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Legendary director Frank Capra, whose films include It Happened One Night (1934) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), championed the dreams of the "little person." Pocketful of Miracles (1961) was the last feature film he ever made, but it is no exception to the pervading sense of optimism and sentiment that were his signature. Made in 1961, it was a remake of one of his earlier films Lady for a Day (1933), which itself was based on the Damon Runyon short story Madame La Gimp. Pocketful of Miracles tells the heartwarming story of Apple Annie (Bette Davis), a boozy New York bag lady who is transformed into high society by gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) to impress her long-lost daughter Louise (Ann-Margret).
To make Pocketful of Miracles, actor Glenn Ford's production company Newton combined with Capra's company to form a new entity they called Franton. Ford took the lead role of Dave the Dude and cast Hope Lange, best known for her work in Peyton Place (1957), against type as brassy showgirl Queenie Martin. Helen Hayes was originally set to star in the pivotal role of Apple Annie, but in addition to not being thrilled with the script, Hayes had to pull out of the film due to a State Department tour obligation. Subsequently, the role went to screen legend Bette Davis, who at age 53 had been out of the Hollywood spotlight for some time and needed the work.
Almost immediately there was animosity on the set among the film's three stars, Ford, Davis and Lange, beginning with a remark Ford made to the media implying that he had done Davis a favor by casting her. Years before in 1946 it was Bette Davis who gave newcomer Ford a break to play her love interest in A Stolen Life when she was at the height of her stardom. Davis took great offense at the tactlessness of his remarks, and she complained publicly about Ford's "bad manners and lack of professionalism." Davis's ego took another blow and she almost walked off the film when Ford gave the dressing room he had promised her to Hope Lange, whom he was dating at the time. Star and director were also often at odds with Davis constantly making suggestions to the latter, who had to repeatedly silence her with his amiable reprimand, "Tut, tut, tut, tut!" Capra later suggested that Davis's bad behavior on the set was due to her "inner insecurity and delicate-spirited fears, especially after having been off the screen for so long." In response, a less-forgiving Hope Lange retorted, "Bette Davis is about as delicate-spirited as a tank!"
Ann-Margret, who made her screen debut in Pocketful of Miracles at age 20, recalled a more pleasant experience with Davis in her 1994 autobiography My Story. "It was quite something to be getting my screen baptism playing opposite this movie legend," she wrote. "It would've been intimidating had she not been such a generous, patient teacher! I now know how difficult she was sometimes said to be," she continued, "but to me, she was wonderful." As an example, Ann-Margret described how Davis stopped the action when Capra was filming her first close-up. Davis wanted her own hair and makeup people to work their magic on the redheaded ingenue so she would look her very best.
A big push from the studio hailed the Christmas release of Pocketful of Miracles, followed by many positive reviews. There was special praise for Davis's return to the screen in a fine and often moving performance. Capra, who had suffered such blinding headaches throughout the filming that he hid from the cast and crew, stopped making feature films after Pocketful of Miracles. When asked why, he said simply, "Because I did it all. Now let the younger ones do it." The film's box office profits fell short of expectations, but its warm sentiment won many fans. It garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Song, and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Falk, who would gain television fame in the 1970s as eccentric detective Columbo. According to Frank Capra, Falk was the only main actor in Pocketful of Miracles who didn't cause any trouble during the shoot. Capra called him "a joy."
Producer/Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Jimmy Cannon, Hal Kanter, Harry Tugend, based on the story, "Madame La Gimp" by Damon Runyon
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Cinematography: Robert J. Bronner
Costume Design: Edith Head, Walter Plunkett
Film Editing: Frank Keller
Original Music: Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Jimmy Van Heusen, Walter Scharf
Principal Cast: Glenn Ford (Dave the Dude), Bette Davis (Apple Annie), Hope Lange (Elizabeth "Queenie" Martin), Arthur O'Connell (Count Alfonso Romero), Peter Falk (Joy Boy), Thomas Mitchell (Judge Blake), Edward Everett Horton (Hutchgins), Mickey Shaughnessy (Junior), Sheldon Leonard (Steve Darcey), Ann-Margret (Louise), Barton MacLane (Police Commissioner).
by Andrea Forshee