It Happened On Fifth Avenue was easily the most ambitious movie made by the then-newly-organized Allied Artists for at least a decade after its release -- actually, as a "Roy Del Ruth Production," it was made through rather than by Allied Artists, which may explain why it stands so far apart from the Bowery Boys movies and other productions normally associated with Allied during this period. And amazingly, it works, mostly thanks to a genial cast and a reasonably light touch by director/producer Roy Del Ruth, and in spite of a script that needed at least one more editorial pass. Victor Moore is the star and dominant personality -- if there is one in what is, basically, an ensemble cast -- as Aloyisius T. McKeever, a genial hobo whose annual routine for finding winter quarters is to wait for multi-millionaire Michael O'Connor (Charlie Ruggles) to lock up his Fifth Avenue mansion and head to Virginia, and move in during the man's absence. He chances to meet Jim Bullock, a homeless WWII veteran (displaced, ironically, by one of O'Connor's development projects), and gives him shelter in the mansion. They become a trio when O'Connor's free-spirited daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) shows up, fleeing her finishing school, and the two men -- thinking she's an impoverished runaway from an abusive father -- take her in. She goes along with the masquerade and gradually falls in love with Jim, who also chances to meet two former army buddies (Alan Hale, Jr., Edward Ryan) who -- you guessed it -- are also desperately trying to find homes, in their cases for their wives and growing families. Now there are nine people living in the shelter of O'Connor's Fifth Avenue mansion, and in between setting up housekeeping, Jim and his two buddies manage to come up with an idea about how to build homes for veterans and their families. Trudy, her identity still a secret to the other, gets her father to meet the "squatters" incognito, in hope that he'll take to Jim, but a series of misunderstandings and his own impatience and lack-of-faith leads him to reject everything decent he sees about Trudy's friends. In desperation, to keep them from being evicted and arrested, she calls in reinforcements in the person of her mother (Ann Harding), long estranged from her father. O'Connor is still not convinced of Jim's worth, and definitely doesn't see him as a potential husband for Trudy -- and, in a comic mix-up, he ends up going head-to-head with Jim for the property where he plans to build those houses for veterans, causing them to lock horns once more. Matters do eventually fall into place, as they usually do in Christmas movies of this sort, which more closely resembles The Bells of St. Mary's or One More Spring -- to name another movie about displaced New Yorkers -- than It's A Wonderful Life (with which it is usually compared). It Happened On Fifth Avenue is usually defined as a Christmas movie, in part because of its plot time-line, but more than that, it's a movie that, like George Seaton's Miracle On 34th Street -- made the same year -- sings of the generosity of the human spirit, and the feeling of renewal that was in the air in the immediate post-World War II era, a funny, gentle, warm look at people making their way in a time when, for the first time since the Great Depression and the outbreak of the Second World War, cautious optimism seemed an appropriate approach to life. And not for nothing was this reportedly lead actor Don Defore's personal favorite of all of his movies.
by Bruce Eder synopsis