Another Underrated List is yet another list of so called “underrated” films from yet another white guy who writes about films on the internet. This issue, I’m spotlighting a lesser-known Christmas classic, It Happened on 5th Avenue, in the hopes that you’ll consider adding it to your seasonal viewings. 


When It’s a Wonderful Life originally came out in 1946, it was by no means hailed as the classic we consider it to be today. Receiving middling reviews at best and failing to have much of an impact at the box office, the film faded in obscurity until the 1980’s when TV broadcasts during the holiday season finally gave it the audience it deserved. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue, is in a sense, a sister film to It’s a Wonderful Life. Both feature average Joe protagonists sticking up for their fellow average Joes against relentless corporate greed, particularly among housing developers. Both feature characters forced to re-examine their life and recognize all the wonderful things they have in it that they’ve been ignoring. Even It’s a Wonderful Life director’s, Frank Capra was originally signed on to direct It Happened on 5th Avenue before leaving to direct, you guessed it, It’s a Wonderful Life

However, there is one key distinction between the two films, that is the reason why one is watched by around 5 million people annually on Christmas Eve, and one isn’t. It Happened on 5th Avenue stopped being broadcast on television in 1990, and wasn’t shown again until 2009. This coupled with the fact, that it also wasn’t released on DVD until 2008, made it difficult for the film to attract new fans. Yet, thanks to some dedicated old fans calling for its return to broadcast, it is now shown on Turner Classic Movies regularly during the holiday season. 

Much like It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened on 5th Avenue depicts the redemption of a hum bug.

Though not on quite the same level as It’s a Wonderful LifeIt Happened on 5th Avenue has much to offer in the way of Christmas cheer, good will to all.  The film’s aforementioned average Joe, who’s real name is Jim (Don DeFore), is a World War Two veteran who has just been evicted from his apartment, because Michael J. O’Connor, the second richest man in the world, is going to turn it into an office building to add to his real estate empire. Homeless, he meets a Mr. McKeever (Victor Moore), another homeless man, who lets Jim in on his secret. 

Come December 3rd every year, Mr. McKeever, takes up residence in a boarded up mansion on the titular street in New York City, while its owner spends the winter at his other mansion in Virginia. Who should the mansion belong to, but none other than Michael J. O’Connor. 

​Michael J. O’Connor’s Mansion on the titular New York City street, in which the film takes place.

Mr. McKeever kindly offers Jim a place to live with him in the mansion and pretty soon a couple of Jim’s war buddy’s and their families’ join him, because they too are unable to find housing, as well as Michael J. O’Connor’s own rebellious daughter Trudy (Gale Storm). 

When she runs away from boarding school and shows up at her family home to find Jim and Mr. McKeever living there, rather than calling the cops, she hides her trues identity and plays along. When Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) finally shows up in flesh and blood looking for his daughter, Trudy somehow convinces to masquerade as another old homeless man so he can live amongst them.   

Michael J. O’Connor is pretty much everything you would expect of a real estate developer as depicted in a Christmas movie. Much like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, O’Connor only cares about business and money. But this being a Christmas movie after all, O’Connor, the post-World War Two version of Scrooge, is saved by both his deep love for his daughter and his estranged wife Mary (Ann Harding) and the love and positivity shared by everyone inside the mansion.  . 

This deep love is present throughout the film, from Jim’s deep concern about the housing problems his fellow veterans face to Mr. McKeever’s jolly old rendition of Santa Clause. This love, this feeling of good will to all that is present throughout It Happened on 5th Avenue is what makes the film worthy of endless holiday rewatches. 

If you’re looking for a new Christmas classic this year to put you in the spirit, I assure you It Happened on 5th Avenue is the one to watch. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue is currently streaming on Amazon Video and Apple TV+.  Also, if you actually still have cable you can off catch on Turner Classic Movies at some point in December every year.

Originally published in December 2019

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