Archive for Pocketful of Miracles

Men without Legs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by dcairns

In the troop of beggars we see in Capra’s POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, along with Angelo Rossitto, newspaper salesman and small actor, we have a guy with no legs, propelling himself about on a flat cart. I was curious to see what his other credits were, but the IMDb merely listed him as “Shorty,” and when I clicked on that, it said “Shorty is an actor” and gave POCKETFUL as his only movie. But now, as I meticulously fact-check this piece, I find that he’s vanished, perhaps reunited with his phantom lower limbs in some celluloid limb-o.

(The internet is a Heraclitian river or a Borgesian Book of Sand.)

Two more Shorties feature in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. One is a guy nicknamed “Shorty” because he is short, though not as short as Angelo Rossitto. He gets hanged. The actor’s name was Jose Terron and he only just died last year. Sorry, Shorty.

But some online sources misidentify Terron as the legless, alcoholic ex-soldier, walking Johnny-Eck-fashion with the aid of wooden blocks, who feeds Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) information. This guy, referred to as “half-soldier” by a sneering Angel Eyes, seems to be a Spanish amputee discovered by Leone on location, and nobody knows his name.

BUT — he has a filmography — I’m almost positive he’s also see among the limbless veterans in Cottafavi’s I CENTI CAVALLIERI. Same face, same lack of legs, same mode of ambulation.

A Spanish Civil War war veteran, or an accident victim, or what? We may never know. Unless Sir Christopher Professor Frayling has winnowed out the facts.

A Weekend Without Warren William

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2020 by dcairns

I guess we’ve finished with Warren William in our Friday Watch Party, though we have one LONE WOLF film saved up for a rainy day. We went out in style with LADY FOR A DAY, which was interesting to compare with its remake, POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES — it is, of course, superior in about every way, though the later work looks handsome enough. All the padding Capra added just increases the plot’s main problem, the lack of anything for Apple Annie (May Robson/Bette Davis) to do once she becomes the recipient of largesse.

The climax does solve this nicely, but the moment when AA decides to come clean startles us into realizing how passive/absent she’s been for so long.

Warren William, of course, is a zillion times better than Glenn Ford as Dave the Dude, but it’s perhaps more surprising that Robson defeats Davis in every respect. Hard to put one’s finger on why, but if there was a casting call and they both auditioned, the choice would be obvious.

Peter Falk, the best thing in POCKETFUL, is likewise beaten by Ned Sparks at his Ned Sparksiest, honking every line like a sardonic sealion, but with the outward appearance of a human halberd.

Also: Glenda Farrell’s chestydance!

Capra Con

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2020 by dcairns

After years of intending to see LADY FOR A DAY, I finally watched POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, the generally-judged-inferior remake by the same director, Frank Capra. I will get around to the original, I promise!Angelo Rossitto, top left. You don’t often see him there.

Maybe I ought to have a Capra week so I can mop up late stuff like A HOLE IN THE HEAD and early stuff like the silents and then DIRIGIBLE and FLIGHT and then BROADWAY BILL which I turned off in disgust when Warner Baxter hit Clarence Muse? I find I have to be careful with Capra — up to a certain point, I find his work admirable, incredibly skilled, then I can sour on him because of his undoubted excesses or bum notes, and then I can reach the point where I’m no longer able to appreciate the brilliance because the less pleasant qualities are shining too luminously. This may be what happened to his biographer, Joseph McBride, who wrote an excellent book which does not make you think more highly of its subject.Pros and cons. Pros:

  1. Lots of terrific character actors and comics, from Peter Falk, who brings the pre-code energy Ford tends to lack, to Edward Everett Horton, still magnificent, all the way down to little Angelo Rossitto. Arthur O’Connell plays a Spanish count, which seems bizarre on the face of it but he’s excellent in the role. Fernando Rey wouldn’t have been any better. And nice to see Thomas Mitchell again.
  2. Bette Davis is good, though the story, which has been inflated from the original, allows her to drop out of sight for what feels like hours at a time.
  3. Hope Lange is terrific.
  4. “Introducing Ann-Margret.” Charmed, I’m sure. It’s a nothing role, but she had to get introduced somewheres, hadn’t she?
  5. It looks really nice. The backlot throngs and feels alive. Randy Cook advised me to see this, pointing out how different it is from contemporaneous George Roy Hill period yarns that always look stark, clean and underpopulated. Museumlike.

Cons:

  1. Bette is unable to wring tears from this material, maybe because she’s too strong? But Hope Lange steps in and manages it. Remember Capra’s uncharacteristically modest late-in-life observation, “I made a mistake about tragedy. I thought tragedy is when the actors cry. It isn’t. Tragedy is when the audience cries.” Oddly enough, he’s right in general but wrong about himself: Capra’s most teary scenes always have the audience joining the actors — but often it’s the tears of joy, as at the unendurably effective climax of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
  2. They’ve added what feels like half an hour onto the start of the story. It’s all good stuff, but it stretches a sentimental farce out to 136 minutes. That’s obviously too long. There’s a point where the plot kicks in and I thought, “I bet that’s the opening scene of LADY FOR A DAY.”
  3. Glenn Ford, who was apparently such a dick as co-producer that Capra henceforth retired from features, is an effective lead, though with Ford I can see the talent but I usually wish I were watching someone else. Except in GILDA, where I think it kind of helps if you don’t much like Ford. You watch it rooting for Rita without knowing why. Anyway, Sinatra would have been better here.

Bette’s street person makeup is both good and bad. They’ve gone wild with the stippling, but it makes for an extreme effect that wins points for boldness. She’s once again wearing the big caterpillar eyebrows she sported in NOW VOYAGER. Fiona pointed out that older women LOSE their eyebrows. But I guess Bette is going for unkempt rather than aged.

For all the flaws, it’s not embarrassing, and it’s nice to see Capra going out with something large-scale, worthy of his skill in organizing group babble and spectacle. A shame he didn’t enjoy the experience more, but at least he wasn’t cut down to tiny, cheap stuff.

POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES stars Jubal Troop; Baby Jane Hudson; Mrs. Carolyn Muir; Parnell Emmett McCarthy; Columbo; Uncle Billy; Mr. Witherspoon; Hunk Houghton; Rip MacCool; Nick the barman; Ali Baba; Lady Booby; Lt. of Detectives Dundy; Carson Drew; Miles Archer; Xandros the Greek Slave; Grandma Walton; Lord Byron; Abe Vogel; Charlie Max; Sgt. Monk Menkowicz; Hannibal Hoops; Peter Pan; Mona Plash; Mrs. Laurel; BJ Pratt – Bill Collector; Arigeleno; and Cueball.