Back in the day before cable ruled the airwaves, there used to be late night movies, and one of the ones I saw frequently in the wee hours of day was Tenth Avenue Angel. It was my introduction to the very talented and delightful, Margaret O’Brien, who was one of the big child stars of her era. I just loved her in this movie, and in the other ones of her youth. O’Brien actually continued to act quite successfully as she matured and became an adult. I met her once, in the late 80s I believe it was, and she was a delight, so I have good thoughts of her which makes Tenth Avenue Angel even more delightful to watch now.
The movie is about O’Brien’s family. Her father is struggling to make ends meat, especially with the news that her mother is expecting another child. The father is just a minor character. He barely has a presence in the movie. The mother, played by Phyllis Thaxter, is definitely more important. In fact, key to the plot is that the mother constantly tells her daughter fairy tales to explain things that happen or to soothe her fears, such as mice turn into money and cows kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Also of importance is the integrity of the truth. As adults often do, they cover things up and they tell stories instead of coming clean. O’Brien’s character becomes heartbroken and distrustful when she learns about all the lies she has been told, and when she figures out that her mother’s words are not the truth, either, it crushes her soul. I feel her pain, and I cry with her when she comes face to face with truth for the first time.
Angela Lansbury has a nice role in this movie. It is actually one of the few performances of hers that I really like. George Murphy is the other big star of the era. His character is a little confusing. He returns home from a prison stint, tries to go straight, then wants to backslide because he is trying to help O’Brien’s father. Then he just walks away when O’Brien comes just in the nick of time, needing his help. Actually, there is a bit here with the local cop that I like a lot.
The movie is O’Brien’s, and I am a believer. I may cry during it, but the ending makes me smile and it is definitely a good film.