What Happened in "It Happened on Fifth Avenue"?
It Happened on Fifth Avenue
1 hr. 56 mins Comedy, Music, Romance 1947 7.7 stars
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Cast: Don DeFore - Jim Bullock
Ann Harding - Mary O’Connor
Charlie Ruggles - Michiael J. O’Connor
Victor Moore - Aloysius T. McKeever
Gale Storm - Trudy O’Connor
Grant Mitchell - Farrow
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie.
Trudy Listens in While Mack Explains to Jim that She Has As Much Right to be There as They Have
Synopsis (Part I)
In the earliest scene we see a cityscape and hear the sounds of a tour bus guide describing the great mansions that can be seen there on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The guide mentions the mansion of the industrialist Michael J. O’Connor then goes on the mention that he is the second richest man in the world. Just then we see Aloysius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore) stroll up towards the mansion carrying a little dog. McKeever, or Mack as he is called throughout the movie, is a very dapper dressed vagrant. He and his dog pass through the fence of the mansion, courtesy of a loose board. Once inside the court yard he removes a manhole cover and descends below. This, it turns out, is a subterranean entrance to the O’Connor mansion and Mack is a squatter. The plan is simple: by routine O’Connor leaves his mansion for the winter and goes to another one he has in Virginia. Mack knows this routine and moves in for the duration of a O’Connor’s winter absence. Mack is always careful to keep the house spotless and there he spends his winters in comfort and luxury. He knows the date of O’Connor’s return and is always sure to vacate the premises a few days prior to that return. Mack has done this for a number of years.
Meanwhile in another part of town Jim Bullock (played by Dan DeFore) is being evicted from his apartment because the owner is getting ready to tear down the building. Though Jim puts up a good fight, he is successfully evicted and is out on a park bench, destitute and homeless. He harbors resentment towards his former landlord for turning him out and who is his former landlord? None other than Michael J. O’Connor! Mack spots Jim lying on the park bench while he is out for a stroll with his dog. Mack takes pity on him and invites him to come live in the mansion with him. He explains that the mansion belongs to Michael J. O’Connor, but he mentions that he is there as a caretaker for the winter.
At that time in a boardroom Michael J. O’Connor (played by Charlie Ruggles) is unveiling his plans to build upon an abandoned army camp named Camp Kilson located just outside of New York. His meeting is interrupted by a phone call from the boarding school where his daughter Trudy (played by Gale Storm) is staying. Trudy has run away from the school and Michael, in a panic, pulls out all the stops to find her. Trudy in the meantime has decided to return to the mansion where she will get some clothes to go out to make it in on her own in the world and free herself from reliance on her father’s wealth.
But Trudy gets caught in the mansion by Mack and Jim who presume that she is a burglar. She has a mink coat in her hand so Jim just takes that away from her and threatens to call the police. Mack steps in and asks to speak privately with Jim in another room, but Trudy listens in. Mack reveals to Jim that he’s not really in the mansion as a caretaker, but rather as a squatter. Michael J. O’Connor has no idea that he – or rather - they are there at all. He reasons further that Trudy who is obviously homeless as well has just as much right to be there as they do. Trudy is amused by this conversation and she has developed a crush on Jim so she decides to play along with them and therefore she certainly does not want to let on that she’s an O’Connor!
The next day Jim happens to meet up with a few of his old army buddies who are currently homeless, some with children. He can’t leave them out on the street so he invites them to stay in the mansion too. Soon the place becomes like a little community of its own. Mack acts as the supervisor, and everyone has their various chores to keep and maintain the house. It may be lived in, but it need not look as if it’s lived in. Trudy looks for work and lands a job at a music store. Her father who has returned to the city to find her happens to run into her and she divulges the whole scenario with her love of Jim and the others living in their home. He is not amused, but she convinces him to play along with her so that he will have an opportunity to get to know Jim. Thus Michael J. O’Connor assumes the role of a homeless man, “Mike”. Trudy then discovers Mike on a park bench and he is invited to join the little community in the O’Connor mansion and he does. To keep his identity a secret he simply goes by the name, Mike. Mike is somewhat humiliated and frustrated living as an indigent in his own mansion and being assigned chores by Mack. He’s also corrected by Mack regarding his treatment of others there on several occasions. Finally he has had enough and he tells Trudy that he will throw them all out of the mansion the next day. Trudy then calls her mother in Florida and she, Mary O’Connor (played by Ann Harding) comes right away to stop Mike from blowing the whole thing. Trudy’s parents have been divorced for several years and had not seen each other during all that time. So it was a surprise to Mike to see Mary in the house, playing along with the ruse as he is. Mary is dressed as a homeless woman, cooking his favorite stew, slumgullion. They get re-acquainted.
Trimming the Christmas Tree
Synopsis (Part II)
Jim has confided in Mike about a plan he has to buy an army base and renovate the barracks into housing for war veterans. Mike thinks to himself that it’s an impractical idea and when he later learns that Jim wants to pool money with his old army friends to buy Camp Kilson he’s even more frustrated because that is the property he has his sights on. So Mike hatches a plan to have a job offer extended to Jim of a position in Bolivia.
Everyone gathers for dinner together at the large dining table and here they roast the O’Connors. Of course the guests in the house think the O’Connors are far away, but of course they are seated right there graciously, or not, handling the comments of these squatters.
