Monday Matinee: Pocketful of Miracles (1961)


Alternate title for this post would be The Christmas Movie That Wasn’t.

One of my favorite holiday movies is Frank Capra’s last film, Pocketful of Miracles. Starring Glenn Ford and Betty Davis, this film is a wonderfully corny, heart-warming film, and measures up to the Capra-Corn that for which Capra films are known. It is a worthy companion to his It’s A Wonderful Life.

Why is this film so great? First off, it’s a Damon Runyon mashup of the Cinderella story, with the twist that the Cinderalla of the film is an old street woman, played to perfection by Bette Davis. Throw in a twist where the hero of the piece is a bootlegger and club owner, played with marvelous desperation by Glenn Ford. Runyon, Davis, Ford, holidays; a guaranteed winner.

Throw in the fact that it seems like MGM emptied its lot to provide the cast for this film. I’ve written a few posts about those character actors that make you jump and shout, “Oh! I recognize him/her from ……..!” This film is loaded with those actors. Here’s a list of who’s who in the movie:

Jack Elam – wall-eyed actor known for Support Your Local Sherrif/Gunfighter
Arthur O’Connell – Anatomy of a Murder; Bus Stop
Peter Falk – Columbo
Thomas Mitchell – Uncle Billy, in It’s A Wonderful Life
Edward Everett Horton – too numerous to try to pull up, but my favorites are his supporing roles in Astaire/Rogers pics.
Mickey Shaughnessy – Elvis’s mentor in Jailhouse Rock
Sheldon Leonard – Nick the bartender, It’s A Wonderful Life
Jerome Cowan – the prosecuting attorney in Miracle on 34th St.
Ellen Corby – Shane, Sabrina, The Waltons
Grace Lee Whitney – Yeoman Rand in the original Star Trek

And then, to top it off, just as Pocketful of Miracles was Capra’s last film, it was the first film for a young ingenue, looking to break into the movies, and making her first appearance on the silver screen: Ann-Margaret.

Often when so many big names are included in a project, something goes wrong. But in Pocketful of Miracles, that doesn’t happen. With so many great names associated with the film (Runyon, Capra, Davis, Ford, Ann-Margaret), it is fitting capstone to Capra’s career.


Filed under Culture

2 responses to “Monday Matinee: Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

  1. Ah, Capra. One of my cinematic heroes!


  2. I, too, love Capra but find “Pocketful of Miracles” a little cliched. As you say, the cast are proven gems. “Sullivan’s Travels” by Sturgis, also, examines poverty with a light touch. I think it has more heart.


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