1952 would see 20th Century Fox produce an anthology film featuring stories from famous author O. Henry on the big screen. Narrated by author John Steinbeck and featuring a bevy of stars and directors, it would be an utterly compelling look at the lives of a number of people from all walks of life and it would be done so with the highest regard to the source material. Each director, whether it be Henry Koster, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, Howard Hawks or Henry King, would produce a very solid segment to the film with each one being fairly different from the rest. The one thing that would tie them all together, aside from O. Henry, would be that warm, fuzzy feeling you get inside when you know that you have seen something special.
There are five stories in all and all of them culled from O. Henry’s various works. The first segment is entitled The Cop and the Anthem and stars Charles Laughton as a homeless man who is looking to get himself arrested by any means necessary. While it is a dramatic piece, it is also quite humourous as everything he attempts to do is met with failure and not because he has succeeded at them, but because nobody will call the police after doing so. Joining him is actor David Wayne and for all of a single minute, give or take a few seconds, is Marilyn Monroe. The film is often billed as a Monroe feature and that is doing it a bit of a disservice as out of the nearly two hour running time, she is there and gone as fast as can be. Always a gifted actor, Laughton really brings this one home, especially after he gets what he wants when he no longer wants it.
In The Clarion Call, Dale Robertson is trying to solve a murder and it is an easy case for the man as he knows exactly who did it. There is a small bit of suspense as this story unfolds and as he enters a battle of wits with Richard Widmark. Robertson is good, but Widmark is the man to watch in this tale as he delivers a strong performance as the villain of the piece. One of the better things about the picture is the way it moves from genre to genre and the next is a heavy bit of melodrama called The Last Leaf. Here a young woman named Joanna has just had her heart broken and to make matters worse she catches pneumonia. As she lies in bed, being taken care of her sister, she watches the leaves on the vine across the way fall off one by one and she knows that as each leaf falls she gets one step closer to dying. It is an emotional, weighty offering this tale and Anne Baxter, Gregory Ratoff and Jean Peters make you feel a lot of despair at their situations, but when it ends off, there is that renewed faith in mankind that buoys you up.
Comedy is the name of the game when Fred Allan and Oscar Levant decide to hatch a kidnapping plot only to find the tables turned on them when their captor, a child named JB, is far more than these two bumblers can handle. The comedy is low-key and very situational, but it does not prevent it from being quite hilarious and most of that is thanks to the top-notch performances of these two comedic geniuses. The Ransom of Red Chief will keep you smiling the entire time and it was a nice change of pace after the previous tale.
The final story of the film entitled The Gift of the Magi stars Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger as a man and wife during the holiday season who cannot afford to give each other anything for Christmas. They are bereft of money most of the time and though they dream of the riches they may have one day, they really want to get something special for the other at least once. What they may not notice at first, but do so by the end of the film, is that they have each other and that is all that they ever really needed.
Love and hope, family and friendship are the name of the game with this picture and there is just a little dash of crime to keep things interesting too. Anthologies do not always go over well with audiences as they are always a hodgepodge of good and bad segments and that means that sometimes you have to suffer through to enjoy only some of it. O. Henry’s Full House is nothing like your regular anthology film as it features no discernible weaknesses. The direction was strong and the performances stronger and the team of writers that worked on the picture and its various stories did a perfect job, eliciting all the right emotions at all the right times. Charming, funny and hopeful, O. Henry’s Full House is a beautiful film.