|MISTER 880 (director: Edmund Goulding; screenwriters: Robert Riskin/from the New Yorker article 'Old Eight Eighty' by St. Clair McKelway; cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle; editor: Robert Fritch; music: Sol Kaplan; cast: Burt Lancaster (Steve Buchanan), Dorothy McGuire (Ann Winslow), Edmund Gwenn ("Skipper" Miller), Millard Mitchell ("Mac" McIntire), Minor Watson (Judge O'Neil), Howard St. John (Chief), Hugh Sanders (Thad Mitchell), Larry Keating (Lee, lawyer); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Julien Blaustein; 20th Century Fox; 1950)|
light comedy about a kindly old codger who is
a small-time counterfeiter passing one dollar
by Dennis Schwartz
light comedy about a kindly old junk dealer codger who
is a small-time counterfeiter passing one dollar
bills, made on his printing press, only as a means of
supporting himself without asking for help. The
amateur criminal has been doing it for ten years,
making this the longest unsolved case on the Secret
Service files. It's based on a true story, that
appeared in the New Yorker Magazine in a
series of stories by St. Clair McKelway. It's deftly
written by Frank Capra regular Robert Riskin. The
title is derived from the Secret Service calling the
case Mister 880, the Mister was added out of respect
to the gentle counterfeiter. Director Edmund
Goulding ("Grand Hotel"/"The Razor's
Edge"/"Dark Victory") makes like it's a Capra
feel-good pic and that strategy works, as the schmaltz
is limited and the actors are all likable and
believable, and the story is easy to take. British
actor Edmund Gwenn, as the 'funny money' passer,
duplicates the success of his bizarre Santa role in
Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and earns an Oscar
nomination. It also helps that the effective location
shots of NYC give it an authenticity.
NYC Secret Service office, headed by Thad Mitchell (Hugh
Sanders), needs a fresh outlook in trying to nab the
bureau's longest unsolved case, and hotshot LA agent,
Secret Service caught the real-life
counterfeiter Mueller, in the spring of 1948, and
considered it at the time its most frustrating case.
The film mirrors how the actual case was solved and
how the agents found their widower counterfeiter to be
forthright and likable, so they went to bat for him in
getting a minimum sentence.
It proves to be a good example of how Hollywood can do justice to a whimsical comedy if it's in the right hands.
REVIEWED ON 11/21/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