It Happened On 5th Avenue (1947) is a screwball comedy/Christmas film produced and directed by Roy Del Ruth. The story centers on a homeless tramp, Mr. McKeever (Victor Moore), who has found a way to break into the New York City mansion of the second wealthiest man in the world, Michael O’Connor (Charles Ruggles). Since Michael spends his winters in Virginia, his 5th Avenue home is boarded up and it serves as a warm, spacious way for McKeever to enjoy himself.
Shortly after McKeever takes residence on 5th Avenue, he meets a war veteran named Jim (Don DeFore). Jim has recently been removed from his apartment and is looking for a place to stay. McKeever feels bad for Jim and he graciously offers for Jim to stay in the mansion with him. Quickly, an intruder in the mansion interrupts their first evening together. Michael O’Connor’s daughter, Mary (Ann Harding), has run away from finishing school and broke into her father’s home to get a warm coat. When McKeever and Jim find her putting on the mink coat, they assume she is a thief and tell her she can’t have the coat, but she can stay in the mansion with them. Mary seems pleased at the idea of others making use of the empty house and she doesn’t tell them the truth about her identity.
Soon Jim invites some of his apartment hunting friends to stay there as well ,and Jim and his friends form a plan to buy some old army barracks and turn them into affordable housing. Meanwhile, Michael O’Connor returns to New York looking for his daughter, and when he finds her, she tells him about the people living in his home and how she has fallen in love with Jim. Somehow Mary convinces her father to pose as a homeless man and join them in his own mansion, in order to meet and get to know Jim. Michael can’t stand the way his home is being used and he tells Mary he is going to have all of her new friends arrested. In desperation, Mary decides to call her mother, Trudy (Gale Storm), who is divorced from Michael, and ask her for help. She happily agrees to come live in the house, and becomes the cook and maid for everyone. Michael is determined to outlast his ex-wife and agrees to keep up the charade.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? It Happened On 5th Avenue is a pretty decent screwball comedy with its outrages situations and unlikely coincidences, but unfortunately it isn’t able to maintain any consistency or solidarity. Most of the beginning of the film involves Jim and Mary and their love story, but then mid way through the focus changes to Michael and Trudy and their estranged relationship. Oddly, by the end of the film, McKeever becomes the character that we are supposed to have warm, feel-good feelings toward, but the rest of the movie is filled with scenes where McKeever comes off as “holier than thou”, and I just became annoyed with him. It Happened On 5th Avenue treats McKeever as the hero, but he doesn’t act the part.
Most movies that are looking for a good Christmas feeling show a character that has been transformed due to the experiences throughout the film. In It Happened On 5th Avenue it is Michael O’Connor that changes, not McKeever. I don’t understand why they decided to glorify the McKeever character; it was a mistake.
Apart from this story misstep, the other major problem is that the entire film seems rushed. Scenes are thrown together, and sometimes their placement doesn’t exactly fit. Some scenes appear to have two scenes that have been put together simply to avoid having to film both scenes separately. Also, on more than one occasion, there is some dialogue that doesn’t even make sense. It feels as if there were scenes deleted, and now the audience is confused because we never saw the scene that is now being discussed. I noticed that It Happened On 5th Avenue was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing: Original Story, but not for the screenplay. That is a clear indication to me that the idea for the film was great, but it became unrealized during the filming process.
The highlight of the film is the performance by the highly entertaining Charles Ruggles. His scenes are the bright spots throughout the movie, and he has also been given the best dialogue. He is able to interact with all of the main characters, and his exchanges with Gale Storm as his ex-wife are especially funny. He is the one saving grace of the story and the film.
There are so many holiday movies floating around that it is impossible to watch all of them. I see why It Happened On 5th Avenue has become one of the lesser-seen films. Even in 1947, it was outdone by two higher grossing and more critically acclaimed Christmas films, The Bishop’s Wife and Miracle On 34th Street.Back to Home for More Reviews