The Fourth Day of Christmas: “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” from 1947

Twelve Days of Christmas

Today is December 28. As 2017 is drawing to a close, PEPS is celebrating the “Twelve Days of Christmas with the Code.” As the fourth entry in this event, I am reviewing It Happened on Fifth Avenue, a lighthearted winter film which ends on New Years Day. This movie, which was made in 1947, features a comical look at the post-war housing problem, the meaning of work, and what really makes a man rich.

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A middle-aged hobo is walking along Fifth Avenue and whistling; his companion is a medium-sized dog named Sam. The announcer of a tour bus which is driving by points out the huge boarded-up mansion by which he is walking, saying that it belongs to Michael J. O’Connor, the second richest man in the world. The hobo goes up to the back fence of the mansion and pushes on a loose board. The board pops up, and the hobo and the dog climb through. By way of a manhole in the back yard, the pair enters the house. Soon, we see the hobo inside the lavish, palatial mansion. He comments to Sam that it’s good to be back. He rigs up the front door so that the lights turn off when it is opened. Then, he and his dog enjoy the luxury of a bubble bath, and the man puts on a nice smoking jacket and lights a big cigar. Soon, he and the dog are walking in Central Park like millionaires. Sam grabs a sprinkler hose and pulls it toward a poor young man who is sleeping on a bench. The unfortunate fellow wakes up when the sprinkler begins to soak him. He springs up, and the dapper hobo apologizes for his pet. The young man, Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), tells the older man that he, a war veteran without a job, was evicted from his apartment because the building is going to be torn down so that Michael J. O’Connor can build another huge construction on the site. The kind old man invites Jim to come home with him and Sam, and the homeless youth accepts his offer. Once there, the older man introduces himself as Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore), saying that he is a guest of Michael J. O’Connor, the house’s owner. At that moment, the lights go out then go back on, and the two men hear footsteps. They peek out of the room and see a pretty young girl walking down the hall. She is Trudy O’Connor (Gale Storm), the millionaire’s daughter who ran away from finishing school. McKeever and Jim catch her taking a mink coat out of Miss O’Connor’s closet, little knowing that she herself is Miss O’Connor. Jim wants to call the police, but Trudy also wants to call the police. McKeever takes the telephone and Jim into the hall, where he tells the latter that they are in no position to let her call the police, since she has as much right there as they do. McKeever explains that he has been living in vacant millionaires’ houses for years. When Mr. O’Connor is in his house in Bubbling Springs in Virginia, Mr. McKeever stays in his New York mansion. When Mr. O’Connor comes to New York for the spring, Mr. McKeever goes to Virginia. He’s been in the O’Connor mansion for four winters, but he has never been caught yet. Jim is amused at his rascally trick. Little do they know that Trudy is leaning out the doorway, listening to them talk, and giggling at the simple, dishonest logic of the old crook. She pretends to be a poor girl named Trudy Smith who ran away from her drunken brute of a father and thirteen brothers and sisters. She persuades them that she is going to apply for a job at a music store the next day, so she needs a coat for the interview. They agree to let her stay with them for a while and borrow a coat, but not the mink. She is quickly developing an infatuation with Jim, but he is unaware of her feelings. The next day, Trudy gets the job at the music store; afterwords, Jim takes her for a walk around town. As they walk past one apartment building, Jim recognizes the wife of one of his old Army buddies. Jim goes inside to say hello to his two friends, Whitey Temple (Alan Hale, Jr.) and Hank (Edward Ryan, Jr.). He ignorantly congratulates his pals on their son and baby, revealing the fact that they lied about having no children to the building manager. Since Jim spoiled his friends’ chance at getting a place to live, he brings the two men, their wives, and their two children to the O’Connor house. McKeever is concerned about the growing number of occupants at the house, but he can’t refuse children. Soon after, Trudy runs into her father (Charles Ruggles), who came to New York to look for her. She tells him that she is staying at his house with a bunch of very nice squatters. He is shocked and furious. He tells her to go back to finishing school, but she says that she has been very lonely since her parents got divorced. Her father has just focused on business, her mother went to Palm Beach, and she was sent to boarding school. Mr. O’Connor’s heart is softened, and he asks her how he can help her. She says that she wants him to meet Jim, but he can’t be himself, since Jim thinks that Michael O’Connor is an octopus. Thus, Trudy gets him some ill-fitting second hand clothes and arranges for McKeever and Jim to meet him as a bum in the park. She convinces them that they have to take the cold, hungry man home with them. However, “Mike” finds it very difficult to be an agreeable member of the household. He is very angry about Mr. McKeever’s superior attitude toward him, since he is wearing his clothes, smoking his cigars, sleeping in his bed, and telling him what to do. When he threatens to throw everyone out of the house, Trudy calls her mother from Palm Beach. Mary (Ann Harding) happily joins the household as the cook, since she wants to meet her daughter’s beloved Jim. Mike is shocked when he comes home to see her cooking Irish stew in simple clothes with little makeup on. They are soon fighting and making bets about who will outlast the other with the hard work and the common drudgery. They both agree to stay to see who wins. It isn’t long before the disagreeable Mike is shoveling snow to help pay for more groceries to feed the huge household. Meanwhile, Jim, Whitey, and Hank are working on plans for converting former army barracks into residences for veterans and their families. The only problem is that they are planning on buying the camp which Mr. O’Connor is also trying to buy for his own project. Little does he know that his anonymous bidding competitor is the hopeful young men who are squatting in his house. In the mean time, Mike and Mary are remembering the wonderfully simple, happy times they had when they were first married. They are beginning to fall in love all over again. Will they ever be able to be happily reunited? Will Mike be able to put aside his businesslike selfishness to help the veterans? Will he let his daughter find true happiness by marrying Jim? Will he open his heart and find the generosity to share his wealth and belongings with those who really need them? You’ll have to watch this unique, little known movie to find out what happened on Fifth Avenue!

