Pocketful of Miracles (1961) – Film Review
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Hope Lange
by Sarah Morgan
Frank Capra knew about rags-to-riches stories – his entire life was one. Born in Sicily, he moved with his family to America at the age of five and was raised in what he described as an Italian ‘ghetto’ in Los Angeles before becoming one of the most revered Hollywood directors of all time.
He’s best known for his feelgood films, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington, It Happened One Night and the grandaddy of them all, It’s a Wonderful Life. Pocketful of Miracles is similarly sentimental and heart-warming but isn’t quite in the same class as the aforementioned trio.
Bette Davis and Glenn Ford take the lead roles. She’s Apple Annie, an impoverished alcoholic who makes ends meet selling fruit on the streets of Manhattan; he’s Dave The Dude, a bootlegger who believes Annie’s apples bring him luck, so buys them whenever he has a big deal going down.
Unbeknown to anyone, Annie has a grown-up daughter, Louise, living in Spain. She believes her mother is well to-do and lives in a swanky New York hotel – she’s been sending her letters there for years, which Annie has been picking up from a friendly doorman.
When Louise announces she’s getting married and is bringing her aristocratic fiancé and his father to meet her, all hell breaks loose. The Dude’s on-off girlfriend persuades him to call in a few favours to get Annie a suite at the hotel, while she organises a makeover.
Will the result fool the Spanish noblemen and Annie’s beloved offspring? This being a Capra movie, it’s probably easy to guess how it all pans out. But not to worry, watching the cast in action is worth tuning in for alone.
Davis delivers a typically reliable performance, while Ford is livelier here than I’ve ever seen him before; he’s clearly having a whale of a time. Peter Falk deserves a special mention as The Dude’s right-hand man, and there’s an appearance from Thomas Mitchell; Capra fans will recognise him as Uncle Billy from It’s a Wonderful Life. Ann-Margret also appears as Louise in her film debut.
The movie itself is highly watchable but lacks a little depth. If it reminds you of Guys and Dolls but without the music, that’s perhaps because both are based on Damon Runyon stories. Oddly, this was Capra’s second go at it – it’s a remake of his 1933 film Lady for a Day.
Pocketful of Miracles was also the director’s final movie. Sadly, it’s not a fitting end to an illustrious career, merely an intriguing coda.
· Presented in High Definition
· Audio commentary by Jim Hemphill (2020)
· A Pocketful of Archive Shorts: a tangential dive into archive film, exploring some of the themes and iconography of Pocketful of Miracles featuring Street Scene – Men with Cart (1898, 1 min); Beggar’s Deceit (1900, 1 min); Cunard Mail Steamer Lucania Leaving For America (extract) (1901, 3 mins); American Liner ‘Lusitania’ Entering New York Harbour (1911, 1 min); Fruitlands of Kent (1934, 12 mins); Love on the Wing (1939, 4 mins); I Am a Reporter (1961, 13 mins)
· Image gallery
Pocketful of Miracles is released on Blu-ray by BFI, £19.99