<p itemprop="description" style="margin: 0.5em 0px 0.75em; line-height: 18.19999885559082px; padding: 0px 12px
I've never understood the strange phenomenon of directors choosing to remake their own films. Though it might be tempting to revisit, embellish, and update a favorite work years later, only a few redos throughout film history have improved enough upon their respective originals to warrant the indulgence. Most take a tight narrative and make it tedious, balloon the budget, and slather on a thick coating of gloss, but bigger and shinier is rarely better, and most of these bloated productions collapse under their own weight. Among the best known examples: Cecil B. DeMille revamped his 1923 silent spectacular, 'The Ten Commandments,' creating an elephantine 1956 blockbuster that runs a whopping 75 minutes longer than its precursor; the same year, Alfred Hitchcock needlessly Americanized his 1934 British espionage flick, 'The Man Who Knew Too Much,' expanding it by 45 minutes; in 1957, Leo McCarey added 30 agonizing minutes to his 1939 romantic weepie, 'Love Affair,' morphing it into the quintessential tearjerker, 'An Affair to Remember'; and in 1961, Frank Capra updated his 1933 whimsical comedy, 'Lady for a Day,' changing the title to 'Pocketful of Miracles' and tacking on an extra 40 minutes that do little to enhance the story. Despite their renown and, in some cases, popular success, none of these remakes eclipse their antiquated originals, and 'Pocketful of Miracles' caused Capra so much frustration and stress, it drove him into retirement.
Esteemed directors like Capra dream of going out with a bang, and though 'Pocketful of Miracles' is far from an embarrassing whimper, the film doesn't live up to expectations, and its timeworn story seems dated and creaky even by 1961 standards. Yet Capra ardently believed in the uplifting Cinderella tale of Apple Annie, a drunken New York hag who, with the help of her generous gangster friends, masquerades as a highfalutin society matron to impress the blue-blood family of her daughter's fiancé, viewing it as a necessary antidote to all the violence and crudity that had begun creeping into Hollywood movies in the late 1950s. Remaking 'Lady for a Day' had been a dream of Capra's for some time, but lack of studio interest spurred the director to purchase the rights and produce the film independently. But would Capra-corn, the cynical nickname for the director's wholesome, moral, and unashamedly sentimental pictures, still sell in the rebellious 1960s? Despite almost unanimously positive preview reaction, the answer was a resounding no. 'Pocketful of Miracles,' thanks in part to a misguided marketing campaign, laid an egg at the box office, and Capra never made another movie.
And that's a shame, because despite its unnecessary length, leisurely pacing, and an extraneous subplot, 'Pocketful of Miracles' remains an endearing, amusing, and heartwarming bit of light entertainment that's nicely played by a colorful cast and imbued with Capra's inimitable optimistic spirit. Based on a story by Broadway mythmaker Damon Runyon ('Guys and Dolls'), this Depression-era fairy tale is packed with some of Capra's favorite themes - community bonding, helping those in need, standing strong for those we love, and standing up for what we believe, despite imposing obstacles. Affable small-time hood Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford), however, only looks out for number one, and hopes a hotshot mob kingpin from Chicago (Sheldon Leonard) will let him run the New York arm of his massive crime syndicate and thus gain the notoriety he's always craved. Superstitious to a fault, Dave believes the ripe red apples sold by boozy street merchant Annie (Bette Davis) bring him luck, and he keeps the haggard broad, who runs her own syndicate, protecting and mothering a motley group of tough yet tender Broadway bums, close at hand.
Annie, though, unbeknownst to everyone, has a daughter of her own, and since infancy she's been raised in a Spanish convent, far away from Broadway's grime. Mother and daughter regularly correspond, but Annie has inflated her stature and reputation over the years, leading Louise (Ann-Margret in her film debut) to believe she's a wealthy Park Avenue socialite. One day, Annie gets the shock of her life when she learns Louise is planning to marry a Spanish count (Peter Mann) and will accompany his affluent Spanish family to Manhattan to meet her. Fearful of exposure and ruining her daughter's future, Annie turns to Dave and his brassy girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange) for help, and in one of the most elaborate ruses ever devised, they transform the ramshackle Annie into a vision of refinement, set her up in a swanky penthouse, hook her up with a fake husband (Thomas Mitchell), and give her the hoity-toity name of Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. But whether Annie can pull off the masquerade - and whether Dave's legal troubles will spoil the jig - remains to be seen.
In his autobiography, Capra wrote 'Pocketful of Miracles' was "shaped in the fires of discord and filmed in an atmosphere of pain, strain, and loathing." From the get-go, it was a troubled production, with more drama occurring behind the scenes than in front of the cameras. When both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin turned down the lead role, Capra felt compelled to align himself with Ford to secure financing, even though he felt Ford lacked the streetwise toughness and Runyonesque charm required to make Dave the Dude believable. Compounding matters, Ford's production company helped bankroll the film, which gave Ford the clout to dismiss Shirley Jones, who had already signed on to play Queenie, in favor of his girlfriend du jour, Hope Lange. Like Ford, Davis was also the third choice for Apple Annie, after Shirley Booth declined and a scheduling conflict forced Helen Hayes to regrettably bow out. Davis and Ford had worked together 15 years before in the romantic drama 'A Stolen Life,' and when Ford told a reporter he was grateful to Davis for giving him his big break back then and now was happy to return the favor and "rescue her from obscurity," the two-time Academy Award winner hit the roof. "Who is that son of a bitch that he should say he helped me have a comeback!" Davis fired back. "That shitheel wouldn't have helped me out of a sewer!" (Capra would later call Ford a "garden-variety star" and quip "that grinning, boyish Apollo galled me down to my last Sicilian chromosome.") The on-set tension was so thick, Capra developed debilitating cluster headaches that almost prevented him from completing the picture.
