Frank Capra in Color – ‘A Hole in the Head’ & ‘Pocketful of Miracles’

When we think of Frank Capra, we instantly think of classics in black and white. It’s hard to come to grips with the idea that Capra actually did get a chance to make movies in color. His final two features were both in color and have been surprisingly released on Blu-ray within months of each other.

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After a long break from feature filmmaking, Capra returned to the big screen with A Hole In The Head, starring Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson. The film, released in 1959, starts out strikingly different from previous Capra films. Sinatra plays the womanizing Tony, who owns a rarely-occupied hotel in Miami called the Garden of Eden. He’s also a widower with a son (Eddie Hodges) and can barely pay his bills. He relies on help from his brother (Robinson), who is also trying to find the right girl for him to marry.

But eventually, A Hole In The Head becomes your typical Capra movie. Everyone gets together to help Tony out, just when all hope seems lost. That’s kind of remarkable, because either Capra knew how to find material that fit his themes perfectly, or Arnold Schumlman – who had never worked with Capra before – wrote the story with Capra in mind. A Hole in the Head is so clearly a movie that only Capra could make, even if it is in color and Cinemascope.

While A Hole in the Head was actually a hit and even won an Oscar for the song “High Hopes,” Capra waited until 1961 to make Pocketful of Miracles. The movie was a remake of Capra’s 1933 classic, Lady For A Day, the first big smash hit of his career. Lady runs just 96 minutes, but Pocketful runs a whopping 136. That is the first big problem with the movie, since Capra never really wavers significantly from the story. The big addition is Hope Lange’s character, but she really only serves to make sure Glenn Ford’s Dave the Dude doesn’t come off as a complete cad.

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Why this film exists is a bit puzzling. Ford seems to be the driving force behind it, with Capra really going through the motions to string together a likable movie. It’s not that it’s awful or hard to sit through, it’s just that it doesn’t seem necessary when the classic original already exists. Still, Bette Davis is actually pretty good as Apple Annie and Peter Falk is a riot as Dave’s right-hand man.

Pocketful proved that Capra had not adjusted to the star-driven world of early ’60s cinema, so he quit the feature film business. He lived for another 30 years, but he knew he was done. Hollywood had become too cynical for a new Capra movie.

The fact that both of these movies are on Blu-ray is a complete surprise. Fox has been licensing out MGM/UA titles to third-party labels like candy, so everything is on the table for a hi-def release. Olive Films snapped up A Hole In The Head for its first group of MGM/UA titles and included no bonus material. There isn’t even a trailer. Kino grabbed Pocketful and they at least included the Ed Sullivan-hosted trailer.

Thankfully, both films look pretty good. Unlike Criterion, Olive and Kino don’t do their own restoration work, so they rely on the materials MGM has. A single-layered disc doesn’t seem to be a problem with Hole, but Pocketful could have used some more space. Considering how weak past Kino MGM discs have looked, Pocketful is one of the better ones.

It’s really hard to recommend these films to non-Capra fans. A Hole in the Head should be enjoyable for Frank Sinatra fans, but even Glenn Ford’s fans probably aren’t going to be impressed with Pocketful. At least Capra experimented with color, even if they didn’t turn out so well.

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