Saturday, December 25, 2010


A homeless man (Victor Moore) and his dog sneak into a Fifth Avenue mansion, as they do every November, to spend a warm winter in the empty, boarded-up home of millionaire developer Charles Ruggles, empty because he winters in Virginia. This year, however, Moore winds up with an entire posse; first, he befriends jobless war veteran Don DeFore, who has just been evicted from his apartment because the building's being torn down so Ruggles can build another skyscraper. Next, Ruggles' rebellious daughter (Gale Storm) runs away from boarding school and comes to the mansion to get some clothes and make her own way in the world. When Moore and DeFore catch her and think she's a homeless girl, she plays along, stays in the house with them, and falls for DeFore. Next come two army buddies of DeFore, with wives (and a kid) in tow, who are having difficulty finding housing. Just as this group is getting cozy, Ruggles comes to town to look for his daughter. She talks him into staying at the house and posing as another homeless man so he can check out DeFoe to make sure that he's an OK guy. Somehow, Ruggles' estranged wife (Ann Harding) ends up there, too. The catalyst for the climax is an abandoned Army base that Ruggles is trying to buy for development; DeFore and his friends (who actually have some money, just no place to live) are also bidding for the land for their own development ideas. Who'll get the land? Who'll get the girl? And what will happen when the police finally discover that the mansion isn't empty?

It's getting harder for me to discover new classic Christmas movies. This is one I'd never seen, or even heard of, though the Christmas setting is not particularly emphasized (it's included in a holiday movies boxed set from Warner Home Video). Frank Capra considered filming this script, but he opted for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE instead. Capra would have made Moore more angelic, Ruggles more evil (it's never really established that he's a bad person at all, except that he's rich and divorced), and DeFore and Storm more loveable, and I imagine he would have strengthened the Christmas element. Still, it's a cute little comedy with good performances by Ruggles, Moore and Harding. DeFore (pictured above) tries hard to seem a little quirky (his entire first scene is played out in his underwear, handcuffed to a bed--it's not what you think it is) and Storm is the essence of spunky, but the romantic element winds up seeming beside the point. Alan Hale Jr., Gilligan Island's Skipper, is fun as one of the soldiers. I have a bit of a problem with the romanticization of poverty, something that probably attracted Capra in the beginning--Moore is by default the most noble person in the movie, mostly because he's poor, and also the only character who doesn't really change or wind up with any kind of "reward." Still, the first half-hour, as the characters and situations get spelled out, is fun, and Ruggles is always a joy to watch. [TCM]

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