Pocketful of Miracles (1961) is a Frank Capra, feel-good film.
But it’s packed with some crazy behind-the-scenes drama.
Glenn Ford and the legendary Bette Davis play the leads in Pocketful of Miracles. And they definitely did not get along during filming. So, to borrow Bette’s famous phrase from All About Eve (1950):
“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
To the plot.
It’s Depression-era New York City. Apple Annie (Bette Davis) is a…well…she’s a street hag who sells apples for a living. Annie is the ringleader of all the beggars and hustlers on Broadway.
Would you expect anything less from a Bette Davis character?
(Being the leader of the pack, I mean.)
Bette as Apple Annie is absolutely hilarious as she takes her monthly cut from her crew, and screams at the kind-hearted passersby who purchase her apples:
“A nickel?! Thank you Mr. Rockefeller, you lousy cheapskate!”
Ah, how endearing. And delivered as only Bette Davis can.
Dave the Dude
Apple Annie’s best customer is New York City mobster, Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford). The Dude is incredibly superstitious, and believes Annie’s “lucky” apples, which he regularly buys, are responsible for all his success as a bootlegger and racketeer. The Dude’s right-hand man, Joy Boy (Peter Falk), teases the Dude constantly about his dependence on Annie’s apples.
(You may recognize Falk from television’s Columbo (1989-2003). And he might be the best part of this film.)
Annie has a grown daughter, Louise (Ann-Margret in her film debut), living in Spain.
Louise has been in Spain since forever, getting a top-notch education—try not to think about the logistics of how Apple Annie pays for this education—and has absolutely no idea that her mother is a hustler.
In fact, Louise thinks her mom is a hoity-toity society lady.
Annie and Louise write to each other just about everyday, so it’s not terribly surprising when the inevitable happens: Louise decides to come to New York for a visit.
And she’s bringing her fiancé.
And his father.
Oh, and they’re both Spanish Counts.
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A Good Deed
Dave the Dude, thanks to the urging of his kind-hearted girlfriend, dancer and nightclub owner Queenie Martin (Hope Lange), decides to help Annie out: he turns Annie into a lady to both fool and impress her daughter.
Annie gets a full makeover, new wardrobe, the works. Dude also sets Annie up in a ritzy apartment, complete with a butler named Hudgins, played by the delightful Edward Everett Horton. (The other standout performance in the film.)
The Dude even arranges for his buddy, Henry “the Judge” (Thomas Mitchell) to pretend to be Annie’s husband.
Do They Pull it Off?
After Louise, fiancé Carlos, and Count Alfonso arrive in New York, endless complications threaten to thwart Annie’s plan.
But quick thinking Dave the Dude somehow rolls with all the punches, using his connections to fulfill Annie’s dreams of impressing her daughter, and keeping her from the truth.
The film ends with Annie successfully pulling off her charade, and it’s not until Louise, Carlos, and Count Alfonso are on the boat sailing back to Spain, with Annie biding them an emotional goodbye from the dock, that Annie breaks from her rich dowager character. Her daughter is barely out of sight when Annie chides her old crew, who are there with her:
“Why are you all standing here with your mouths open?! The crowd at this dock is LOADED. Start hustling!”
And with that line, the film ends.
Capra Gets His Chance
Director Frank Capra reached the apex of his career with his spectacular films of the 1930s, including It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1938). By the early 1960s, Capra was all but retired.
Pocketful of Miracles was a remake of another Capra film, Lady for a Day (1933). For years the director tried to get Miracles made, but it never panned out, in large part due to the fact that Capra’s post-WWII career never quite reached the heights he’d achieved before serving his adopted country during the war years.
It wasn’t until Glenn Ford showed interest in Pocketful of Miracles that things really got off the ground. Ford offered Capra a deal: Glenn would help finance the film in exchange for Capra giving him the lead role and a producing credit.
Pocketful of Miracles and A Troubled Partnership
Frank Capra was reluctant to accept Ford’s terms: Capra envisioned Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin in the role of Dave the Dude.
