Cast & Crew
Thomas Browne Henry
While standing in his study, author John Steinbeck states that writer William Sidney Porter, who was known as O. Henry, created many lively characters and noteworthy stories, which were often set in turn-of-the-century New York City. Steinbeck then notes that one of the best is "The Cop and the Anthem," in which a homeless bum, Soapy Throckmorton, prepares for the rigors of winter: The well-educated but lazy Soapy discusses his situation with his friend, Horace Truesdale, who does not share Soapy's view that three months in the city jail is a fine way to spend the season. Soapy then begins a campaign to get himself arrested, but despite taking a passerby's umbrella, eating a lavish meal and not paying for it and throwing a horseshoe through a window, Soapy is not arrested. He then approaches a young woman on the street while a policeman stands nearby, hoping to get arrested for annoying her, but when the woman turns out to be a prostitute, Soapy quickly covers his actions so that she will not get in trouble. Frustrated, Soapy and Horace seek shelter in a church, and the peaceful surroundings remind Soapy that he grew up privileged and pampered, with dreams of living a fine life. Determined to reform, Soapy leaves, but is arrested for loitering outside the church. Although Soapy pleads with the judge, assuring him that he is a changed man, the judge sentences him to ninety days in jail.
Back in his study, Steinbeck explains that O. Henry, who learned about jail "the hard way," never felt superior to the people about whom he wrote, and that "The Clarion Call" is a good example of his fairness: Policeman Barney Woods returns to New York City after escorting a counterfeiter to Ft. Leavenworth, and in the police station notices that the only piece of evidence to the brutal murder of a man named Norcross is a gold pencil holder, engraved "Camptown Races 4 July 1901," which was left at the scene of the crime. Casually asking if he can borrow the evidence, Barney does not reveal that he recognizes it, then goes in search of its owner, hardened criminal Johnny Kernan. Johnny, who was Barney's boyhood friend, is delighted when Barney finds him, and states that he is on his way to Chicago. Barney reveals that he is a policeman and that the pencil holder, which was a prize won by them in a singing contest, links Johnny to the murder. Johnny confesses to the killing but caustically reminds Barney that he owes him $1,000, which Johnny leant to him when Barney sustained heavy gambling debts years earlier. Knowing that Barney could not arrest him while he is in debt to him, Johnny dismisses his former friend. Barney spends the afternoon taking out loans and cashing in his insurance, but when he tries to give Johnny $300, Johnny refuses it, saying that Barney must pay him all or nothing. Johnny then taunts Dave Bascom, city editor of The Clarion Call , that he will not be able to catch the Norcross murderer. Downhearted, Barney returns to the police station, where a headline in the newspaper catches his eye and causes him to rush to Bascom's office. Barney then intercepts Johnny in his train compartment and gives him $1,000 before arresting him. As Johnny is escorted off the train, he spots The Clarion Call 's evening headline, which offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Norcross killer.
Steinbeck then relates that although O. Henry was born in North Carolina, he loved New York, and one of his stories, "The Last Leaf," is about the artists of Greenwich Village: Joanna Goodwin is heartbroken when her lover, actor Sheldon Sidney, abruptly ends their relationship, and in her grief, she wanders the streets during a snowstorm. Finally, her eccentric, Russian neighbor, painter Behrman, finds her and carries her to the apartment she shares with her sister Susan. Jo is diagnosed with pneumonia, and despite Sue's best efforts, continues to grow worse. Behrman, who is fond of the sisters, sells one of his surrealistic paintings to art dealer Boris Radolf to pay for Jo's prescriptions. Radolf urges his friend to paint in a more realistic style, so that he can sell his work, but Behrman refuses. The doctor tells Sue that Jo apparently has lost the will to live, and one evening, Jo tells Sue that the ivy vine clinging to a wall outside their window has steadily been losing leaves, and she believes it to be a sign that when the last leaf falls, she will die. Behrman, discouraged over his lack of success, gets drunk but nonetheless tries to cheer up the despondent Sue. Determined to help Jo, Behrman spends the night out in a freezing storm, painting a perfect replica of a leaf on the wall. When she awakens, Jo is thrilled to see that the "leaf" is still there, and assures Sue that she will recover fully. The sisters are saddened to discover that Behrman died from exposure during the night, and when Sue deduces that he painted the leaf for Jo, she tells her that someday she will realize what a great artist Behrman was.
