Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Ted Allen (story), Laszlo Vadnay (screenplay), and James O'Hanlon and Harry Crane (additional dialog).
Starrring Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake, Frank Orth, Queenie Smith, Jimmy Conlin.
I've mentioned before how some movie titles are misleading. Now, you might think, for instance, that The Great Rupert* was a movie about someone called "The Great Rupert," and, to some extent, it is. But Rupert is more of a combination Mcguffin and scurius ex machina in the middle of a film that really focuses on the importance of helping others.
The movie was an early George Pal production. I first heard of it when writing up my entry on Pal, and realized that it was among the films in a Mill Creek Entertainment** collection of Christmas movies and TV shows. So this Christmas, I watched.
The movie starts showing Joe Mahoney (Jimmy Conlin), and old vaudevillian, who has trained a squirrel, the Great Rupert, to do the highland fling. His agent turns him down and he is evicted from his apartment. After setting Rupert free, he runs into Louie Amendola (Jimmy Durante), another vaudeville act on hard time. Louie decides to move his family into the empty apartment, and cons his way past the landlord's son Pete Dingle (Tom Drake), partly because Pete is enamored of Louie's daughter Rosalina (Terry Moore).
But Pete's father Frank (Frank Orth) insists the Amendolas actually pay rent on the apartment. Frank is a miser, who doesn't trust banks and, when he starts getting a windfall from some mining stock he owns, he puts it into a hole in the wall.
Meanwhile, Rupert has moved back to the apartment and, discovering the money, he showers the $1500 a week on the Amendolas every week. It's money from heaven as far as they are concerned. But there are consequences.
The film was supposed to be a straight romance between Tom Drake*** and Terry Moore, but it appears Durante was added to the cast at the last minute and the part beefed up. He gets to perform a couple of musical numbers.
What's also interesting is the contrast between Amendola and Dingle. Amendola takes the money and invests in the community, while Dingle was content to just squirrel it away.
As for Rupert, he really does very little in the film other than redistribute the money. He also helps everything to be resolved****.
The animation for Rupert doesn't hold up all that well, though it was a sensation in 1950 and the film did well enough for Pal to continue his career as producer. It's quiet little charmer with plenty of heart.
*Also titled The Christmas Wish as a Christmas film. The title is actually a bit less misleading, but only a small portion of the film in the beginning is set at Christmas.
**Mill Creek packages older public domain films on DVD. Their output is uneven, but you can often find a few gems.
***Judy Garland's romance in Meet Me in St. Louis.
****Sharp-eyed viewer may notice Frank Cady, from Green Acres and Petticoat Junction as an IRS agent who is curious about how the Amendolas got their money.