|O. Henry’s Full House (1952)
Run time: Approved | 117 min | Drama
Director: Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks
Writers: Lamar Trotti, Richard L. Breen
Stars: Fred Allen, Anne Baxter, Jeanne Crain
Celebrate one of America’s great storytellers in this highly entertaining collection of five of O. Henry’s tales. All are quite wonderful, but The Gift of the Magi is especially appropriate.
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O’Henry’s short stories are a joy to read. This master of the genre left behind a number of small gems that never seem to go out of style, as they are timeless. The author had an incredible eye to spot situations in which human beings are shown at a moment of crisis only to have fate intervene with ironic twists.
"O’Henry’s Full House" offers five of his best works directed by five distinguished directors. Howard Hawks, Henry Hathaway, Henry Koster, Henry King and Jean Negulesco do an excellent job in bringing the five stories to the screen adapted by some of Hollywood’s best writers of the time in which they were filmed. John Steinbeck does the introductions.
The first story, "The Cop and the Anthem" presents us with Soapy, brilliantly played by Charles Laughton, as a poor homeless person in the middle of a crude winter in New York who wants to be taken to jail in the worst way. He goes to extremes to have him sent to prison, without much luck. David Wayne plays his pal Horace and Marilyn Monroe is seen briefly at the end.
The second installment, "The Clarion Call" shows a police detective, Barney, and his adversary, Johnny, a man to whom he is tied by a loan that stands between them. Dale Robertson is Barney and an annoying Richard Widmark plays the bad guy. Unfortunaly, Mr. Widmark’s performance full of silly laughter and tics ruined the story for this viewer.
The third tale is "The Last Leaf". We have two sisters in the middle of a blizzard in Manhattan. Joanna, played by the fine Anne Baxter, who we see after an apparent breakup with her boyfriend, gets pneumonia as a result of her exposure to the elements. Her good sister Susan goes crazy trying to nurse Joanna to health. Enter the painter Behrman, who is the upstairs neighbor to the rescue. Behrman sells his painting in order to buy medicine and when Joanna in her feverish state believes the tree across the street full of dry leaves is an omen, because as the leaves keep falling, so are the chances for her to get well. Thanks to the caring painter, Joanna survives. Jean Peters plays the kind sister and the wonderful Ratoff is the painter.
The fourth segment is the weakest. "The Ransosm of Red Chief" presents us two con men in Alabama kidnapping a young boy who is wiser and acts much older than what the two con men thought. Fred Allen and Oscar Levant play the kidnappers.
The last, and perhaps the best realized story of the O’Henry’s stories is the unforgettable "The Gift of the Magi", which is the equivalent to Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol". As directed by Henry King and played wonderfully by a beautiful Jeanne Crain and the handsome Farley Granger, this is a story about love and sacrifice under the worst possible circumstances. Della and Jim, with their youth, are penniless, yet, they sacrifice whatever little each one has in order to give the other partner a small token as proof of their love.
This is an immensely endearing film thanks to the legacy of O’Henry.
I’m amazed this film has never been put on video or DVD. If the people in the video department at Fox were smart they would release it every Christmas, since one of the short stories it includes is The Gift of the Magi. Another is the Cop and the Anthem, where Charles Laughton plays a tramp trying unsuccessfully to get himself arrested at Christmas so he can get a warm cell to sleep in. (Red Skelton used that story every Christmas for his Freddy the Freeloader character). As a kid I was a Warner Brothers fan, but this is the one Fox movie I never missed when it came on TV. O. Henry wrote great short stories with twist endings that influenced such TV anthology series as Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock presents. Included here is The Clarion Call, a nice tight little film noir with Richard Widmark virtually repeating his role from Kiss of Death. The Last Leaf is nice life affirming tearjerker. The Ransom of Red Chief has Fred Allen and Oscar Levant in a hilarious tale of two luckless kidnappers in a tale worthy of Mark Twain. Fox is sitting on a gold mine. Put it out on video.
I first saw this movie on TV as a child in the 1960s, and never watched it again until now (2005), but it’s strange how many characters and even specific shots lingered in my mind all those years. This is a gem that has something for everyone: sentimentality, humor, pathos, and loads of good performances. "The Cop and the Anthem" is probably the most tightly written of them all, with subtle touches of humor throughout (besides the most obvious gags). If I had to single out one performer who delighted me the most it would be David Wayne, doing a twitchy down-and-outer playing off of Laughton’s haughty tramp (especially just having seen him play a totally different character in ADAM’S RIB just a week ago).
As an old thespian friend of mine would say, "The Last Leaf" could bring a tear to a glass eye. And in "Red Chief," Fred Allen and Oscar Levant make a strange but fun team.
Not having seen Richard Widmark in the other movie mentioned in reviewer’s comments, I could only think how much he reminded me of Frank Gorshin in various roles he played in the 60s. Watch this segment again and think "Frank."
Your whole family will like this movie. Why doesn’t someone bring it out nice and crispy clean on DVD?
I had never seen this film until a couple of days ago and it was an interesting experience. I enjoyed John Steinbeck’s narration of the five O’Henry stories. It was obvious he greatly respected William Sidney Porter as writer and as human being.
The segments are nicely done. Charles Laughton has a fabulous turn as a gentlemen tramp who’s just simply looking for his room and board for the winter by trying to commit a minor infraction that will give him jail time during what looks like a rough winter coming. Anne Baxter and Jean Peters are also good as a pair of sisters one of whom has convinced herself she’ll die if the last leaf falls off of a bush. Fred Allen and Oscar Levant do nicely as a pair of confidence men turned kidnappers who have the tables turned on them by their victim. You have to have confidence to be a confidence man is Allen’s advice to Levant. Nice to see that legendary radio comedian on the big screen. And Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain are touching in the classic Christmas story
The Gift of the Magi.
The only jarring note comes from one of my favorite actors, Richard Widmark. He and Dale Robertson do a turn as a bad guy and cop
respectively in a short story called The Clarion Call. Widmark has committed a murder and Robertson knows it, but can’t bring himself to arrest him because of a monetary debt from years past.
The O’Henry stories are set in the gaslight era of New York. Widmark does not do anything original but just repeats his Tommy Udo character from Kiss of Death. He even dresses like him, the standard black dress shirt and white tie are jarringly out of place here. The director of this segment was Henry Hathaway who did do Kiss of Death as well so
that might offer an explanation. But it just looks ludicrous.
Other than this segment the film is fine. 7 out of 10.