The Great Rupert (1950)
“Christmas miracles do happen”
The Great Rupert (1950)
Director: Irving Pichel
Cast: Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake
Synopsis: A little squirrel with lots of charm accidentally helps two poor, down-but-NOT-out families overcome their obstacles.
The Rupert of the title in Irving Pichel’s forgotten fantasy is a kilt-wearing squirrel who, with good ol’ Joe Mahoney (Second Chorus, The Lady Eve), his accordion-playing partner, has high hopes of hitting it big on the vaudeville circuit. They’ve got a song-and-dance act which they hope will impress a theatrical agent acquaintance of Joe’s, but when, after witnessing Rupert dancing the Highland Fling, the agent decrees that a dancing squirrel isn’t box office (!), the duo’s partnership is abruptly terminated. Joe leaves the slum digs in which he’s been living and sets Rupert free, but finding life in the wild isn’t to his taste, Rupert soon high-tails it back to his old home in the crawlspace above Joe’s old flat – which is now occupied by down-on-his-luck vaudevillian Louis Amendola (Jimmy Durante), and his wife (Queenie Smith – Sweet Smell of Success) and cute daughter, Rosalinda (Terry Moore – Black Spurs, Waco).
The Amendolas have blagged their way into the shack adjoining the plush house of its landlord, the miserly Frank Dingle (Frank Orth – His Girl Friday, The Lost Weekend) without having the money to pay the rent, but when a forlorn Mrs Amendola dwells alone on their impossible situation (“it’s so difficult to find a job for a human pyramid,” she sighs) she’s startled to find $100 dollar bills showering down upon her. It turns out that Dingle is hoarding his monthly pay-out from an oil well investment behind a skirting board, and the money is falling into Rupert’s abode. Unimpressed by this unwanted clutter, Rupert promptly jettisons the notes into the room below, and repeatedly does so each month, much to the delight of the increasingly wealthy Amendolas, who assume the money is a present from God (as you do).
The Great Rupert, which takes place over the Christmas period, has the potential to be a classic in the mould of It’s A Wonderful Life mould, but is prevented from achieving that status not so much because of its B-List cast, but because of a shortage of heart-warming charm, which is largely due to its assumption that happiness and material wealth are inextricably linked. It’s an entertaining enough movie, with a sprinkling of laughs, but the whimsical title character makes only fleeting appearances, and the ending feels more than a little rushed. Durante’s good in a rare leading role, though.
(Reviewed 24th August 2015)