O. Henry\’s Full House Film Details
Overview: John Steinbeck introduces a quintet of five of O. Henry’s most celebrated stories from his New York Period (1902-1910) in this anthology film.
Tagline: A dozen top stars – five famed directors bring you the best stories of O. Henry!
Review: William Sydney Porter was a citizen of North Carolina who (following the period of Reconstruction) moved to Texas. He married and worked in a bank. His wife became very ill. Now he was charged with embezzlement (presumably for his wife’s medical bills). He fled the U.S. to Latin America, and then returned when he heard his wife was dying. After her death he was arrested tried and convicted for embezzlement and got four years in prison. Prison destroys many inmates, but it has occasionally helped some writers. John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote part of it in prison. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was imprisoned for debt and began DON QUIXOTE. Porter wrote some of the prison newspaper, and the chief guard in the prison, Mr. Orrin Henry, persuaded Porter to try writing as a career. Porter did, when he left prison, and proceeded to become one of America’s greatest short story writers. In honor to his friend the prison guard, Porter wrote under the still remembered pseudonym, “O. Henry”. Porter / “O.Henry” died in 1910. Therefore he really missed the full effect of motion pictures. In his own lifetime only one of his stories, “A RETRIEVED REFORMATION”, became dramatized as ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE. He did not do the dramatization. He was working on a play at the time he died. Also a novel. Given his sharp characterizations, and his fast moving plotting that leads to a surprise ending, we just don’t know if he could have done either a play or novel as well as a short story. But we know he was never approached to do a movie script…the films didn’t begin talking for seventeen more years until after his death. In the late 1940s another master of the short story, William Somerset Maugham made a three picture deal in which he narrated introductions to a total of ten of his short stories. The three films, QUARTET, TRIO, and ENCORE remain great examples of how real literature can be brought to the screen without loss, and certainly were a hard act to follow for other film makers. There were few contemporary takers (Hemingway and Faulkner just did not seem to be the type to introduce some of their shorter fiction). 20th Century Fox managed to get the only other master writer of the period, John Steinbeck, to do the equivalent introductions that Maugham did. The resulting film, O.HENRY’S FULL HOUSE, was a good one but not as good as the Maugham films. Don’t forget, Maugham’s introductions were to stories HE wrote, whereas (despite Steinbeck’s respectful comments) Steinbeck’s introductions were to stories written by someone else. So the impact is a little different. Pity it was not Hemingway (if they could have gotten him) introducing some of his short stories. The five choices are fine. The best ones (to me) are “THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF”, “THE LAST LEAF”, “THE COP AND THE ANTHEM” and “THE GIFT OF THE MAGI”. Were they the best possible choices? Well, I have always liked “A MUNICIPAL REPORT”, which is light-years ahead of it’s “Jim Crow” era views on race relations (and by a Southerner, for that matter). It could not get into the film because of Southern distribution. The one failure as an episode is “THE CLARION CALL”. One of the other reviewers faults Richard Widmark’s giggling 19th Century “Tony Udo” as the cause, but the story is not very exciting to begin with, and for once the trick in the conclusion is rather routine. The two comic episodes are amusing as they prove Bobby Burns’ “The best laid plans of mice and men…” (a comment that Steinbeck would be familiar with). In “THE COP AND THE ANTHEM” the hero Soapy is a hobo, determined to spend a month or so on a any charge so he can have a warm place to be (i.e. prison) while avoiding the winter. He keeps failing to get arrested (including one interesting episode with Marilyn Monroe – her only time with Charles Laughton). Then, at it’s bleakest moment he hears an anthem coming out of a church, and starts recalling how he heard it as a boy. He softens and begins to consider reforming. Then comes the conclusion. “The Ransom of Red Chief” stars Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, who mistakenly think kidnapping a child is a piece of cake. They learn quickly the word “hellion”. Howard Hawks directed that episode, and his touches for farce help it tremendously. “THE LAST LEAF” is about two sisters, Anne Baxter and Jean Peters, in a rooming house, living beneath a grumpy artist named Behrman (Gregory Ratoff). Baxter is dying, and Ratoff takes an interest in her health and mental condition. It is late autumn, and the leaves on the trees are falling, and Ratoff hears that Baxter believes she will die when the last, topmost leaf falls off the tree. But the last leaf is still there after a storm rips all the foliage off the tree, and Peters is sure this will give Baxter her grip on living again. Then comes the final, sad surprise. “THE GIFT OF THE MAGI” has been reprinted more frequently than most stories (and spoofed – Durwood Kirby and Carol Burnett spoofed it delightfully on the old Gary Moore show once). Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain are happily married, but in straightened circumstances, each with one prize possession. Christmas is coming, and both want to get fitting gifts for each other. They do at tremendous personal cost, but they realize how deep their love is at the conclusion of the story. Not as good as the Maugham films but worthy of being seen.
Country: United States
Duration: 117 min
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