Sunday, May 16, 2010

MISTER 880 (1950)

This is one of those movies I'd see listed in TV Guide all the time when I was a kid. The title was different enough to stick in my mind (like SCUDDA-HOO, SCUDDA HAY or PHFFFT) but the plot description didn't make it sound interesting enough to watch. This wound up being pleasant, innocuous, and cute, but nothing to go out of your way to see. On the surface, it sounds like MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: Edmund Gwenn plays a friendly but eccentric old man who lives in New York and winds up in trouble with the law; a handsome man and attractive woman get mixed up with him; all three are present in a climactic courtroom scene. Here, Gwenn is a junk dealer and counterfeiter who has been getting away with passing ineptly-made one dollar bills (Washington is spelled "Wahsington" on the bill) for years. He's a sweet old man who only does this occasionally when he needs a little cash, but still the Feds want to nail him, and for agent Burt Lancaster, the search becomes an obsession. A break in the case comes when lovely young Dorothy McGuire, a U.N translator who lives in the same apartment building as Gwenn, passes a bill (that, unbeknownst to her, was stuffed in her purse as change by Gwenn) and gets tailed by Lancaster. The two begin dating, and when she finds out what he's up to, she strings him along for a while (referring to a wad of bills as a "boodle of queer") until he fesses up. They begin to work together until she suddenly realizes that the legendary Mister 880 (the number assigned to the case by the Secret Service) is the sweet old geezer who lives upstairs. This is based on a real case which was profiled in the New Yorker, so the realistic ending (there's no magical resolution as when Gwenn played Santa in MIRACLE) is a bit of a bummer. Gwenn is the reason to watch this; his character is almost as spry and sly as his Kris Kringle, though here he looks and acts older and more worn down by life. Lancaster and McGuire strike some nice sparks, though the last 20 minutes or so feel rushed with the characterizations getting short shrift in the end. (Picture from Film Noir Photos) [FMC]

1 comment:

Mary said...

Hi Michael,

How could one reach you via e-mail for a movie review suggestion?