What a treat.
Five O' Henry stories, each separate. The primary one from the critic's acclaim was "The Cop and the Anthem". Soapy tells fellow bum Horace that he is going to get arrested so he can spend the winter in a nice jail cell. He fails. He can't even accost a woman; she (Marilyn Monroe) turns out to be a streetwalker. The other stories are "The Clarion Call" (Robertson, Widmark); "The Last Leaf" (Baxter, Peters, Ratoff), "The Ransom of Red Chief" (Allen, Levant, Aaker), and "The Gift of the Magi" (Crain, Granger).
- Steinbeck's Tribute to O'Henry
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.
- Top flight entertainment.
This is one of my favorite old movies. You can't go wrong with this one--if you ever have a chance to see it! I don't recall enough details to improve upon what's been said by other reviewers, but each part was engrossing (though I agree that "The Ransom of Red Chief" was the weakest dramatization of a great short story of the bunch), especially "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Last Leaf." Lingers in the memory long after you see it.
- Needs to be on video
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.
- An Interesting Experiment
O. Henry's Full House is an interesting experiment. Introduced by John Steinbeck, it features adaptations of five of O. Henry's literally dozens of stories. Two of them have a genuine feel for the early twentieth century New York the author knew so well: The Cop and the Anthem and The Clarion Call. The former features Charles Laughton as a tramp with big ideas, and offers Marilyn Monroe in a bizarre cameo; while the latter is a tough little crime story about two boyhood friends from Erie, Pennsylvania whose lives could scarcely have turned out more differently. Jean Negulesco sensitively directed the sentimental The Last Leaf, the most accomplished of the group. On the downside, The Gift Of the Magi is ruined by unsympathetic lead players; and the Howard Hawkes-directed Ransom Of Red Chief is a near-total disaster.
A mixed bag, to say the least, the film was doubtless inspired by the success of the British series of movies adapted from Somerset Maugham's stories. This one isn't nearly as good, but is a good try. Had the producers stuck to dealing with O. Henry's more rugged, ironic New York tales the film might have worked out better, but it opted for heavy doses of sentiment and broad comedy instead. This is a pity, as O. Henry's influence on American literature and popular culture was enormous, and can be seen in many television anthology series, such as The Twilight Zone, and in dramatic shows such as The Naked City. In the first two stories in the film one can see much of the irony and love of simple humanity that must have inspired such later authors as Rod Serling.
- O. Henry's short stories come to life.
This tribute to O.Henry's short stories (much like James Thurber or many other's of the 1920's and 30's) is packed with such talent that one needs to access the IMDB site under the film title to see them all listed. And what a list! Each story is told with a perfection that was never duplicated on television, where this type of short "teleplay" was perfected by the likes of Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, and others in the 1950's. O.Henry's short stories are great with irony and humor. But many of the stories demonstrate how O.Henry was also able to tell the story of the "common man" in america at the turn of the 20th Century. He often spent time in local jails to get story lines from those he encountered during his internment. A beautiful score by Alfred Newman along with dozens of the finest screenwriters, set designers, technicians, and directors, make this often forgotten masterpiece worth a look. Watch for several "famous" cameos.
- notable for the cast
One cannot really make a pastiche movie like this hang together as a coherent whole, but this oddity is interesting for the contributions of the high-powered cast: standing out are Charles Laughton, a disturbingly nasty Richard Widmark, Anne Baxter, and the drily comic Fred Allen, of whom we don't have enough of a film record. However, Oscar Levant's acting skills are really nonexistent; he should have stuck to his career as a musician and professional neurotic. Look for Marilyn Monroe in a cameo in "The Cop & the Anthem".
Henry Hathaway (segment "The Clarion Call")
Howard Hawks (segment "The Ransom of Red Chief")
Henry King (segment "The Gift of the Magi")
Henry Koster (segment "The Cop and the Anthem")
Jean Negulesco (segment "The Last Leaf")
Writing credits (in alphabetical order)
Richard L. Breen segment "The Clarion Call"
Walter Bullock segment "The Gift of the Magi"
Ivan Goff segment "The Last Leaf"
Ben Hecht segment "Ransom of the Red Chief" (uncredited)
O. Henry story
Nunnally Johnson segment "The Ransom of Red Chief" (uncredited)
Charles Lederer segment "Ransom of the Red Chief" (uncredited)
Ben Roberts segment "The Last Leaf"
Lamar Trotti segment "The Cop and the Anthem"
Cast (in credits order) verified as complete
Fred Allen .... Sam (The Ransom of Red Chief)
Anne Baxter .... Joanna (The Last Leaf)
Jeanne Crain .... Della (The Gift of the Magi)
Farley Granger .... Jim (The Gift of the Magi)
Charles Laughton .... Soapy (The Cop and the Anthem)
Oscar Levant .... Bill (The Ransom of Red Chief)
Marilyn Monroe .... Streetwalker (The Cop and the Anthem)
Jean Peters .... Susan (The Last Leaf)
Gregory Ratoff .... Behrman (The Last Leaf)
Dale Robertson .... Barney Woods (The Clarion Call)
David Wayne .... Horace (The Cop and the Anthem)
Richard Widmark .... Johnny Kernan (The Clarion Call)
Joyce Mackenzie .... Hazel
Lee Aaker .... J. B. Dorset aka Red Chief (The Ransom of Red Chief)
Richard Rober .... Chief of Detectives (The Clarion Call)
Fred Kelsey .... Santa Claus (The Gift of the Magi)
Richard Garrick .... Doctor
John Steinbeck .... Narrator
Release Date:21 November 1952 (Sweden)
Sound Mix:Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color:Black and White