Pocketful of Miracles was Frank Capra’s final feature, made in 1961. He went on to make the documentary Rendezvous in Space for the Martin Marietta Corporation, about the US’s plans for a space station and beyond! Like Hitchcock, Capra remade two of his early films later in his career, and Pocketful of Miracles is one of these: a remake of his Lady for a Day (1933). The other Capra self-remake is Riding High (1950), which was a remake of Broadway Bill (1934).
The cast for Pocketful of Miracles is probably the best thing about it, because the story itself is overly bloated. Street peddler Apple Annie (Bette Davis) has a daughter, Louise (Ann-Margret), who is coming back from Europe. Annie has been lying to her, saying she is this rich socialite, not a woman who is practically living on the streets. So a girlfriend of hers and Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) help her carry on her charade. The film runs for nearly two hours and 20 minutes, over 30 minutes longer than the original (which I must confess I haven’t seen.) This versions has tons of subplots and supporting characters—these doesn’t really go anywhere, so it seems like padding for the remake.
As you would expect, it’s a perfectly enjoyable film, and that early ’60s colour film stock just pops off the screen. It was shot by Capra’s go-to cinematographer throughout his career, Joseph Walker. Everybody in the cast is really great, but Bette Davis seems a little short-changed in terms of screen time even though her character is the core of the story. Glenn Ford, mainly known for noirs and westerns, seems very comfortable in what is a fairly broad comedy, Peter Falk is also pretty memorable here in an early supporting role for film. Ann-Margret is pretty decent as well in film debut—she was a much better actress than she was ever given credit for.
Capra seemed to have been very happy with the film, but it ended up being somewhat of a box-office and critical disappointment, with the inevitable unfavourable comparisons to the original. It’s a shame that Capra never made more feature films after this, because I would’ve been intrigued with what he cold have done in the free-wheeling late ’60s and ’70s in Hollywood. He did try to get a film of Martin Caidin’s sci-fi novel Marooned off the ground afterwards, but in the end John Sturges made it in ’69. Late in the ’60s Capra shredded some of his more conservative leanings and became one of the most prominent old-time directors to be critical of the Vietnam war, so what he could’ve made is a great cinema what-if.
The release from BFI includes a new commentary track with Jim Hemphill, plus a host of archival short pieces from BFI’s archive. These aren’t particularly related to the film itself, but rather o some of the themes. The disc also includes an image gallery and a theatrical trailer, and the booklet includes essays from Leigh Singer, Maura Spiegel and Sarah Wood.