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It Happened on 5th Avenue

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Image credit: It Happened on 5th Avenue, 1947

It’s funny how some movies find you at exactly the moment you need them most. As I drive around my city in this cursed year of 2020, looking at all the boarded up businesses and tent colonies that have sprung up under bridges and highways, it feels almost wrong to participate in a month-long holiday of cookie and cocktail excess when so many have so little. At times, the helplessness I feel about income inequality and the slow death of the small business becomes a consuming buzz of anxiety, getting louder and louder with each sad announcement of another shop closing, another person leaving. I didn’t expect to find solace in an obscure 1947 Christmas movie, but that’s just what happened when I watched It Happened on 5th Avenue (Disc/Download).

Set in post-WWII New York City, this holiday romp about a group of homeless people who set up camp in a deserted mansion is the perfect mix of funny and poignant. The film opens with hobo Aloysius McKeever and his dog strolling down 5th Avenue. They’re about to sneak into the storm drains to gain access to mogul Michael O’Connor’s property, who has left New York to winter at his Virginia estate. After making himself at home in O’Connor’s tuxedoes and bathrobes, Aloysius eventually stumbles on a homeless G.I. (Jim) in the park and extends an invitation to spend Christmas in the mansion. Soon after, Jim fills those empty bedrooms with more homeless veterans and their families, and the cold house is quickly transformed into a shelter full of life and laughter. When O’Connor’s daughter discovers the squatters, she ends up playing along with their ruse while falling for Jim, and then the elusive millionaire O’Connor himself pretends to be a hobo so he can see what kind of people his daughter has gotten mixed up with. The movie is a delightful game of mistaken identities and witty dialogue, but it’s also a heartwarming tale of friendship and compassion. Sometimes, the only thing that separates the wealthy from the rest of us is one lucky or unlucky break—we’d do well to remember that.

Because these squatters have limited food supplies, I think a simple cocktail with a few easy ingredients works best for this movie. My favorite part of the holidays is the canned jellied cranberry sauce I pack my cupboards with, so why not try it in a cocktail? While watching It Happened on 5th Avenue, I recommend drinking this Community Cup cocktail.

Community Cup

2 oz Bourbon

1 Tbsp canned jellied cranberry sauce

.5 oz Lime Juice

Ginger Beer

Fresh cranberries or lime wheel for garnish

Combine bourbon, cranberry sauce, and lime juice in a shaker, and muddle cranberry sauce to break up and dissolve. Add ice.  Shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with cranberries or lime wheel.

If you enjoy movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, I think you’ll really love It Happened on 5th Avenue as much as I do. Although watching it didn’t cure my anxiety about the financial crisis ravaging this country, it gave me hope that if we could get through it in 1947, we can get through it again. The key, as with most things, is community. Cheers!