Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

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Released 14-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1961
Running Time 131:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:27) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Frank Capra
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Glenn Ford
Bette Davis
Hope Lange
Arthur O'Connell
Peter Falk
Thomas Mitchell
Edward Everett Horton
Mickey Shaughnessy
David Brian
Sheldon Leonard
Peter Mann
Ann-Margret
Barton MacLane
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Walter Scharf
Jimmy Van Heusen


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Dutch
Greek
Romanian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Frank Capra was indisputably not only one of the greatest American film directors of all time (in my view, the greatest of all time) but also one of the world's greatest film directors. His career ran nearly forty years and he directed fifty three films. He won three Academy Awards for Best Director. But more importantly than all that, he made some of the best films ever seen: It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Lost Horizon, You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Arsenic And Old Lace and It's A Wonderful Life amongst them. His contribution to the war effort in the Second World War was unsurpassed and he produced some of the best propaganda films seen from any of the combatant nations. He was almost single-handedly responsible for elevating Columbia from a minor-league studio to one of the majors as a result of his incredible sequence of success in the 1930s. He is still one of the foremost directors of comedy that we have ever seen, and was well known for his little man takes on the system films, which garnered him the nickname of Capra-corn. In the scheme of things, Pocketful Of Miracles holds a special place: it was the last film that the great man directed.

    It might not be one of his greatest films, but all the Capraesque qualities are there. Then again, they ought to be as this is a remake of his own 1933 classic, Lady For The Day. The latter film was perhaps the start of that stunning sequence of marvelous films in the 1930s that elevated Frank Capra to the very top rank of directors. So the remake has of course some serious cinematic boots to fill, which it does pretty well indeed. Sure, it is not as good as the earlier film but in its own right it certainly holds up well and managed to garner three Academy Award nominations in 1962: Best Supporting Actor for Peter Falk, Best Costume Design, Colour for the incomparable Edith Head and Best Music, Original Song for Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. It dipped out on all three, but given the competition that year (West Side Story, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Judgement At Nuremberg and The Guns Of Navarone amongst them) it was not unexpected. Glenn Ford did win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy though.

    "Apple" Annie (Bette Davis) is a peddler on Broadway, scrounging a living by selling apples. She is also the "leader" of a whole bunch of unfortunates who peddle or scam on the streets of New York. She enjoys the odd nip of gin and generally life progresses from day to day without much difference or joy - other than for the letters she receives from her daughter Louise (debutante Ann-Margret), who has been away in Europe for many a year. Through no real fault of Louise's, she has the impression that her mother is a wealthy society dame living at one of New York's finest hotels. Amongst Annie's regular clients is racketeer Dave "The Dude" Conway (Glenn Ford), a lucky man who firmly believes that luck comes from Annie's apples - so insists on buying one, with copious tip, before any "business" dealing. The setting is prohibition New York, and courtesy of the death of a person who owes him a chunk of money, Dave comes into contact with Elizabeth "Queenie" Martin (Hope Lange) - a person very different from Dave, a person who agrees to pay off her deceased father's debt to Dave at the rate of $5 a week from her weekly earnings as a cafeteria teller. Her old man owed $20,000, so figure how long it is going to take to pay off the debt.

    But Dave ain't met no broad like Queenie before and so he decides to set her up as a night club performer in the rejuvenated club that he inherited as a result of Queenie's father's death. The club goes spectacularly well and as prohibition ends, Queenie pays off the last of her father's debt. Now all she wants is to marry Dave, who is just a bit reluctant as he is about to go into business running the whole of New York's seedier side. Well, at least that is the plan until he cannot find Annie to buy an apple off. When he finally does locate her, he discovers the little problem that Annie is now experiencing, namely that Louise is returning to New York to visit with her new, aristocratic, fiancé, which ordinarily would not be a problem except for the fact that Louise of course thinks that Annie is some high class society dame... With Queenie possibly exiting his life permanently, Dave The Dude is desperate to do whatever he can to keep her from marrying her boss, so buckles under her pressure to help out Annie. So how do you turn a street peddler into a high class society dame with a respectable name and a respectable husband? Heck, this is America - they can do anything, at least with money. But with the arrival of Louise and her fiancé imminent, how is all this fairy tale to be pulled off, even if it can? Of course, Dave The Dude's number two Joy Boy (Peter Falk) simply does not believe it can be, nor does he believe it wise that Dave The Dude keep getting the back up of the big man from Chicago in Steve Darcey (Sheldon Leonard).