This picture begins in winter, and important events happen as Christmas approaches. Several characters decorate a Christmas tree while discussing the veterans’ plans. Christmas Eve is a pinnacle part of the film. Mr. McKeever is dressed like a jolly Santa Claus, everyone sings Christmas carols, and even the gates patrolmen are invited to the Christmas party! New Year’s Eve is an important, happy part of the film, and the movie ends on New Year’s Day.

This movie is full of tender warmth, genuine comedy, and old-fashioned wisdom. The scenes with Mary and Mike are very sweet and sentimental as they remember the happy, early days of their marriage. Charlie Ruggles and Victor Moore add to the carefree comedy of the movie with their witty dialogue and charmingly conflicting characters. One particularly amusing scene in this movie is the one where Trudy and Mike are getting his second-hand clothes from a funny foreign salesman. When Mr. O’Connor tells him the suit that he is trading in is all wool, the man goes into a hysterical rant about what will happen to him because of the all-wool suit, starting with a few moths and ending with him becoming a bum! Mr. McKeever’s simple philosophy on life is not very honest, but it is sincere and wise in many ways. He intelligently analyses the way to make money, the value of work, how unhappiness effects the stomach, and what being rich really is. Despite his laziness and trespassing, he teaches Mr. O’Connor a lot of things about the value of life and what things in life are the most valuable.

This movie features some very memorable, pleasant songs. When you hear them the first time, you will feel that you have heard them many times before. The main theme, which McKeever whistles, Trudy sings, and is played as background music, is “It’s a Wonderful, Wonderful Feeling.” The love theme is “Speak – My Heart.” The sweeping, infectious melody is sung and played throughout the film, and it will still be playing in your memory after the film ends. The romance between Mike and Mary is accompanied by the sweet old George Cohan song “Mary.” At one point, it is played on a music box which Mr. O’Connor gave to his wife at the time of their marriage. On Christmas Eve, Trudy sings an original Christmas song, “That’s What Christmas Means To Me.” It will never replace “White Christmas,” but it is a beautiful holiday song.

I hope that you have enjoyed my reminisces about what happened on Fifth Avenue. This movie is as charming now as it was in 1947. The cast does not have any huge stars, but it has many good, steady players who are an excellent addition to any story. This is my favorite role for Ann Harding. She looks very sweet and soft in the simple clothes of a poor Irish cook. She is very kind and loving in this part. Charlie Ruggles is cute in this, too. He is comical, irritable, but lovable. If you haven’t seen this underrated classic yet, I suggest that you watch it soon. It is great fun. Come back tomorrow for day five of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with the Code!”

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3 thoughts on “The Fourth Day of Christmas: “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” from 1947

  1. Pingback: The Twelve Days of Christmas with the Code! | pure entertainment preservation society

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