(And I must say, Dean Martin would have been amazing.)
Capra also feared that by accepting Ford’s deal, he’d be expected to give up some of his artistic freedom. But ultimately, Frank Capra’s desire to actually make the film proved stronger than his misgivings. He agreed to Ford’s terms, and Franton Productions–Capra and Ford’s production company–was born.
It was a decision Capra regretted almost immediately. He never did like the film, and was extremely disappointed with the end result.
As Capra wrote in his autobiography [aff. link], with Miracles, he:
“sold out the artistic integrity that had been my trademark for forty years.”
Sadly, Frank Capra’s feature film career ended on this note of disappointment: Pocketful of Miracles was his final film.
Pocketful of Miracles: More Drama!
Capra felt that Glenn Ford frequently undermined him on Pocketful of Miracles, even down to the casting of the second female lead, Queenie Martin.
Capra envisioned singer Shirley Jones in the role. And by some accounts, Jones actually already had the role of Queenie Martin before Glenn stepped in and insisted that his real-life girlfriend, Hope Lange, be cast instead.
Glenn Ford’s star power, coupled with the deal Capra and Ford made, meant that Frank Capra had to go for the casting change.
Hope Lange got the role.
Feeling as if he had no control over his film was stress-inducing for Frank Capra, and he suffered intense headaches throughout the production.
When Capra’s autobiography came out in 1971, Glenn Ford read it, and was mystified at Capra’s negativity towards him.
Glenn’s son Peter Ford shared [aff. link] that after reading the book, Glenn wrote Capra a testy telegram:
“What a shame you did not have the guts to say this to my face—what you said in the book.”
Doesn’t sound like Frank Capra to keep feelings of disgruntlement during filming to himself, but who knows.
From Friends to Foes: Glenn and Bette Davis on Pocketful of Miracles
Frank Capra wasn’t the only one on the Miracles set who had a problem with Glenn Ford.
Bette Davis also had major issues with her co-star.
Back in 1946, Bette was instrumental in re-vamping Glenn’s post-WWII career. Thanks to Bette’s star-power and insistence, Glenn got the lead role opposite her in A Stolen Life (1946), the film that made him a star. (Bette reportedly liked Glenn so much at the time that she made a pass at him as well.)
But by the 1960s, the roles were reversed. Glenn Ford was now the superstar, and Bette Davis was in the midst of a career slump.
According to the pro-Glenn Ford team, Glenn kindly used his star power to get Bette the role of Apple Annie in Miracles.
Team Bette vs. Team Glenn
But Team Bette disputes this, insisting that Frank Capra offered Bette the role with zero influence from Glenn Ford.
Not long after signing on for Pocketful of Miracles Bette was furious to read an interview Glenn gave, in which he stated that it was all thanks to him that Bette was cast in this comeback film.
This didn’t sit well with Bette. As the Davis angrily said in response to Ford’s highly public claim:
“Who is that son of a bitch that he should say he helped me have a comeback! That shit heel wouldn’t have helped me out of a sewer!”
Never one to mince words, that Bette.
Whatever the facts behind Bette’s casting, Bette and Glenn fought like cats and dogs on the Miracles set.
The fighting even extended to the dressing room assignments of Bette and Hope Lange. Bette was the bigger star, but Glenn felt his girlfriend deserved the better dressing room, so Bette and Hope ended up switching dressing rooms a couple of times.
No wonder Frank Capra suffered constant headaches on set.
Pocketful of Miracles: A Growing Classic
Despite all the behind-the-scenes drama and Frank Capra’s personal dissatisfaction with the film, Pocketful of Miracles is an entertaining, sweet film; and a holiday favorite for many.
That's it for Pocketful of Miracles and Glenn Ford!
That’s it for Pocketful of Miracles and our month with Glenn Ford.
Join me next month for TCM’s Summer Under the Stars as I highlight a new star each week.