Today is the third day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas with the Code” here at PEPS. So far, I have reviewed a popular Christmas classic, White Christmas, and a lesser known film with a Christmas scene, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. For today’s entry in the Yuletide celebration, I am going to write about a movie which begins at Christmas, The Great Rupert from 1950. It has been released on DVD in a remastered, colorized version which was renamed A Christmas Wish. Although I appreciate the clear quality of this version, I prefer the black and white original, since that was the format which the filmmakers wanted. However, no matter how you choose to watch it, this is an excellent picture. With no further ado, let us proceed to the show!
It is Christmas Eve. Joe Mahoney (Jimmy Conlin) is a down-on-his-luck lion tamer. However, he has an idea for a new act which he is sure will restore his good fortune. He has trained, or rather discovered, a squirrel named Rupert, who is extremely intelligent and performs on command. The little rodent, who wears a kilt, a jacket, and a cute little hat, does a synchronized routine with Joe, who plays the accordion, sings, and dances in unison with him. His young friend, a successful, wealthy talent manager named Phil Davis (Chick Chandler), arrives to see his new act. He is surprised and amused when he realizes that Joe’s amazing discovery is a tiny squirrel. He says he is sorry, but a common, pipsqueak thing like a squirrel “just ain’t box office.” Joe is heartbroken, since Phil was his last chance. He leaves the dingy little room where he lived, apologizing to the landlord, Frank Dingle (Frank Orth), about not paying any rent for months. He takes Rupert to the park, takes off his tiny costume, and releases him into the wild. He sadly tells the reluctant pet to beat it. Soon after, he comes upon some old friends of his, the Amendola Trio. The mother, father, and daughter act used to be a human pyramid in vaudeville, but they haven’t worked in years because Rosalinda (Terry Moore) is no longer a little girl. When Mr. Amendola (Jimmy Durante), a comical juggler who always looks on the bright side, tells Joe that they are looking for a place to stay, the latter tells them about his former residence. They thank him and head there quickly. The dingy hovel is a few rooms attached to the large house where the Dingles live. Pete Dingle (Tom Drake), the landlord’s son, is cleaning out the place in preparation for new renters, not knowing that Rupert has already moved back in. After Joe released him, he dashed across the street, climbed the wall, and returned to his cozy little cubby in the ceiling, which is stashed full of walnuts. When the Amendolas come to inquire about the residence, Pete is smitten with the beautiful young Amendola girl. In his fascination, he allows them to stay without getting the $32 in advance rent money. He tells his stingy old father that the new renters are “awfully nice people,” but Mr. Dingle is only concerned about the $32. Pete and his father disagree when it comes to money. Mr. Dingle is greedy and miserly, but Pete doesn’t believe in working. He just plays the tuba and writes music, but he doesn’t have a job. That afternoon, Mr. Dingle receives a letter from the bank which informs him that his gold mine has come in. A check for $1500 is included, plus a promise of that much money every week from now on. His wife, Katie (Sara Haden), says that it’s money from heaven, but Mr. Dingle tells her to go to church and say a prayer of thanks while he hides the money. She is upset that he doesn’t want her to know where he is hiding the money, but he says that he doesn’t want “that lazy son of hers” to know about it, since he thinks she is too soft with him. She is annoyed and says that she doesn’t care what he does with it. He ends up pulling a board off the wall behind his bed, sticking the money into the hole behind it, putting the board back on, and drilling a small hole in it so that he can put more money in it in the future. Little does he know that he put it right into Rupert the squirrel’s little home. One story below, Mrs. Amendola (Queenie Smith) is sitting in an old rocking chair and praying. She asks God to help them, since today is Christmas Eve, and they haven’t even got a tree. They’ve tried so hard, but it’s so difficult to find work for a human pyramid. She tells God that He is their only hope. She looks up to the sky with tears in her eyes. There is snow coming through a small hole in the skylight. She says that Rosalinda has to have some new shoes; “she needs ’em real bad.” As she says these words, hundred dollar bills start floating down from the sky. Rupert was greatly displeased by Mr. Dingle’s placement of $1500 in his cozy little nest. Thus, as he tosses the annoying paper out of his home, money seems to be coming from heaven, right through the skylight! Mrs. Amendola can’t believe her eyes, but she frantically begins collecting the bills, pausing to look up and say “Thank you!” After collecting the $1500, she takes some of the money to get some gifts, food, and a tree. When her husband walks in a little while later, carrying a scraggly Christmas tree he bought for forty cents, he thinks he is in the wrong place. There is a huge Christmas tree in the center of the room, decorated with tinsel, garlands, balls, a giant star, and even a dusting of real snow at the top. Rosalie has new shoes, and there is a wonderful Christmas dinner on the table. Mrs. Amendola tells him about the miracle, and he says that he has to believe her because she always tells him the truth. That evening, they go