Frank Capra (director)
136 min (length)
21 September 2020 (released)
15 September 2020
This was director Frank Capra's swan song and it would be nice to say he bowed out on a good one… unfortunately it was not to be. Ostensibly this seemingly lavish affair from 1961 initially may appear to have a lot going for it. It is a remake of Capra's 1933 'Lady for a Day' - a film which achieved considerable success with no starry cast and a screenplay by Robert Riskin based on then top-Broadway writer Damon Runyon's story 'Madam La Gimp'. The most interesting thing about this remake is the history of how it came about and why it ultimately failed.
The story is somewhat far fetched but in effect a latter day fairy tale. Our co-protagonist Apple Annie (here played by Bette Davis who despite her 53 years of age was too young for the part) is about one up from a street beggar who lives in near poverty in a hovel and sells apples (the reddest you've ever seen) on the streets. Her sad little life is about to be changed - at least for a while (but there are loose ends all over the place anyway). Annie is very popular with the other street down and outs and there are plenty of them. Fortunately for her, she also has a friend in relatively small time gangster and nightclub owner 'Dave the Dude' (how Runyonesque) played by Glenn Ford (he put a lot of the money up; wanting to play the part). The main reason for their apparent friendship is that Dave is suspicious by nature (perhaps no surprise what with him being a NY mobster) and thus takes one of Apple Annie's gloriously red apples with him wherever he goes. Dave himself is having difficulties with his ailing nightclub - enter Queenie Martin (Hope Lange - Ford's then girlfriend) whose father has just died owing Dave a great deal of money. Queenie offers to pay it off in small amounts - effectively this will take over a hundred years. Dave, naturally quick off the mark, sees something special in Queenie and within no she is the shining light of Dave’s club as the singer fronting the house band. Thanks to Queenie, Dave's club is soon one of the busiest hangouts in the ‘Big Apple'. But it’s not all plain sailing though as, in a subplot, a confrontation with one Steve Darcey (a telling cameo from producer Sheldon Leonard) about 'territory payments' arises. This confrontation, however, is smoothed over as the 'business' concerning Apple Annie now takes precedence.
Annie, to her utter dismay receives a letter from her estranged daughter Louise (Ann-Margret making her debut) informing her that she wants to marry her fiancé: fabulously wealthy Spanish aristocrat Carlos Romero (Peter Mann, who has very few lines). To celebrate the occasion the soon to be married couple will arrive in New York on a mighty steamer and bringing with them Carlos’ father Count Alfonso Romero (Arthur O'Connell). Trouble is Apple Annie has been pretending for some time (this is not properly explored) that she herself is wealthy and is residing in a very expensive hotel from which she has been collecting her daughter's letters. When she goes there again the management do not appear to understand the situation - unless someone new is working in the mail department or it is an unfortunate 'one off' happening? Anyway she gets her daughter’s letter eventually though this is of course is a letter she would rather not have received. What is the poor woman to do after reading that her daughter and her aristocratic future in-laws wish to meet her?
Dave is persuaded to help Annie and for this a huge hotel suite is acquired. Annie is given a makeover – transforming her from bag lady into a glamorous dowager. Upon the initial reunion with her daughter and the Romero’s the façade remains steady – Dave even managed to arrange a fake husband for Annie in the shape of mild-mannered pool hustler ‘Judge’ Henry Blake (Thomas Mitchell). However, the Count is expecting at least a hundred guests at the lavish reception and now Dave really is going to have to pull a mighty lot of strings to persuade Count Romero that Annie really is a wealthy woman. Just when it appears the façade might crumble after all, a pocketful of miracles ensures a happy ending after all…
With a running time of 136 minutes this film is far too long and lacks pace – it possibly would have worked better if at least 45 minutes were taken off. Bette Davis was fourth choice for this role and hadn't worked for four years – apart from the age issue she is simply not right for the part… it is hard to feel much sympathy for her Apple Annie despite Bette’s theatrical ploys - pathos was never her game. It may have worked better with Jean Arthur. Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy from Capra fave 'It's a Wonderful Life') displays heart and wit as Annie’s fake hubby Judge Blake.
Glenn Ford won a ‘Golden Globe Award’ in the ‘Best Actor’ category. Peter Falk was nominated for a ‘Best Supporting Actor Academy Award’ for his portrayal as Dude’s sidekick 'Joy Boy' but didn’t win. That also goes for La Davis who was nominated for a ‘Best Actress Golden Globe Award’ but equally left empty handed. In total the film received six nominations but only Ford walked away a winner – proving director Capra, who initially had favoured the likes of Frank Sinatra (who walked out after disagreements over the script), Kirk Douglas, Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason wrong. Despite these accolades the film flopped at the box office. At least the film looks good - we could expect nothing less. Bette Davis completists might want to purchase this Blu-ray release on strength of her part but here she is not your usual bitchy Queen Bee.
Bonus Features include A Pocketful Of Archive Shorts: ‘Street Scene – Men with Cart’ (1898, 1 min), ‘Beggar’s Deceit’ (1900, 1 min), ‘Cunard Mail Steamer Luciana leaving for the US extract’ (1901, 3 min), American Liner Lusitania entering NY harbour’ (1911, 1min), ‘Fruitlands of Kent’ (1934, 12 min), the animated ‘Love on the Wing’ (1939, 4 min) plus ‘I’m a Reporter’ (1961, 13 min). There’s also an Illustrated Booklet (first pressings only).