|A Hole in the Head
1959 - unrated - 120 Mins.
|Director: Frank Capra
|Producer: Frank Capra
|Written By: Arnold Schulman
|Starring: Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eddie Hodges, Eleanor Parker and Carolyn Jones
|Review by: Bill King
With a title that probably wouldn't go over so well with today's audiences, "A Hole in the Head" is one of Frank Capra's last films. The legendary director made movies that were observant portraits of the fighting man and his repressive surroundings. In "It's a Wonderful Life," main character George Bailey was the lone roadblock in Mr. Potter's quest to buy out Bedford Falls. In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Jefferson Smith found himself at odds with political corruption. A Hole in the Head also features a man with an uphill battle to climb, but Capra offers a variation of the theme by revealing the obstacles as self-made. Tony Manetta (Frank Sinatra) is a gambler and womanizer, who blows his money at the first opportunity and now faces eviction and loss of his business.
Tony could probably bounce back from his worries, except that he has a young son with him. Ally (Eddie Hodges), short for Alvin, is 12 years old. He lives with his father at the Garden of Eden Hotel in Miami, FL. Tony owns the hotel, but he needs to raise $5300 to pay the landlord. Tony's lifestyle has spun out of control, so that now he stumbles in at four in the morning and sleeps in his clothes. He lost his wife to an illness a few years back, and he just hasn't been able to settle down again. Now with a large debt, Tony has a few options, and one of them doesn't appeal to him at all. His brother Mario is wealthy and could help him out, but Mario is fully aware of his little brother's habits and is leery about loaning him anything.
Mario's wife Sophie (Thelma Ritter) prods her husband to fly down to Miami with a proposition. Since Tony can't raise his son under such unstable conditions, they will relieve his burden by taking Ally back with them to New York. If Tony agrees to do this and also to settle down and end his reckless ways, Mario will give him a fresh start and allow him to open a new business in a small town - something modest to help Tony confront the fact that he can't continue to spend his money on frivolous expenses. Ally doesn't want to leave his father, even if it means they'll have to live on the street. The love between Tony and Ally is the focal point of the movie. Despite their troubles, they want to stick together, because they're not only a family, but also a team.
Tony faces more than his own depleted wallet when trying to dig himself out of this hole. Mario tries his hardest to talk to his brother. He arrives in Miami not simply to scold him, but to wake him up to the cold reality that he can't raise his son when a roof over their heads isn't guaranteed. Mario will pay the landlord, but not without some kind of indication that his brother will settle down.
Jerry Marks (Keenan Wynn) represents another way out. He and Tony have known each other for a long time. Tony has this plan to build a Disneyland-style theme park in Miami, and he wants Jerry to provide the bulk of the cash to get it started. Jerry likes the idea, but he doesn't agree to fund construction. Though the film doesn't say it outright, Jerry probably said no to the offer because he knows of his old friend's inadvisable pursuits for wealth. In these two instances, Tony cut himself off from any help the moment he started acting irresponsible. Mario and Jerry don't want to see Tony fail, but they're smart enough to know that giving him money will only provide for a temporary solution. Given time, Tony will wind up in trouble again.
Tony has his flaws, but the one area that redeems him is his genuine affection for his son, as can be seen when they sing "High Hopes." The title refers to something Ally tells his father. He jokingly says that Tony has a hole in the head, because of his crazy ideas. The hole also refers to his lack of common sense. Even when he has the money in his hand, when he finally has what he needs to pay off his debts, he still comes up short, due to his poor decision-making. Tony has to face the facts or else he'll have a hole in his heart to match the one his head.