    This really is a nice little comedy, highlighted by some great performances - not the least from the extremely laconic Peter Falk, which justifiably copped the Oscar nomination. I cannot say that I have ever been a fan of his work, but from what I have seen this is by far and away the best thing he ever did. Aside from some rather clichéd gangster characters (a pity that Frank Capra did not update this slightly rather than making a straight remake), the rest of the cast do a good job overall. Mostly due to the assured direction of the master I would guess, but there is hardly a foot put wrong anywhere here, however it is in some of the minor characters where the brilliance is more obvious. A typical example is the wonderful performance of Edward Everett Horton as the butler Hutchings, a gem of a performance that is almost worth the price of the DVD alone. I am no great fan of Bette Davis either, but this is a wonderful performance too, especially as the film progresses into the third act.

    Not one of the master's best films to be sure, but even his mediocre films are so far in front of the best the rest can toss out that it is still a more than worthwhile film to catch up with. It could perhaps have done with some modest pruning to get the running time down a little but I thoroughly enjoyed the film and the performances. Recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, which is pretty close to its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The bad news is that it is not 16x9 enhanced, which really is something that I cannot condone. If you want to condemn MGM for their cheap approach to DVD releases, condemn them for not offering 16x9 enhanced releases, rather than the lack of extras. How any major distributor can simply ignore the essential feature of 16x9 enhancement for widescreen releases is beyond my comprehension.

    The film was shot anamorphically, which means that there is a fundamental underlying quality to the source material that perhaps the transfer does not do enough justice to. Nonetheless, this is a decently sharp effort given its forty-odd years of age, with plenty of detail and definition. There are a few odd lapses here and there, mostly to do with the back projection stuff, but otherwise this can hold its own at times with films far, far younger. There is little in the way of grain present, with the result being quite a clear transfer. Shadow detail is pretty good overall.

    Colours are generally quite bright and vibrant, at least for a film of this age. Skin tones are perhaps just a little underdone, but not so much as to cause real annoyance, whilst the club scenes would nowadays be expected to be more colourful than they are here. Blacks are pretty well handled, with decent depth and consistency. There are no obvious problems with oversaturation or colour bleed.

    There is nothing much in the way of obvious MPEG artefacting in the transfer. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the film-to-video artefacting, which is what drags this transfer down significantly. Aliasing is the ever-present problem, from mild to rather annoying. You cannot miss it - it is everywhere: the taxi grille at 3:03, rather badly in the furniture at 3:21 and 6:41, in the magazine at 29:36 (rather ugly) and so on. Add into the mix some moiré artefacting in the waistcoat at 42:10 and you start getting something rather tiresome to look at. For a forty year old film, there were far fewer obvious film artefacts than I was expecting.

    This is a dual layer, single sided DVD with the layer change coming at 67:27. It was not obvious during playback of the film so it cannot be too badly placed and certainly not too badly executed.

    There are five subtitle options on the DVD, with an English for the Hearing Impaired effort being the one I checked out. Pretty good overall but with some dialogue missed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are five Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks on the DVD, the language options being English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. Naturally enough, I stuck with the English option.

    Dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is usually easy to understand. There is nothing significant in the way of audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music comes from Walter Schraf and a reasonable enough effort it is too, not that the film requires much in the way of musical scoring as everything of importance is done through the well executed dialogue.

    There are no real issues with what is essentially a mono soundtrack. There is a bit of hiss at times but nothing objectionable unless you watch the film at the same thunderous level that the MGM DVD logo plays at before the film. There is some spaciousness in the sound so thankfully there are no problems with congestion, which is what I was expecting. Overall, decent stuff that does the job required of it.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Nothing other than a rubbish menu that does not even use words, but rather symbols, to indicate the few available choices it offers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The film seems to be afforded a similar presentation in all the regions I could trace a release down for. Region 1 is identical to the Region 4 other than for soundtrack options. The Region 2 release also is similar to the Region 4 release, so your choice is to pretty much go for whatever region is the cheaper - which given that this can be gotten for under $13 locally is probably the Region 4 release.

Summary

    Whilst I still would prefer Lady For A Day to be on DVD, until such time as it does become available I can live with Pocketful Of Miracles. It is a good film in its own right and features enough of that Capraesque magic to provide a nice adjunct to some of those truly great films of Frank Capra that I do have on DVD from other regions. Whilst it borders on the criminal that the video transfer is not 16x9 enhanced, if you can look past the video issues you might well enjoy this too. All of which goes to prove that not every title that resides on the dud pile is actually a dud film...

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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