It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)


Food:

Although we don’t have the recipe for Mrs. O’Connor’s famous Slumgullion from the film, it goes without saying that this is the ideal pairing for a showing of “It Happened on 5th Avenue.”

I am a fan of beefaroni, so this is the Slumgullion recipe of choice for me: https://www.mydiasporakitchen.com/slumgullion-beefaroni-recipe/

Hidden Holiday Gem #4:

It Happened On 5th Avenue” (1947) directed by Roy Del Ruth is a surprisingly excellent holiday comedy surrounding an unusual set of circumstances. Every year when wealthy businessman Michael J. “Mike” O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) leaves his city estate for the winter months, and clever homeless man, Aloysius “Mac” McKeever (Victor Moore), surreptitious moves in the vacant mansion. Meanwhile, disgruntled veteran Jim (Don DeFore) is being evicted from his apartment because it is being torn down by the aforementioned O’Connor industries, placing him on the streets. Unemployed, cold, and wet from the sprinklers, Jim wins the compassion of McKeever, who invites him to stay with him for the night at the house, without revealing that it is not him who actually owns it. One evening, Mr. O’Connor’s daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) arrives unexpectedly, and they believe her to be a thief. Instead of correcting them, she plays along, and ends up falling for Jim. While trying to help him, she inevitably turns the quiet residence into a bit of a circus in a hilarious string of increasingly ridiculous antics.

With a convoluted mix of characters, it is not the kind of film you want to be watching with half an eye closed, but it is told with such efficiency that all of the madness is presented more clearly than it could have been. At times it reads like a stage play, with slap stick situational humor and the bulk of the story taking place around one location. Victor Moore was prior to this known for his work as a major Broadway star from the late 1920s through the 1930s. He was also a writer and director who seemed to have a natural knack for comedy. His Mac McKeever is brought to the forefront with charming, unwarranted confidence and so much of the film relies on his ability to pull this off, which he does in spades. His sparring star in the film is Charles Ruggles, who, with his theatrical expressions and ability to slip seamlessly between his role as a loving father and head-honcho position without losing the empathy of the audience, is fantastic as Mr. O’Connor. The two of them drive the story, but they are supported by a understated, but effective cast.

Towards the final half, the film starts to feel too long, but the work done to thoughtfully flesh out the story in a realistic way is too often skipped in this genre. It helped solidify the character development and add depth to the arc of the storyline in a way that is appreciated by the time the credits roll. It feels genuinely heartfelt by the end, but not saccharine. The screenplay ended up getting adapted for a radio version on Lux Radio Theater in May 1947, later that year, with DeFore, Ruggles, Moore, and Storm reprising their roles; and a live television production for Lux Video Theatre in 1957, with a new cast.

It is always a mystery how some films fall to the bottom of the docket and collect dust, while others end up on cable decades later, fodder for remakes, and finding themselves re-popularized for other generations (i.e., “It’s A Wonderful Life” from 1946 or “Miracle on 34th Street” – which beat “It Happened on 5th Avenue” at the Academy Awards in 1947, and ended up getting a 1990’s reboot). This film is worth sitting down and watching with the whole family this season – it is lighthearted, sincerely funny and delivers all the right holiday feels.

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