Steinbeck then notes that to O. Henry, "no one was too good to slip, or too bad to climb," and to illustrate his point, he wrote "The Ransom of Red Chief": In the early 1900s, confidence men Sam "Slick" Brown and William Smith are in rural Alabama, where they are trying to raise capital for a phony stock scheme. Over William's objections, Slick suggests that they kidnap a child for ransom, but the genteel city dwellers are overwhelmed when the boy they abduct, J. B. Dorset, proves too wild for them to handle. While awaiting the ransom, William and Slick spend a harrowing twenty-four hours being tormented by J. B., who steals their watches, insists on being called "Red Chief," intimidates them with his pocketknife and "sics" a wild bear on them. Finally, the weary men receive a note from J. B.'s father Ebenezer stating that he will take the boy off their hands for $250. Desperate to be rid of the rascal, Slick and William return him to his parents, along with all of their money. As they race away, before J. B. can catch up with them, William bemoans his black eye and poison ivy rash, but Slick tells him to cheer up, for a confidence man is nothing without confidence.
In his study, Steinbeck explains that at the turn of the century, certain social leaders declared that there were only four hundred people in New York worth knowing. In rebuttal, O. Henry wrote what has become one of his most famous stories, "The Gift of the Magi": clerk Jim Young and his pregnant wife Della are deeply in love, despite their poverty. On Christmas Eve, Jim and Della joke about the lavish gifts they will give each other, and when Della walks Jim to work, they admire the wares displayed in store windows. Of especial interest to Della is a platinum watch fob that would go perfectly with Jim's heirloom pocket watch, while Jim points out three, elegant silver combs that would look beautiful in Della's long hair. Determined to get the fob for Jim, Della sells her hair to hairdresser Maurice, although when she sees her cropped head in a mirror, she tearfully wonders if Jim will still love her. When Jim arrives home, he is astonished by Della's appearance but assures her that nothing could lessen his love for her. Jim then gives Della her Christmas present, the silver combs, and although her short hair can no longer hold them, she is touched by Jim's thoughtfulness. Della then gives Jim the platinum fob, and he admits that he sold his watch in order to buy her the combs. As the couple then laugh and embrace, they listen to carolers sing about the joys of the season.
Thomas Browne Henry
House Peters Sr.
A. Cameron Grant
William J. O'brien
Donna Lee Hickey
Tom Connors Jr.
W. D. Flick
Stephen Collins Foster
Harry M. Leonard
Winston H. Leverett
William B. Murphy
Edward B. Powell
Lewis M. Redner
Erich Von Stroheim Jr.
Joseph C. Wright
O. Henry's Full House
The unifying aspect of O. Henry's Full House is that all the short films are based on the stories of the titular author, O. Henry, the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), a prolific writer known for his surprise endings and plot twists.
Anthology films had been made in Hollywood prior to this, notably If I Had a Million (1932), produced by Paramount and including a segment directed by the studio's leading light of the time, Ernst Lubitsch. Three films produced in England, however, were really the inspiration for O. Henry's Full House. Quartet (1948) was based on stories by Somerset Maugham, who personally introduced each one. It was such a success, it was followed by two sequels, also adaptations of the author's short stories, Trio (1950) and Encore (1951). These last two were picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Paramount, and the studio was impressed enough with their critical and commercial reception to consider making a similar film with a homegrown American author. Since Porter was long dead, Paramount brought in writer John Steinbeck to introduce each piece.
Of the five tales produced for this release, the two most famous were "The Last Leaf," about a young woman who believes she will die when the last leaf falls from the tree outside her window, and "The Gift of the Magi," centered on a poor young couple's attempts to buy each other the perfect Christmas present, each with O. Henry's trademark surprise ending. In "The Clarion Call," a New York police detective faces a crisis of conscience over whether to arrest a friend to whom he owes a debt of honor but he knows has committed a murder. There is a bit more levity in the segment about a homeless man trying to get arrested before winter sets in, "The Cop and the Anthem," although it, too, tugs at the heartstrings and has a particularly ironic twist at the end. It's also the one generally considered the best of the five short movies here.
The one real comedy in the bunch is "The Ransom of Red Chief," in which two bumbling crooks regret kidnapping the horribly unruly son of a country sheriff. It should have been a welcome bit of madcap in the mix, especially since it was directed by Howard Hawks, starred popular comic performers Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, and was written by master scenarists Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and Nunnally Johnson. The segment got bad reviews on its initial screenings and was cut from the film before widespread release. (Apparently no one seemed to mind that a full house requires five cards except New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who suggested the title should be changed to O. Henry's Four of a Kind.) It was restored when the picture began showing on television in the 1960s.
Johnson reportedly wrote the first draft of the Red Chief script with Clifton Webb and William Demarest in mind. When Allen and Levant were cast, Hawks had the other two writers refashion the script for them. Johnson was so displeased with the end result, he tried to have his name removed from the credits.
The other stories also boasted some well-known directors, among them Henry King, Henry Koster, and Jean Negulesco. If "The Clarion Call" has a noirish feel to it, that's because it was directed by Henry Hathaway, known for such film noir classics as The House on 92nd Street (1945) and The Dark Corner (1946), and featured Richard Widmark as the murderous friend, giving a performance reminiscent of his breakout villain role in Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947).