Shortly after this in an effort to bring money into the little community squatting in the mansion Mack gets a job for Mike shoveling snow. The irony of course is that Mike doesn’t do manual labor; he is after all the second richest man in the world!
Later on, in a nice warm scene trimming a Christmas tree Jim confides to Mike that he has turned down the offer in Bolivia, which unbeknownst to him Mike had arranged for the purpose of getting him out of the country and away from his daughter, Trudy. To make Mike’s frustration even higher Jim tells him that he and his boys are bidding up Camp Kilson since they’ve identified that location as the place they want to build housing for war vets. This is the very property Mike is trying to get!
In another scene Mack catches Mike and Mary together and separates them, then he goes on to tell them he thinks they’re falling in love! The thought moves both their hearts. He suggests they marry.
Christmas Party - The Police Have Caught Them
Synopsis (Part III)
On Christmas Eve while the little community is having a party, seated around the tree and singing carols two police officers stumble upon them while on patrol. It’s a tense moment because of the danger of being arrested for trespassing but Mack talks to them about the spirit of Christmas Eve and not throwing these veterans, some with little ones, out into the snow. His speech works and the officers don’t take any action. In fact Mack invites them to join in but they elect not to.
In the background of all this sentimentality Mike buys Camp Kilson and dashes Jim’s hope. Mary steps in, however, and has a talk with Mike warning him that he is in need of changing his ways. He goes with Jim to Camp Kilson, where several of the veterans who had hoped for housing there are staging a protest against this Michael J. O’Connor. They start throwing tomatoes at O’Connor’s spokesman, Farrow (played by Grant Mitchell) even Mike himself gets into the spirit of the scene and tosses a tomato at Farrow. Mike is actually enjoying the protesting against … well…against himself!
Jim, seeing that his dreams of purchasing Camp Kilson have become impossible, decides to pursue that job offer in Bolivia. This decision infuriates Trudy who wants to marry him. Mary realizes that Mike is behind the scheme to send Jim out of the country and yells at him, threatening again to take Trudy with her. Though she had been considering patching things up and getting remarried she accuses him of not changing for the better at all and states that he never will. She declares that she will leave with Trudy. This threat causes Mike to reconsider.
In the meantime the mood in the house is bleak. The happiness and joy that once filled the mansion has gone. Mack tells Mike that everyone has been down in the dumps since the deal has fallen through for the men.
Mike sees this and decides to do something about it; perhaps he can turn the situation around. He concocts a story and tells Jim that he has an old friend who happens to know Michael J. O’Connor and has a good rapport with him. Mike has taken the liberty to use that connection to arrange a meeting between Jim and O’Connor. Jim jumps at the chance and thanks Mike for his help.
In the next scene Mike has re-assumed his true identity as Michael J. O’Connor and receives Jim and his friends into his office. Astounded, Jim passes out. O’Connor deeds the Camp Kilson property to Jim and his friends and all is good. O’Connor asks Jim and his friends for a small favor however. He asks that his true identity not be divulged to Mack.
Final Scene With Michael J. O'Connor's Powerful Closing Words
The movie has a lot to say about character, the corrupting influences wealth can have on it and the differences between worldly wisdom and youthful idealism.
Aloysius T. McKeever, Mack, is a character all to his own. His role is strangely angelic as he is able to bring people together, start a new romance, resurrect a dead one and bring life into a lifeless house. The movie gives no background about him, only that he appears and, though it doesn’t seem to be his intention, winds up doing good to everything he touches. Notice how he is able to convince the police to let them stay in the mansion, this could never happen, but there’s something special about “Mack”.
The most powerful statement is found in the last few lines of the movie spoken by Michael J. O’Connor. He’s speaking to Mary after Mack has walked down the street. And he says, “You know Mary, there are richer men than I”. Then he also says, Remind me to nail up the board in the back fence; he’s coming through the front door next winter”. This was the heartfelt gratitude that O’Connor felt for the squatter who comes each winter to stay, uninvited, in his unoccupied mansion and care for it. It says a lot about the change in O’Connor’s heart. Throughout most of the movie, Mike was annoyed by Mack, but he tolerates him squatting in his house for the sake of Trudy and half way through the movie when that wasn’t enough he tolerated them for the sake of Mary. But at the end of the movie he makes these heartfelt statements because he has changed. Mack’s actions have unwittingly melted Mike’s heart from its hardened state which had developed over the years, years of impressive financial success. In that process he had lost all youthful idealism. This had driven his family away. Mack was bringing them back.
Having Mike shovel snow was no easy task, but that was part of the heart softening. The viewer can clearly see the youthful perspective come out when Mike participates in throwing tomatoes at Farrow and even jumping with glee when his hit him.
Mary has an important talk with Mike reminding him of when they were first married and were very poor. Over the years they had grown wealthy, but they had grown apart and their lives showed misery rather than richness. We see that in the comments made in the dinner table scene when the O’Connors are roasted.
But Mary wants better for her daughter, Trudy. And Jim’s notions, while impractical to the wizened eye of the older Mike, does show ambition and his efforts to raise the finances shows drive. These traits show Mary that Jim has good qualities – qualities that Mike also had when he was Jim’s age.
Mary eventually gets through to Mike and his entire attitude changes for the better.
The Mike we see at the end of the movie is a changed man. It is because of this change that he is able to make these concluding statements. Mike was wealthy, but he was not rich. Mack was rich, but he was not wealthy. This movie reminds us of the difference. Though we use the words interchangeably they are not always synonymous.