Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

When one looks at the year 1947, it was a strong one for films that would eventually become holiday classics. The most obvious title is the Best Picture-nominated Miracle on 34th Street, an absolute classic by all accounts with a performance from baby Natalie Wood that will melt your heart. Yet, there is another important title that has only recently started getting the notices that it has always deserved. It Happened on 5th Avenue oddly debuted Easter weekend 1947 despite its Christmastime climax while still managing to be somewhat of a success for the newly-formed Allied Artists. Originally intended as a project for Frank Capra, who chose to do a little film called It’s A Wonderful Life instead, It Happened on 5th Avenue offered up a heartwarming and hilarious story that makes a case for interpersonal relationships over money. The film essentially disappeared from broadcast and home video for almost twenty years around 1990 until Turner Classic Movies started airing it around a decade ago, at which point it was rediscovered as a holiday classic. Warner Archive continues to rescue the film’s reputation by providing it on Blu-Ray for the very time. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue is a high concept tale that delivers a universal message that resonates to this very day. Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) is a homeless gentleman who has been surviving winters in New York in the most unusual way for the past twenty years. When Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), the second richest man in the world, leaves to stay at his Virginia estate in the winter, McKeever slips through a loose board in the fence and makes himself at home in the vast mansion. Sure, this is not altogether legal, but McKeever is very respectful of the delicate arrangement; he makes sure to take care of the mansion, he airs out O’Connor’s clothes so they do not get musty, he only takes enough food to get by, etc. When McKeever comes across the newly-homeless veteran Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), who has been evicted from an apartment building O’Connor is tearing down for a new skyscraper, he takes pity on Jim and invites him in on his scheme. Things seem to be going fine until they are faced with another intruder: 18-year-old Trudy “Smith” (Gale Storm), who is actually O’Connor’s runaway daughter. It is through this gentle deception that sparks start to fly between Jim and Trudy while the house keeps getting more full by the minute. 

All of our characters are blessed with kind hearts, so Jim does not hesitate to offer a lifeline when he discovers two old war buddies and their families have ended up homeless, as well. Trudy loves the little family they are building in the mansion, especially when it comes to getting closer with Jim. It is a nice change of pace for her, as her parents divorced some time back over O’Connor’s preoccupation with money. We get to the real meat of the story when Trudy convinces her father, and later her mother Mary (Ann Harding), to pose as a homeless person who joins their little family so she can prove Jim loves her without knowing about her fortune. There are a lot of laughs gained from O’Connor being taken down a peg from his normal place of superiority. He is only being treated like any other common person who might be down on their luck, but this entire way of life is foreign to him. McKeever gently, humorously pokes at him in an effort to get his life together, which does permeate the spoiled exterior of Michael to expose something more understanding and compassionate. As mentioned, the film is largely based around the holiday season, and the message at the heart of the film about acceptance, patience and family could not be more appropriate for the setting. 

The performances in the film are what really allow this movie to succeed as well as it does. Victor Moore seems to be having a blast in the role of McKeever, swaying back and forth between sage-like wisdom and a lackadaisical outlook on life. The chemistry between Gale Storm and Don DeFore works really well, even if you do want a little more depth to Trudy outside of her infatuation with Jim. Charles Ruggles may have the juiciest role in the film as he gets to play uber-snobbish wealthy and the polar opposite of this, sometimes within the same scene. Folks often believe that large amounts of wealth could solve all of their problems (I could certainly use a couple million right about now), but Michael is the least fulfilled person at the beginning of this journey. It is the downtrodden that are bonded through love and respect for one another who are thriving emotionally. The love story in this film is very worthwhile and moving, but it is the message advocating for compassion and love for those around you that makes this film something special. The movie is playing with a very heightened situation, but it uses it to convey something very authentic. It Happened on 5th Avenue is packed with a lot of laughs and a lot of heart, made all the better by being wrapped up in Christmas trappings. It may not be the most popular holiday movie of 1947, but when you watch it you will see that it is as thematically satisfying as the best of them.

Video Quality

It Happened on 5th Avenue makes its Blu-Ray debut thanks to Warner Archive with a brand new 1080p remaster from a 4K scan of the best surviving nitrate elements. For a film that has been so mistreated over the years, it is heartening to see it look so spectacular. The gorgeous black-and-white photography shot by Henry Sharp sparkles in high definition with natural grain intact. There is a fantastic amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing, both in the fancy suits that McKeever sports and in the shabby clothing in which the O’Connor family go undercover. The new transfer shows off a great amount of depth and enhanced detail within the spacious mansion’s production design. Black levels are very deep with no trace of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is well defined, and there is virtually no print damage to be found. Warner Archive has given this one the 5-star treatment. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a stellar DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that serves this movie really well. The first thing you will notice is the warmth and vitality of the Edward Ward score. Despite the strength of the music, nothing ever overpowers the dialogue or other important information. Dialogue and background noises are represented in perfect harmony with all competing elements. This track shows  no discernible age related wear and tear such as hissing or popping. There are also optional English (SDH) subtitles included for the feature film. You could not ask for better from the Warner Archive. 

Special Features

  • Lux Radio Theater (5/19/47): A 58-minute radio play of the film in which Victor Moore, Don DeFore, Charles Ruggles and Gale Storm reprise their roles from the film. This is a lovely way to experience the story that we rarely get these days. 

 

Final Thoughts

It Happened on 5th Avenue has had a resurgence in popularity in the past decade, which it completely deserves. The script is really clever and funny with a talented ensemble that works incredibly well together. This is a holiday film that has its heart in the right place. Warner Archive has knocked this one out of the park with a wonderful Blu-Ray sporting a great A/V presentation. If you are a classic film fan looking for something to push your holiday viewing over the top, you are going to want to snag this one. Highly Recommended 

It Happened on 5th Avenue can be purchased directly through Warner Archive or various other online retailers. The movie will be officially released on December 22, 2020. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Warner Archive has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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