It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

Seventy-six years ago today, the film It Happened on 5th Avenue premiered. It appeared on television from the mid 1950s. Around 1990, the film essentially disappeared from broadcast and retail availability. Despite an Academy Award nomination, a cult following through a dedicated fan website, and many requests to Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics to show the movie, it was not broadcast on American television for nearly 20 years. It became available on DVD and it aired on Turner Classic Movies in 2009 and beginning in 2014, it is broadcast frequently during the holiday season.

Title: It Happened on 5th Avenue
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay by: Everett Freeman
Story by: Herbert Clyde Lewis & Frederick Stephani
Produced by: Roy Del Ruth
Starring: Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore, and Gale Storm
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Edited by: Richard V. Heermance
Music by: Edward Ward
Production Company: Roy Del Ruth Productions
Distributed by: Allied Artists
Release date: April 19, 1947
Running time: 116 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1.2–$1.3 million
Box office: $1.8 million

Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore), a hobo, makes his home in a seasonally boarded-up Fifth Avenue mansion, each time its owner—Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), the second richest man in the world—winters at his Virginia estate. McKeever winds up taking in ex-G.I. Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), who has been evicted from an apartment building O’Connor is tearing down for a new skyscraper, and later 18-year-old Trudy “Smith” (Gale Storm), who is actually O’Connor’s runaway daughter. Jim soon invites war buddies Whitey (Alan Hale, Jr.), Hank (Edward Ryan) and their families to share the vast mansion when they are unable to find homes of their own.

When Trudy encounters her father, she tells him she is in love with Jim. She has not told Jim who she really is because she wants to win his love without her wealth. She persuades her father to pretend to be a homeless man named “Mike”. McKeever reluctantly takes Mike in, but treats him like a servant. When Mike becomes fed up, he gives Trudy 24-hours to get the squatters out. Trudy calls Palm Beach to seek help from her mother Mary (Ann Harding), who is recently divorced from Michael. Mary comes to New York and pretends to be another homeless person to join the other squatters. McKeever, sensing Mary and Mike have feelings for each other, nudges them together. Eventually, Mike tells Mary he is a changed man and proposes. Mary accepts.

Earlier, McKeever had given Jim, Whitey, and Hank an idea to convert unused post-war Army barracks into much-needed housing, and persuaded Jim and the others to bid for an Army camp on the outskirts of New York City. Jim and his friends raise money from hundreds of other ex-G.I.’s in the same predicament. O’Connor also wants the property, and a bidding war ensues before O’Connor finds out who his competitor is. To try to get rid of Jim, his daughter’s suitor, O’Connor sees to it that the construction company Jim approaches about his conversion plan rejects it and instead offers him a well-paying job in Bolivia, on the condition that he be single.

Celebrating Christmas Eve together, the residents are caught by two patrolmen, but McKeever convinces them to let the families stay until after the New Year. Jim then sadly reveals that the camp has been sold to O’Connor, and that he is considering the job offer in Bolivia, resulting in Trudy breaking up with him. When Mary and Trudy find out how Mike has manipulated the situation, Mary tells him that he has not changed after all, and that she and Trudy will leave for Florida. Ashamed, “Mike” arranges a meeting with O’Connor for Jim and his partners, who are dubious but accept. At the meeting, Mike reveals his true identity and transfers ownership of the camp to them, provided that they not reveal his identity to McKeever.

That night, everyone shares a New Year’s dinner before restoring the house just as they found it. Mike, Mary, Trudy, and Jim bid farewell to McKeever as he heads off to do his annual squat at O’Connor’s estate in Virginia, still unaware of the truth. Mike tells Mary to remind him to nail up the board in the back fence through which McKeever gets onto his property, intending to have McKeever come through the front door next winter.

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