Monday, January 4, 2010

And it doesn't even have the Olsen twins!

I've mentioned before that Fox has made several anthology movies, and there's another one coming up tomorrow at 6:00 AM ET: O. Henry's Full House.

As the title implies, this movie is based upon the work of O. Henry (real name William Sidney Porter), a short story writer active in New York City around the turn of the last century whose prolific output most famously includes the Christmas story The Gift of the Magi. That short story shows up in Full House, as the last of five segments, and stars Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain as the struggling, but in love, couple who sacrifice a lot to buy Christmas presents for each other. This rendition of The Gift of the Magi is good, although it's not the best thing about the movie.

First, we get author John Steinbeck. He introduces each of the stories and, while he's no actor, he's not being paid to act here. He's simply being himself, and does a more than adequate job of introducing each story. Besides, it's nice to have this film footage of Steinbeck, whose own work has been so memorably made into movies.

The first story is The Cop and the Anthem. Charles Laughton is the star here, as a homeless man in New York City late in one autum who's looking to get arrested, so that he can get a 90-day prison sentence that will effectively give him a warm roof over his head and three square meals a day. However, he finds out that it can be tough to get arrested if that's what you really want.... Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne, who were also in a segment of We're Not Married! together, also show up in The Cop and the Anthem.

Second is The Clarion Call, in which Richard Widmark seems to reprise his role from Kiss of Death as a giggling gangster, this time chased by New York City cop and former friend Dale Robertson.

Next comes The Last Leaf. Anne Baxter gets the lead here as a woman suffering from a severe case of pneumonia. Her sister (Jean Peters) is caring for her, with a little bit of help from artist Gregory Ratoff, who lives in the upstairs apartment, but Baxter is convinced that she's going to die when the last leaf falls off the bush outside their window. A severe storm comes, but amazingly, the leaf is still there the next morning, and Baxter recovers -- but not without some tragedy....

In between this and The Gift of the Magi is a story called The Ransom of Red Chief, which has Fred Allen and Oscar Levant playing a pair of swindlers who have made their way down south and, in need of money, have decided to kidnap a local hid and hold him for ransom. Unfortunatetly, the kid turns out to be quite good at foiling crime, making life a nightmare for the two crooks.

The Cop and the Anthem is probably the best of the stories, only because Charles Laughton is such a good actor. He's his usual brilliant self here, and makes the story even more poignant that it would be on paper. However, all five of the stories have the O. Henry "twist" in which people get what they want, but not in the way they expected. As with all anthology movies, the segments aren't all of equal quality, but if you don't like one, you only have to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the next.

O. Henry's Full House has made its way to DVD, so you don't have to wait for the Fox Movie Channel to show it again.

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