The film is about a poor woman called "Apple Annie", who sent her daughter, Louise, abroad, and sends most of the money she makes (both by selling apples or hustling) to help her daughter grow up well off. She also made her daughter think she was well-born and that Annie is living an upper class lifestyle.
But then her daughter is engaged to a Spanish count, who wishes to meet her. The truth would ruin the match and humiliate everyone. Fortunately, a mobster, Dave the Dude, has been buying her apples for years, as a good luck charm. He agrees to help her out in return, with the help of his girlfriend, Missouri Martin. Unfortunately, maintaining the charade is not so simple.
In 1989, Jackie Chan directed and starred in a version set in 1930s Hong Kong, called Miracles (also known as Mr. Canton and Lady Rose or Black Dragon). This version is based most closely on Pocketful of Miracles.
In 2008, Akshay Kumar starred in Singh is Kinng, using the same basic story.
Story and films provide examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: Pierre. He is one of the crew of makeup artists, etc. that Missouri Martin brings in to give Apple Annie a complete makeover.
- Deadpan Snarker: Happy McGuire excels in rattling off sarcastic comebacks.Happy (after Dave recommends that he pose as Annie's husband): "That's a wonderful idea. There's just one thing stands in the way - I've got a wife that's very fussy. She don't like for me to go around marryin' people! I know how unreasonable that must sound to you, but she's very funny that way."
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Missouri brings her "team" in to give Apple Annie a makeover, Dude objects when he sees a man among them, until Missouri tells him to cool it because the man, named Pierre, is "different", and after a moment, Dude gets it, and says, "Oh...Pierre." Of course, even in the pre-Code era, filmmakers weren't allowed to do anything other than imply characters like Pierre were gay.
- Happy Ending: A surprisingly straight example. Just when the film seems like it is setting up a tearful confession from Annie, to be followed by her daughter's tearful forgiveness, the mayor and the governor and other big-wigs show up and save Annie's bacon. Significantly, the movie ends with Annie waving goodbye to her daughter from the dock, and does not show her returning to her life on the streets.
- Hypocritical Humor: From Shakespeare, Dave's dimwitted Mook.Shakespeare: "A fella told me it was hard luck being superstitious."
- Just in Time: Just as Annie feels she has no choice but to confess her secret and ruin her daughter's marriage, the mayor shows up with guests to help keep up the charade for Annie. So does the governor. And the police commissioner.
- Maintain the Lie: An impressive amount of work goes into making Louise and Annie's in-laws think that Annie is Mrs. E. Worthington Manville, a wealthy society lady. Dave the Dude borrows a friend's apartment. The various thugs, lowlifes, and beggars that know Annie dress up as society folk. The mayor and the governor come to her daughter's reception. The police commissioner arranges a police escort to take Louise and Annie's in-laws to the port to board ship.
- Mock Millionaire: Mr. and Mrs. E. Worthington Manville, with Annie's husband being played by pool hustler Henry Blake (Guy Kibbee).
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Missouri Martin is a thinly-fictionalized counterpart of nightclub owner/singer/actress Texas Guinan (who died not long after this film was released).
- Pretty in Mink: Louise has a white ermine shoulder cape.
- Princess for a Day: Or in this case a society lady for a day.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Apple Annie is older than the usual subject of this trope.
- A Simple Plan: Grows increasingly complicated as Dave the Dude, because he believes Annie is good luck (and probably because he genuinely likes her), faces more and more obstacles. A bunch of society reporters from New York newspapers show up at the dock when the ship carrying Louise arrives. The reporters obviously will expose Annie as a fake, so Dave has them kidnapped.