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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

The best-kept Christmas movie secret

December 6, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

It's the best-kept secret in town. Few moviegoers have even heard of it, but critics in 1947 hailed it as "sensational," "funny and far-fetched, but incredibly entertaining," "a hilarious comedic misunderstanding that tailspins crazily out of control," "one of the best ways to put you into a holiday mood," "loving," "marvelous" and more.

Think "It's a Wonderful Life" meets "You Can't Take it With You," and you have a vague idea of what this screwy romantic comedy is all about.

"It Happened on 5th Avenue" is the name of the film referred to - a Capra-esque story about a group of characters, down on their luck, who take up illegal residence in a 5th Avenue brownstone mansion that is deserted each year by its wealthy owner who heads south for the winter - easily the most ambitious and certainly most expensive movie made by the newly formed Allied Artists film company in Los Angeles - an experiment into the realm of the romantic screwball comedy genre that won out, despite a script that threatened to sink the organization for its cost, but was saved with the help of a remarkable cast headed by Broadway comic Victor Moore as the happy-go-lucky tramp who finds the vacant home on 5th Avenue, and with W.C. Fields' panache makes it his winter quarters. He gradually fills it with some homeless ex-servicemen, a family in need, the millionaire's daughter (don't ask) and more. When the wealthy owner returns unexpectedly, the ensuing fireworks drive the rest of the film down a bumpy road filled with detours to the happiest Christmas ever celebrated.

Actor Don Defore, who plays an ex-serviceman and the romantic lead in the film, called it his personal favorite of all times. Though usually defined as a Christmas movie, it's more in the spirit of "Miracle on 34th Street" - made the same year - and, oddly, it has also been compared the same year to "The Bells of St. Mary's" for its unique treatment of underdogs in a city just awakening from the Great Depression and WWII in a mood of guarded optimism.

Other members of the new film studio are Charlie Ruggles as the unsuspecting millionaire, Alan Hale and Edward Ryan as homeless veterans, Ann Harding as the millionaire's estranged wife and Gale Storm as their daughter who hopes to marry one of the veterans (Don Defore). All were critically praised for their roles and went on to become renowned Hollywood stars on their own for decades to follow.

Much to no one's surprise, the film became an instant success with a public looking for bright optimism in a film, and with critics referring to it as "funny, gentle, warm look at people making their way at a time when, after years of strife, things were starting to look up." It was also hailed as "a good story and cast, recommended not just for the holiday season, but for any time of the year."

Oddly, though the movie was suggested to reach the theaters as a Christmastime feature in 1945, unforeseen incidents delayed the opening; it did not reach the public until Easter, two years later, but was still considered a smashing hit with audiences who crammed the theaters to see a timelessly entertaining movie that could hold entire families enthralled.

"It Happened on 5th Avenue" is the final film in this, the 18th year of Calumet Theatre's Club Indigo. It can be seen on Friday the 14th at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an appropriate buffet of Manhattan haute cuisine from the chefs of Carmelita's in Calumet. The cost for buffet and film is $18, while the film alone is $5. Special discounts apply for kids 10 and younger. To apply for seating at the buffet, call the Calumet Theatre no later than the 13th at 5 p.m.: 337-2610.

Sponsors who made the film available are the Ziyad & Company Art Gallery, 5th Street, Calumet, and Mariner North's new Nagamoon Art Gallery (open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the holidays with huge discounts until Jan. 1) in Copper Harbor.

The next event in what has become a tradition will be Club Finndigo during Finlandia's annual Heikinpaiva festival in January. More about that later.

Note: Catch this year's big annual Winter Wonderfest in Copper Harbor on Saturday the 8th, beginning with a bake sale and arts/crafts gift sale, running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Civic Center, after which the spectacular tree lighting extravaganza takes place in the adjoining park.

Rotten Tomato critical average for "Flight" is B+.



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