over to the Dingle residence to pay a Yuletide visit, meet the Dingles, and give Mr. Dingle three months rent in advance. Mr. Dingle and Mr. Amendola become fast friends because of the money, their amiable wives are instantly agreeable to each other, and their children play a beautiful duet on the harp and tuba, “The Melody for Two Orphan Instruments,” which Pete wrote himself. While Mrs. Dingle is getting the cake and coffee, Rosalinda sees that a stranger, Phil Davis, in fact, is knocking on their door. He was bringing Joe a Christmas present, but, since his old friend has moved out, he takes the opportunity to start flirting with the pretty new resident. He tells her that he could get a swell career for a beautiful young woman like her if she went to New York. When she realizes that he could get Pete’s song published, she agrees to go out with him. Pete is very jealous. A week later, the Amendolas have spent all the money, since Mrs. Amendola paid off their old debts, and Mr. Amendola gave the last of the money to a bankrupt shop owner. Suddenly, they realize that it is exactly one week after the first time Mrs. Amendola prayed for help. Feeling guilty for lying about Rosalinda needing new shoes when she has four pairs, Mrs. Amendola sits in the rocker and repeats the prayer she said a week before. After a couple tries, Mr. Amendola and Rosalinda decide that the prayer won’t be answered, so they start to walk out. Mrs. Amendola apologizes to God for telling a lie; as soon as she has uttered her apology, Rupert begins to toss out this week’s installment of $1500. She calls back her husband and daughter. They realize that all she has to do is sit in the rocker every Thursday afternoon and say that Rosalinda needs new shoes to collect $1500. “It’s funny how simple life can be,” Mr. Amendola concludes. Little do they know that the heaven-sent money is really their landlord’s stash! While Mr. Dingle is a miser with the money, Mr. Amendola helps business owners all over town with his newfound fortune, improving dozens of businesses and making a tidy income for his family, which they use to support charities. In the mean time, Peter thinks that Rosalinda is falling for Phil Davis, when she is really just trying to get his music published. Mr. Dingle can’t understand why the Amendolas want to stay in his dump when they have so much money, and he also doesn’t know why they have so much money. Soon, everyone in town is wondering about Louie Amendola’s source of income. How long can they keep their secret? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie yourself to see how it is delightfully concluded.
Any movie with Jimmy Durante is improved by his wonderful presence. His unique personality and inimitable style added something to every role he played. In this movie, he tells a lot of funny jokes, does some hilarious comic stunts, and sings some great tunes. He didn’t have a beautiful voice, but he could sell a song like no one else. On Christmas Eve, he entertains the Dingles by playing the piano and singing “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” a song that he and Harry Crane wrote in real life. Next, he sings and plays a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Mr. Dingle joins in by playing high, bell-like chords as an accompaniment to Mr. Amendola’s lower notes. Louie keeps telling Frank to play “soft,” but the latter isn’t getting the hint. Their interaction is classic. In a later scene, Mr. Durante plays “Take an L” to his wife, reminding her that he sang that song when he courted her. Its melody and accompaniment are infectious. Plus, the theme song, “Rupert,” is a cute, lively melody which you may find yourself humming long after the movie’s happy ending.
Besides Jimmy Durante, this movie features many other excellent actors. One of them is Rupert, the squirrel. Although multiple real squirrels were used throughout the film, the important action with Rupert was done with a unique form of stop-gap animation which the director, George Pal, created. This technology won an Academy Award. It was so convincing that many people asked Mr. Pal how he got a squirrel that was trained to dance. I too am impressed by the special effect of Rupert. It looks very realistic. Yes, there is something slightly odd about the look of the squirrel, but I sincerely believe that modern special effects couldn’t do any better. In the twenty-first century, the filmmakers would use computer generation to create the squirrel; it would look different than the animation in this picture, but it wouldn’t really look more real. When you really think about it, modern special effects, such as computer generation, do not look more realistic than old special effects; they just look different. In fact, I think that computer generation looks less real than something which had to be invented by a person’s intelligence. Give me 1950’s special effects any day!
I hope you enjoyed my review of this whimsical Christmas feature. Although it is lighthearted and fanciful, it has a touching religious theme about the power of faith. I recommend this movie to anyone who likes good entertainment. Since it was made in 1950, it shows the beautiful, clean standard of the Breen era. To quote Mr. Breen, it is “reasonably acceptable to reasonable people,” and it features no elements which are “likely to give offense.” On top of that, it has excellent acting, a good script, and clever direction. What more can you ask?
Click the above image to buy this movie on DVD at Amazon and support PEPS through the Amazon Affiliate program!
Join the Singing Sweethearts Blogathon!
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!