powered by AFI
It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) is a heartwarming comedy set in New York City during the Christmas season. Victor Moore plays Aloysius T. McKeever, a genial homeless man whose clever resourcefulness has sustained him for years. Every winter when millionaire businessman Michael J. O'Connor (Charles Ruggles) vacates his Fifth Avenue mansion until springtime, Aloysius moves in and lives like a king until O'Connor's return. Aloysius usually operates alone, but this time out he begins taking in an unplanned assortment of other down-on-their-luck guests who soon turn the O'Connor mansion into a high-end flophouse. Complications arise when O'Connor's rebellious daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) comes home unannounced without revealing her true identity. When she falls in love with one of the "guests", Jim (Don DeFore), she persuades her stubborn father to come to the house incognito and meet the man she intends to marry.
Oscar®-winning director Frank Capra (It Happened One Night , It's a Wonderful Life ) originally acquired the rights to the story of It Happened on Fifth Avenue, written by Herbert Clyde Lewis and Frederick Stephani. However, Capra ultimately let the property go and passed it on to Allied Artists, a new subsidiary of Monogram Pictures, a studio known for making B movies. Allied Artists had been established for bigger budget releases or, as Monogram contract player and Fifth Avenue ingnue Gale Storm put it in her 1981 autobiography I Ain't Down Yet, "to make major movies that wouldn't be embarrassed by the Monogram banner." It Happened on Fifth Avenue would be Allied Artists' first feature with Roy Del Ruth directing.
Actress Gale Storm was always sorry that Frank Capra hadn't been the one to direct It Happened on Fifth Avenue. The material was decidedly "Capra-esque" - a warmhearted human story about the "little guy" with underlying social and political commentary -- and would have suited his trademark directing style well. Director Roy Del Ruth, she felt, didn't make the most of the story's potential. Storm was also upset with Del Ruth because he wouldn't allow her, a trained singer, to perform her own songs in the film. "I had two songs to do, and I was very excited," said Storm in her autobiography. "I'd done songs in other movies, but they were low-budget productions. The sky was the limit in this one, and I figured my numbers would have high values."
Storm began rehearsing for the songs immediately, only to be told a short time later that she would be lip-synching to someone else's voice. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "I thought that maybe the director didn't know I'd been singing and dancing in films, and that if I spoke to him he'd let me do my own numbers. Well, I asked him, and he said no. I asked him to look at some of my musicals, and he said no. I asked him if I could sing for him, and he said no. His theory was that if you were a dancer, you didn't sing; if you were a singer, you didn't dance; and if you were an actor, you didn't sing or dance. It was humiliating."
"I wasn't the only one Del Ruth humiliated," continued Storm. "Victor Moore was a dear sweet old man who was kind to everyone; we all loved him. Except Del Ruth. Whatever Victor did, the director made him redo it -- again and again. And Del Ruth never told the old man what he might have been doing wrong."
Even without the "Capra Touch" It Happened on Fifth Avenue still managed to do solid business at the box office and generate positive word of mouth. The New York Times called Victor Moore's performance "charming" and went on to say, "Mr. Moore gives a funny imitation of a tramp living like a king. And as the granite-grained gent who owns the mansion and joins the guests as a tramp himself, Charlie Ruggles is equally competent in his contribution to the topsy-turvy farce. Happy to say, the batch of authors have played off the two men artfully and have got some amusing social comment in the temporary reversal of their roles."
It Happened on Fifth Avenue received one Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Story, but lost to another holiday-themed classic, Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
Producer: Roy Del Ruth
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Everett Freeman; Vick Knight (additional dialogue); Herbert Clyde Lewis (story); Frederick Stephani (story)
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Art Direction: Lewis Creber
Music: Edward Ward
Film Editing: Richard Heermance
Cast: Don DeFore (Jim Bullock), Ann Harding (Mary O'Connor), Charles Ruggles (Michael J. 'Mike' O'Connor), Victor Moore (Aloysius T. McKeever), Gale Storm (Trudy O'Connor), Grant Mitchell (Farrow), Edward Brophy (Gates Patrolman Cecil Felton), Alan Hale, Jr. (Whitey Temple), Dorothea Kent (Margie Temple).
by Andrea Passafiume