This wasn't the first time a Hollywood studio considered adapting O. Henry to the screen. According to items in the Hollywood Reporter, Twentieth Century-Fox announced it would make a full-length feature of "The Gift of the Magi" in 1945, with Otto Preminger directing. Neither that project, nor a planned Fox bio of Porter first talked about in 1943, ever came to fruition.
The working titles of the film were "The Full House," "Bagdad on the Subway" and "O. Henry's Bagdad on the Subway."
Directors: Henry Hathaway ("The Clarion Call"), Howard Hawks ("The Ransom of Red Chief"), Henry King ("The Gift of the Magi"), Henry Koster ("The Cop and the Anthem"), Jean Negulesco ("The Last Leaf")
Producer: Andre Hakim
Screenplay: Richard Breen ("The Clarion Call"), Nunnally Johnson, Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer ("The Ransom of Red Chief"), Walter Bullock, Philip Dunne ("The Gift of the Magi"), Lamar Trotti ("The Cop and the Anthem"), Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts ("The Last Leaf"), based on the stories of O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard ("The Clarion Call"), Milton Krasner ("The Ransom of Red Chief"), Joseph MacDonald ("The Gift of the Magi," "The Last Leaf"), Lloyd Ahern ("The Cop and the Anthem")
Editing: Nick DeMaggio ("The Cop and the Anthem," "The Clarion Call," "The Last Leaf"), Barbara McLean ("The Gift of the Magi"), William B. Murphy ("The Ransom of Red Chief") - all uncredited
Art Direction: Chester Gore, Addison Hehr, Richard Irvine, Lyle R. Wheeler, Joseph C. Wright (all uncredited)
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Dale Robertson, Richard Widmark ("The Clarion Call"), Fred Allen, Oscar Levant ("The Ransom of Red Chief"), Farley Granger, Jeanne Crain ("The Gift of the Magi"), Charles Laughton, Marilyn Monroe ("The Cop and the Anthem"), Anne Baxter, Jean Peters ("The Last Leaf")
By Rob Nixon
O. Henry's Full House
The working titles of this film were The Full House, Bagdad on the Subway and O. Henry's Bagdad on the Subway. The film's opening and ending credits are in different order, and the ending credits specify the actors, writers and directors of each segment. O. Henry's short stories have been anthologized in numerous books, including his The Four Million (New York, 1906). According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Twentieth Century-Fox was considering producing a biography of O. Henry in 1943, and later, in 1945, announced that it would be filming a full-length version of "The Gift of the Magi," to be produced by Otto Preminger.
According to a May 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Clifton Webb was originally set for the part of "Sam 'Slick' Brown," but when he was occupied with production of Stars and Stripes Forever (see below), the role was given to Fred Allen. Modern sources add that Nunnally Johnson wrote the screenplay of "The Ransom of Red Chief" specifically for Webb and William Demarest, and after the casting of Allen and Oscar Levant, director Howard Hawks asked Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer to re-write the script. Johnson then requested that his name be removed from the film's credits before its release because he was displeased with the finished segment. Although only Walter Bullock is credited onscreen as the writer of "The Gift of the Magi," the Newsweek review and a studio synopsis list Philip Dunne as co-author of the segment.
Although Joyce MacKenzie is listed in the onscreen credits, her role of "Hazel Woods" in "The Cop and the Anthem" was cut before film was released. A November 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item includes Heinie Conklin in the cast of "The Gift of the Magi," but his appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed. The film marked the screen debut of Carl Betz, and the only feature film appearance of author John Steinbeck.
All five segments were included in the film's initial release, but according to contemporary sources, in early October 1952, before the film's New York opening on 16 Oct, the studio re-edited the picture to exclude "The Ransom of Red Chief." A October 5, 1952 New York Times news item quoted studio officials as saying "it would be a better picture without" the segment. In a October 26, 1952 New York Times article, critic Bosley Crowther pointed out that the title O. Henry's Full House was a minsomer, as the film contained only four stories, and suggested that it ought to be changed to O. Henry's Four of a Kind.
O. Henry's stories have been the basis for many shorts, including a series of two-reel Vitagraph shorts in the 1910s; a 1909 Biograph short entitled The Sacrifice, based on "The Gift of the Magi (see AFI Catalog. 1893-1910); and a 1935 short entitled Dumb Luck, which was based on "The Ransom of Red Chief." Thomas Mitchell portrayed O. Henry in a 1957 syndicated television series entitled The O. Henry Playhouse. The series presented thirty-minute long versions of O. Henry stories and lasted for thirty-nine episodes. Full-length versions of O. Henry's stories include two television productions: the 1958 CBS musical Gift of the Magi, directed by George Schaefer and starring Gordon MacRae and Sally Ann Howes; and the 1978 NBC drama The Gift of Love, directed by Don Chaffey and starring Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms.
Released in United States Fall September 1952
Nunnally Johnson requested that his name be removed from the credits.
Released in United States Fall September 1952