Remakes are an interesting phenomenon, not only because they cause consternation among fans of the original films, but because several directors have remade their own films. Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawkes, and Tim Burton are but a few examples.
Also on the list is Frank Capra, who remade his 1933 film Lady for a Day in 1961 as Pocketful of Miracles. Based on a Damon Runyon story about a street peddler who is a believed to be a good luck charm by a gangster, Capra had been keen to remake the film for a long time.
The project had many ups and downs. Eventually, Capra bought the film rights himself. At first Frank Sinatra was set to star, but he backed out. Actor Glenn Ford offered to help finance the project if he could play the lead. Capra was not sold on the idea of Ford in the role, but eventually agreed.
The pivotal role of Apple Annie was rejected by Shirley Booth, Helen Hayes, and Jean Arthur. At the time, Bette Davis was in dire financial straights and needed to make a comeback. She agreed to do the film mostly for the money.
The story is a typical Runyonesque story that casts street toughs and society’s cast-offs in a fanciful, sentimental tale. Dave the Dude (Ford) believes if he buys an apple off of peddler Apple Annie before big, important moments in his life, they bring him luck. Hoping to make a deal with another powerful gangster, he is stalled because Annie has had some bad news.
It turns out she has a daughter named Louise (Ann-Margaret, in her film debut) who was raised in Spain and believes her mother is a wealthy matron. Annie has been raising money for Louise’s education by shaking down the other street peddlers (who don’t seem to mind it too much and consider themselves honorary godparents to Louise). Annie receives a letter from Louise telling her she is to marry the son of a Spanish count—and they are on their way to America to meet her.
Terrified that not only Louise will find out she is a lowly street peddler, but that this fact will ruin Louise’s chances at this marriage, Annie goes into a deep depression—and Dave’s luck has a bad turn.
The Dude’s girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange) persuades Dude to help Annie out somehow so his luck will change again. Reluctantly, he finds a penthouse at the hotel where Louise thinks Annie lives, which comes with a butler (Edward Everett Horton) who is amenable to helping out with the ruse. Soon, the plan widens to include a fake stepfather for Louise (Thomas Mitchell), and Annie is given an extreme makeover into a society matron.
Every step of the way the Dude is criticized by his right-hand Joy Boy (Peter Falk), who finds his help for Annie completely incomprehensible—not to mention a roadblock to the deal they are trying to make with the big-name gangster.
Capra may not have cared for Ford as Dave the Dude, but he packed the supporting roles with some terrific character actors, including Sheldon Leonard, Jack Elam, Mickey Shaughnessey, Arthur O’Connell, and Mike Mazurki. Falk was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Joy Boy. Mitchell (in his last film role) and Horton are particularly droll as the faux husband/stepfather and butler.
The film was a financial failure, but I find it a charming and fun exercise, from the solid cast to the Runyonesque situations and dialogue. In spite of being mostly drubbed by the critics, it garnered several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, as well as a Directors Guild nomination for Capra. And because the film takes place over the Christmas holidays, it has been a staple on television during the holiday season for decades.
Not bad for a film nobody but Frank Capra wanted made.