesn't expect what happens next.

The movie that convinced legendary director Frank Capra to retire, Pocketful of Miracles was a remake of his own nineteen-thirties Damon Runyon adaptation, Lady for a Day. That had been a big hit in its decade, but for some reason best known to himself, Capra thought it was worth returning to the well and spent years trying to get his redo off the ground, perhaps seeing how big a hit Guys and Dolls had been in the mid-fifties. As it was, the production was a nightmare, largely because despite the affection between their characters, Davis and Ford could not stand one another and had frequent yelling matches on the set which Capra was at a loss to know how to handle properly.

Not helping was that Ford was a producer on the movie, a stipulation of getting it made (Capra was reluctant, but pretty much forced into this arrangement), and had insisted his girlfriend Hope Lange be given a prominent role, so she played Dave's moll in scenes that did little to advance the plot, but certainly expanded the running time. Eventually, from the original's hour and a half or so, featuring Dave assisting Annie in a subterfuge to spare her blushes when her daughter arrives, this remake had become almost two hours and twenty minutes long, which for a lighthearted trifle with gentle, heartwarming elements was far too elephantine to do anything but trample the sweetness until it was left tasting like an overdose of saccharine, not the effect Capra had wanted at all.

The critics of the time were not kind, and treated the man like a relic of a prehistoric age, unsuited to the daring new landscape of the sixties; audiences agreed, preferring to watch his efforts on television, back when he was "good". Capra's dismay at how the project was going was noticeable in the film itself, as over and over scenes went on too long and were badly laboured, as if he was trying to keep them going for as far as possible to see if he could capture some of the old magic by sheer perseverance. He had assembled an impressive cast of character actors and well-known faces (even if you could not put names to them) to act out the Runyon humour, yet the director's ability was being damaged by the massive stress he was subjected to, and you could almost feel the desperation and dismay at the mess he had gotten into.

Capra's career had arguably taken a hit when he was accused of Communist sympathies thanks to his "common man" themes, though ironically he was a staunch conservative who had supported Benito Mussolini back in the thirties, and sold out his left-leaning colleagues by naming names behind closed doors. But there were more problems here than a talent who was making poor decisions, as Davis was a strange, unsympathetic choice to play a twinkly-eyed old lady, with her makeup as Annie making her look like one of her horror roles that she would move into after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane revived her career in a way this definitely did not. Ford was not really best suited to comedy, as his steadfast characteristic became somewhat intractable when given gags to deliver. There may have been a car crash quality to this that lends it interest, but as you will find out if you give it a try, it's not entirely a dead loss, for instance Peter Falk as Dave's righthand man was tailor made for Runyon, and you don't cast this rogue's gallery of actors without at least them wresting something entertaining from the material, even if simply by their presence. Music by Walter Scharf.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

Presented in High Definition
Audio commentary by Jim Hemphill (2020)
A Pocketful of Archive Shorts: a tangential dive into archive film, exploring some of the themes and iconography of Pocketful of Miracles featuring Street Scene - Men with Cart (1898, 1min); Beggar's Deceit (1900, 1 min); Cunard Mail Steamer Lucania Leaving for America (extract) (1901, 3 mins); American Liner 'Lusitania' Entering New York Harbour (1911, 1 min); Fruitlands of Kent (1934, 12 mins); Love on the Wing (1939, 4 mins); I Am a Reporter (1961, 13 mins)
Image gallery
Trailer
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Fully illustrated booklet with new essays by Leigh Singer, Maura Spiegel and Sarah Wood and full film credits.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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