Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES and WITNESS TO MURDER on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES and WITNESS TO MURDER on Blu-ray

In what is ostensibly a remake of his 1933 film LADY FOR A DAY, this 1961 comedy from Frank Capra has a lot to like about it. First off you have Bette Davis as the story's main focus. She plays "Apple Annie" a vagrant street woman who sells fruit and has seemingly risen to a modest social status within the other vagrants of New York City. One of her best customers is Dave "The Dude" (Glenn Ford) who is a successful, kind-hearted and well-known gangster in New York. The Dude is also a man of much superstitiousness and he believes that at least part of his good fortune has come from buying a single apple a day from Apple Annie. Basic storyline has to do with Annie's estranged daughter coming to visit her for the first time since she was sent away to school as a kid. Annie has led her daughter to believe she is a wealthy socialite and she is beside herself with grief and shame about what her daughter will think of her as she really is. So The Dude and his goons (Peter Falk and Mickey Shaughnessy) put her up at a posh hotel in town and do their best to help fake the image of Annie as her daughter would expect. The cast is littered with other cool folks like Edward Everett Horton, Thomas Mitchell and Ann-Margret which only elevates things. I have to say though that despite all that, I think I still prefer LADY FOR A DAY. There's just something about the 1933 version of this movie that works better for me. It works better in a black and white, precode context. Also, as much as I like Bette Davis, she comes off just a little TOO pathetic and sad in this and it makes the whole story a heckuva lot sappier. May Robson captures it a little better in LADY FOR A DAY. On top of that, nothing against Glenn Ford, but the charming and underrated Warren William is a sharper fit for Dave The Dude in LADY as well. Still, A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES is worth a look, even if it overstays its welcome at a lengthy 136 minutes (versus LADY's 96). Transfer looks very nice, colors very strong on this Blu-ray. I will say it's neat to see this tale told in color and widescreen (2.35 to 1).

Here's some cool footage of Capra and cast on the set of POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES in 1961:


WITNESS TO MURDER (1954; Roy Rowland)
Boy George Sanders sure can strangle a gal to death, and Barbara Stanwyck gets to witness it first hand from her bedroom window across the way (looking into his window). A few months before Hitchcock's color Vistavision classic REAR WINDOW hit theaters in the U.S., this down and dirty black and white noir arrived on the scene. Though despite it's excellent cast (Stanwyck, Sanders, and Gary Merrill) a familiar premise and some good-looking photography by noir stylist John Alton, this film remains strangely much less well-known. 
Stanwyck plays Miss Cheryl Draper (no relation to Don) who, as I mentioned, witness a murder committed by Albert Richter (Sanders), a well-to-do and very proper writer. A cop (Gary Merrill) is sent to investigate  and of course Richter plays totally oblivious. One thing this film has that REAR WINDOW doesn't is any doubt at all that the killer in question is guilty. We see him do it, we see him move the body and we see him sweat the cops after they leave. There is no mystery about any of that. So when the cops think Miss Draper is a little confused and imagined the whole thing, we know that's not true. But She still doubts herself so she purchases some...wait for it...binoculars(!) to examine Richter further. Very familiar right? Not that I think this had any influence on REAR WINDOW, but I am always amused when two films come out so close together with these kind of similarities. I will say this for George Sanders- I kind of prefer his bad guy roles to his other stuff. There's just something about him that reeks of "villainous dick". See him in films like MAN HUNT and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY to see other examples of what I mean. He is of course perfect here and has a very gentlemenly yet creepy demeanor that is perfectly chilling. Gary Merrill is a very good and unjustly underrated actor with the ever so slightest hint of Hestony-ness to him ( less than James Franciscus and Bradford Dillman). Check him out with Bette Davis in ANOTHER MAN'S POISON for a really solid example of what he can do. He's great in WITNESS though, and brings things up a notch for sure. 
Movies like this are inherently frustrating of course because we know what's going on and everyone else (save Sanders) doesn't. It also veers into that sketchy and disturbing area that is the psychological examination of people in the 1950s. There are some scenes in the "observation ward" of a mental hospital and that stuff always tends to make me squirm slightly. As much as it's a dramatized representation of the way things went down in a place like that, it's hard to shake the thought that a lot more folks got themselves messed with seriously in places like that during this period. In the case of this film not much is shown in those scenes, but the way things have been set up and the popular opinions of Cheryl Draper's sanity makes it all very tense and I enjoyed that.
This is a rare noir type film shot in widescreen (1.75 to 1) as opposed to the Academy ratio you might expect. This helps it a little I think. Brings us in a little closer somehow and I liked that about it. Transfer looks good though there were a few shots that looked a little odd, like a dupes from an old print or something. Good disc overall.

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