New on Video: ‘A Hole in the Head’

Hole (4)A Hole in the Head
Written by Arnold Schulman
Directed by Frank Capra
USA, 1959

As the opening credits soar across the sky, shown as flapping aerial announcements pulled along by the Goodyear blimp, the talent behind A Hole in the Head is clear. The major players in this Frank Capra film include Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones, Thelma Ritter, and Keenan Wynn. Behind the scenes, shown in a more typical credit scrawl, there is renowned cinematographer William H. Daniels and the equally legendary costumer designer Edith Head. To say A Hole in the Head has much in its favor is quite the understatement. Yet while it may not live up to the expectations one associates with such individuals, the picture is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, even if it feels something like an effortless throwaway from these key contributors.

Hole (1)Written by Arnold Schulman, based on his own play, the film tracks a few days in the topsy-turvy life of Tony Manetta (Sinatra), whose second-rate Miami Beach hotel and rather erratic love life are both going bust, the former ironically named Garden of Eden, the latter involving the kind of girl who, in his own words, “would have made the serpent eat the apple.” Adding to Tony’s trouble, and to the film’s charm, is his son, Ally (Eddie Hodges, a little Ronny Howard lookalike). This poor kid puts up with a lot from his dad—like Gin games at four in the morning—but he loves him dearly. When Tony is served an eviction notice, he struggles to find a way to receive (not necessarily earn) the requisite funds. Enter his wealthy brother, Mario (Robinson). Fearing the worst when it comes to Ally’s well-being, Mario and wife Sophie (Ritter) head to Florida. Made aware of Tony’s financial straits, they cut him a deal: get a nice girl, get married, and get a more reliable job, then they’ll get him some money. Though Tony has been cavorting with Shirl (Jones), the footloose and fancy-free temptress alluded to earlier, his in-laws have a more respectable suitor in mind. Eloise Rogers (Parker) is the straight-laced widow they deem to be just what the errant Tony needs. Now, all Tony has to do is decide what’s best, for him, his son, his aspirations, his brother, and the two women in his life. Piece of cake.

Hole (5)In his quest for the illusive Easy Street, Tony is irresponsible though charismatically optimistic, far from his “square” brother and his life of bourgeois complacency. Unlike Tony, Mario is also frankly earnest and at times heartlessly practical. The notion that if Tony is married he will automatically earn propriety and stability, and presumably the same goes for Eloise, is not the most romantic or realistic set up there is. Tony sees the value in the proposal, sure, and their initial courtship, even if based on artifice, is amusing; she’s as awkward as he is cool. But since he is a decent man at heart, Tony to his credit is up front with her about the arrangement. The thing is, she might not care.

Sinatra, the definition of the word “entertainer,” doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves as an Oscar-winning actor, and he still gets a good deal of credit. This may not be his finest performance (certainly not compared to the extraordinary Some Came Running from the previous year), but he has a range and screen presence that is quite something, especially when you think about acting as his “other” job. However, his overly stressed “wassa matta wit choo” Brooklynese grows a little tired here. Robinson and Ritter as man and wife—brilliantly inspired casting that is—manage to steal the scene every time one or both appear. Parker as the beauty who seemingly stuns young Ally and Tony is regrettably forgettable, while Jones, on the other hand, even with her excruciating squeal of delight, leaves a more lasting impression.

Hole (3)A Hole in the Head is the lone movie released as a SinCap Production, the brief venture, as the name suggests, between Sinatra and Capra. More Capra than Sinatra though, the film bears much of what one associates with the director. Recurring comedic touches give the film a pleasantly delicate humor, from the habitual boxing quizzes (to Tony and Ally’s delight, Eloise knows an answer), to the “crazy chair” that seems to only function properly for Tony, to the disreputable state of the hotel and its equally disreputable tenants. This is Frank Capra doing what he does best. The sentimental sequences ring true, with several genuinely emotional moments, and the film is even relatively light on the (in)famous “Capri-corn” of the director’s earlier features.

Perhaps the clearest signal of this being a Capra movie comes in the closing exchange between Mario and Sophie as they watch Tony, Ally and Eloise joyfully sing the film’s Oscar-winning original song, “High Hopes.” “The poor things,” remarks Sophie. “They’re so happy and so poor.” “Broke, yes,” contends Mario, “but they’re not poor. We’re poor.” A perfect summation of so many Capra classics in this, his penultimate feature film.

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