Amid such discord (Ford also unceremoniously bounced Davis from the star dressing room adjoining his, installing Lange in it instead - a move which, according to Davis, showed Ford's "bad manners and lack of professionalism"), it's a wonder the film's tone is so jovial and the performances brim with infectious energy and enthusiasm. Part of the fun of 'Pocketful of Miracles' is spotting all the veteran character actors who appear in the film and strive to put their personal stamp on it. Arthur O'Connell as the senior Spanish count, Edward Everett Horton as the bemused butler, and Mickey Shaughnessy, Barton MacLane, Jerome Cowan, Ellen Corby, and Mike Mazurki all make notable impressions. Ford, despite Capra's displeasure, handles his chores with aplomb, but it's tough not to imagine someone with more charisma in the part. Lange is also serviceable, although Jones, fresh from her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 'Elmer Gantry,' surely would have brought more luster to Queenie. Though Apple Annie is far from a typical Davis role, the legendary actress fully embraces it, crafting a portrayal full of warmth, pathos, spunk, and sass, but it's Peter Falk, as The Dude's wise-cracking henchman Joy Boy, who really steals the show, garnering a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his wonderfully broad and brusque performance.
Despite its colorful palette, slick production values, and star-studded cast, 'Pocketful of Miracles' will never outclass 'Lady for a Day,' much to Capra's disappointment. Some judicious editing would certainly help the film, which zips along initially but loses steam after its first hour, and less focus on Dave the Dude's wheeling and dealing would crystallize the story and heighten its impact. Still, the lively performances, durable themes, and undeniable sincerity of 'Pocketful of Miracles' conspire to gain our affection, and for the most part, they succeed. Sure, it's manipulative...and sentimental...and, yes, a bit corny and trite. But that's Capra. He promotes simple values we can relate to and live by to make the world a better place. And that's why we love him.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Pocketful of Miracles' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
As bright and vibrant as the star atop a Christmas tree, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Kino breathes new life into this 53-year-old movie. Excellent contrast and clarity produce a pleasing picture that features just enough grain to maintain the appearance of celluloid, and though a few isolated specks and marks occasionally crop up, the source material sports a clean, crisp look that belies the film's advanced age. Black levels are rich and deep, whites are well defined yet never bloom, and costume textures are nicely rendered. Bold colors often flood the screen, with beautifully saturated primaries (especially reds) possessing plenty of pop, but fleshtones tend to stray from the norm just a tad. Close-ups highlight fine facial details well (and also, unfortunately, spotlight Davis' yellowed teeth), shadow detail is quite good, and background elements are easy to discern. No crush, noise, or banding creeps into the picture, and any digital enhancements have been applied with a judicious hand. This is one of Kino's better classic movie transfers, and fans of the film will be quite pleased with this winning effort.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track exhibits no signs of any age-related hiss, pops, and crackles, and supplies clear, nicely modulated sound. Atmospherics, like the hustle and bustle of Broadway and driving rain in the opening scene, come across well, and sonic accents, such as shattering bric-a-brac and machine gun fire, are crisp and distinct. The music score of 10-time Oscar nominee Walter Scharf ('Funny Girl') fills the room with ease, and all the colorful dialogue is easy to understand, despite the quirky dialects of several characters. A wide dynamic scale manages highs and lows without any hints of distortion, and fine fidelity bolsters the brief musical numbers. Though a stereo track would have given 'Pocketful of Miracles' a more expansive feel, this mono mix gets the job done without any serious issues.
The disc's only extra is the film's three-minute original theatrical trailer, which features showman Ed Sullivan inroducing the movie and singing its praises. Scenes from the film, as well as a few alternate takes, are also included in this engaging preview.
'Pocketful of Miracles' may not have been the swansong he envisioned, but Frank Capra's final film, despite some length and story issues, does the director proud, and stands as a lasting testament to the themes, tone, and ideals he championed. This Damon Runyon tale of Broadway big shots and lovable lowlifes who join forces to transform a crusty hag into a lady of quality is a fairy tale of the highest order, yet Capra does his best to keep it real, juxtaposing plenty of honest emotion against the broad comedy and colorful characters that fuel the film. In the end, sentiment prevails, but this heaping helping of Capra-corn wins us over despite our better judgment, thanks to a heartfelt portrayal from Bette Davis and a cornucopia of great supporting performances led by the Oscar-nominated Peter Falk. Kino's Blu-ray presentation once again skimps on supplements, but a very good video transfer and solid audio ease the disappointment. 'Pocketful of Miracles' pales when compared to Capra's best works, but it's still worth a look for fans of the esteemed director, Davis, and warm-hearted period comedies.