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Film / Pocketful of Miracles

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Pocketful of Miracles is a 1961 comedy film directed by Frank Capra, starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford.

It is set in the 1930s sometime soon after the end of Prohibition. "Apple" Annie (Davis) is an elderly alcoholic street hustler, who sells apples to pedestrians, and is a sort of supervisor to a gang of beggars and street hustlers. She is a particular favorite of Dave the Dude (Ford), a New York gangster who is looking to diversify his business now that Prohibition is over. Dave is trying to broker a deal in which he will be the New York man for a big Chicago mob boss, much to the displeasure of his girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange, mother of Jessica Lange), who wants him to go straight and retire from organized crime. Dave devoutly believes that Annie's apples are good luck charms that have fostered his rise in the criminal world.

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Meanwhile, Annie has her own secret life. Unbeknownst to everyone, she has a daughter, Louise, who has been off in Europe attending a Catholic school for many years. Annie has been squirreling away the money she gets from selling apples and hustling and using it to pay for her daughter's education. Ever since Louise was a small child Annie has been writing her letters pretending to be Mrs. E. Worthington Manville, a rich New York society lady. Annie is horrified when she receives a letter from Louise announcing that Louise is engaged to be married to the son of a Spanish count, and that the three of them are coming to New York to meet her. Annie's Heroic BSoD also threatens Dave the Dude, who needs Annie's lucky apples to close his deal, and who clearly has a soft spot for the old lady in any case. So Dave elects to launch The Masquerade in which Annie will be cleaned up and dressed as a rich society lady in order to hoodwink Louise and Annie's new Spanish in-laws. Comedic hijinks ensue.

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A remake of Capra's own 1933 movie Lady for a Day (itself based on Damon Runyon's story "Madame La Gimp"), this was the last film for the legendary director, whose career stretched back to the silent movie days. It was also the last film for veteran character actor Thomas Mitchell—Scarlett's dad in Gone with the Wind, Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, The Alcoholic doctor in Stagecoach, and approximately eight million other film roles. Conversely, it was the first film for 20-year-old Ann-Margret, who plays Louise and would go on to be a huge star. Peter Falk has one of his first roles as Joy Boy, one of Dave's henchmen.


Tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Pocketful of Miracles goes into a lot more detail than Lady for a Day did about the mobster's backstory. It also shows the first meeting between Dave and his girlfriend (called Queenie in this version). The story about Queenie wanting Dave to marry him and Dave's desire to get a promotion in the mobster world were also additions for this movie.
  • The Alcoholic: Apple Annie drinks gin. A lot of gin. She is tanked when Dave first comes to her shabby little room after hearing about her problem.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Pierre, the clothing designer who is part of the effort to make Annie over. When Pierre goes into the room with Annie, Dave objects, only for Queenie to say "It's all right. Believe me, fellas, it's all right."
  • Clothing Damage: A fight between Dave and Queenie ends with Queenie's clothing getting torn in a very fanservice-y way.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joy Boy, one of Dave's henchmen, is the narrator, and pretty snarky. Then there's Annie herself, who is rather snarkier than she was in the 1933 version. Bette Davis gets a nickel for an apple and says "A nickel! Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller!"
  • Hollywood Costuming: has a few nods to 1930s clothing, but the overall look (especially the women's formal dresses at the end) owed more to the time it was made.
  • Hustler: How Henry Blake makes his living, as a pool hustler. Blake is pretending to be E. Worthington Manville when the Spanish count says that each of them have to come up with $50,000 for the dowry. Blake then hustles the count into a game of pool that ends with Blake winning and the count on the hook for the whole dowry.
  • 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 (Thomas Mitchell).
  • Narrator: Joy Boy. He is not at all interested in this Apple Annie scheme and wants Dave to stop screwing around and close his deal with the Chicago mobster.
  • Percussive Maintenance: When Annie's record player starts to skip, she kicks it, and it starts back up.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration
    - I'm off to Havana, sir.
    - With two broken legs?
    - My legs, sir? Oh, they're quite... Oh! Very cleverly put, sir.
  • 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.
  • Title Theme Tune: Overall the film didn't do very well, but the title song "Pocketful of Miracles" got an Oscar nomination.
  • Verbal Irony: A police escort takes Annie and her party back to the dock for Louise's departure. The Spanish count marvels at their police escort, only for the faux E. Worthington Manville (actually a petty criminal and pool hustler) to say "I've had many a police escort."
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