A very charming Christmas film from 1947 called “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” stars Victor Moore as a homeless man (Aloysius T. McKeever) with a brilliant idea. When millionaires board up their summer mansions in New York City for the winter, he moves in and leaves just before they return. He wears the millionaire’s clothing, eats whatever food is in the larder and lounges in glorious prosperity with his faithful dog Sam.
In this movie, a millionaire named Michael O’Connor (played by Charles Ruggles) is a gruff, type A personality with a controlling nature. When his 18-year-old daughter (Gale Storm) runs away from a boarding school to the mansion and finds McKeever and others living there, she pretends to be a burglar. Rather than call the police, the squatters let her stay in the mansion while she looks for a job. Her father returns to New York and she convinces him to play along too. The humor revolves around the fact that McKeever and O’Connor exchange roles, with O’Connor doing manual labor (washing dishes, shoveling snow) to McKeever’s supervision.
Ruggles and Moore are great character actors. Moore appeared in “Swing Time,” a 1936 Astaire and Rogers film, but he mostly played pompous judges and political types. Ruggles famously played The Major in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film “Trouble in Paradise.” He played another interesting role in “Ruggles of Red Gap,” from 1935, but not the title role, which is played by Charles Laughton. He also played Major Horace Applegate in 1939’s “Bringing Up Baby.” So, he has a history of playing self made and successful men gotten the best of by servant types or underlings. Another great character actor, Grant Mitchell, plays one of O’Connor’s executives.
Supposedly, Frank Capra originally wanted to direct this film. It makes sense since It Happened on Fifth Avenue has a similar feel and story to Capra’s 1938 film “You Can’t Take it With You.” But Capra came across “It’s a Wonderful Life” and decided to direct that 1946 film. Roy Del Ruth, a veteran director of dozens of films, produced and directed the movie and he does a wonderful job.