Posted by medusamorlock on January 19, 2013
I haven’t been around here in a while, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish success to TCM’s Danny Kaye 100th Birthday celebration all day this coming Sunday — tomorrow. As I showed in several posts in the past, I’ve been a Danny Kaye connoisseur nearly all my life, since the days I used to skip junior high to watch his movies on TV during the day (this is pre-VCR and DVR, although I used to record the soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape!). I bought my first copies of those “Movies on TV” books because of Danny, too, because I wanted to go through and find all his movies. Little did I know then that he only made 17, but we are fortunate that TCM will be bringing us a good selection of those on Sunday, plus some rare TV goodies.
First off, we need to thank Danny’s daughter Dena for spearheading this wonderful 100th Anniversary celebration — Danny Kaye Centennial 2013! Take a look at the great TCM interview she did promoting Sunday’s event by clicking here, and be sure also to read the TCM close-ups on these movies; I’ll link to them.
As an intense fan of Danny’s, I can tell you what I think of the line-up — it’s pretty great! Starting at 6am (I’m referring to Eastern time here), a rare look at some of Danny’s TV variety work with “The Danny Kaye Show” which is actually the 2nd of three specials he did for CBS before he started his regular weekly show in the fall of 1963. (This additional info is thanks to David Koenig, whose new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters is a must-buy for all of us Kaye fans. More info on other great Danny Kaye fan developments later in this post!). According to David, this special is a real treat and it’s something I’ve longed to see. Definitely an extremely rare TV treat so be sure to tune in or DVR!
At 7am: 1944′s Up In Arms, Danny’s first full-length motion picture after being spirited to Hollywood by Samuel Goldwyn. Danny had really hit the Broadway big-time with his roles in “Lady in the Dark” and “Let’s Face It”, and Goldwyn saw Danny as another Eddie Cantor, Goldwyn’s previous comic money-maker from the 1930s. Up in Arms gives you the chance to see Danny’s famous star-making number “Melody in 4-F,” co-written by his wife Syvia Fine, the talented songwriter who was responsible for many of Danny’s unique patter songs. He also does his movie parody “The Lobby Number” and get the chance to do a zooty song-and-dance number with likable co-star Dinah Shore (who coincidentally was an Eddie Cantor protege) later on in the film. Up in Arms is a good showcase for the nascent screen personality of Danny, and he’s still a bit wild and untamed, which is a good thing. The slightly bland but absolutely gorgeous Constance Dowling (who later married “Flipper” producer Ivan Tors) also co-stars, along with an earnest Dana Andrews and other solid comic actors like Walter Catlett, Benny Baker and Lyle Talbot. This is a recommended choice! I do wonder what woulc have happened if Danny had signed early on with a more traditional studio like MGM or Paramount…certainly his career would have been different. Probably he would have been introduced in smaller doses first and then onto starring roles, but not so with Goldwyn — it was full speed ahead for his new Goldwyn boy!
At 8:45am: 1958′s MGM musical comedy Merry Andrew, with Danny as a bookish British schoolteacher/amateur archeologist who finds love and self-acceptance when he becomes involved with the spirited denizens of a traveling circus. Top reasons to watch: Beautiful MGM production values, robust direction and choreography by Michael Kidd, an appearance by great MGM dancer Tommy Rall as one of the Italian brothers, the over-the-(big) top performance of actor/opera singer Salvatore Baccaloni, the lovely Pier Angeli as Danny’s romantic match, a fun chimp, and so much more. Merry Andrew is a very enjoyable movie, with nice tunes by Saul Chaplin and a refreshing brio, in addition to some nice scenery and the circus millieu. It’s charming.
At 10:30am: the 1971 Dick Cavett interview with Danny. This is a real rarity. Although the TCM listing says this is from May 28, 1971, other sources say it’s from November 24, 1971. Either way, it’s Danny all the way. I don’t remember this though I surely watched it, and this is either from when he was in the midst of his Broadway run as Noah in “Two by Two” or had just finished it. The musical was controversial due to Danny’s “makeover” of the show, when his ad libs and onstage shenanigans (abetted by his broken leg which necessitated him being in a wheelchair then a cast) turned the show into something very different than the creators intended. By this time Danny’s public image was a prickly one – part honored UNICEF spokesman, part beloved entertainer, and part curmudgeon with a reputation for being not as warm and fuzzy as his image. Surprised?! Guess what? He was a human being, so talented and complicated. I can’t wait to watch this one!
At 12 noon: 1946′s The Kid from Brooklyn, the Kaye remake of the Harold Lloyd milkman-turned-pugilist movie The Milky Way. Chief Delights: Vera-Ellen and Virginia Mayo, Eve Arden (who also starred in Danny’s radio show and had a very warm friendship with Danny at the time), Walter Abel (hilarious!), Lionel Stander. A very solid comedy, not brilliant exactly but lively and extremely entertaining. Definitely worth watching!
At 2pm: 1949′s The Inspector General. I love this movie. Because it fell into public domain, it’s all over the place in crummy transfers, but you know this TCM version will have to look good. This is a very lush, very Warner Bros. comedy, with some effective backlot footage and Danny looking wonderful throughout. Fellow Morlock RHS had a very nice post about The Inspector General a while back; be sure to read his appreciation here. I like everything about this movie. Danny is backed by a cast full of talented comics, and it’s completely authentic to the time period and also functions simply as a rousing adventure. There’s a sweet romance with the lovely Barbara Bates, lots of physical comedy, and Danny’s sincere performance as the hapless Giorgi. Highly recommended!
At 4pm: A very big change-of-pace film for Danny, 1958′s gentle comedy Me and the Colonel. Danny plays a displaced Jewish gentleman named Mr. Jacobowsky who teams up with a hostile military officer (played by Curt Jurgens) as he attempts to flee to safety during WW II. Completely European in tone, setting and pacing, and not a patter song in sight. You know how comedians are always supposed to want to play Hamlet? Well, this is one of the times when Danny went serious, and he did a very credible job. There’s a great score by George Duning, too, and the lovely French actress Nicole Maurey is along to flirt a little with both Jacobowsky and the Colonel. Recommended for dignified performances and for the serious side of Danny Kaye, but it’s completely atypical Kaye fare.
At 6pm: 1947′s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. One of my favorite Kaye films, despite not getting the thumbs-up from Thurber himself at the time of its release. Danny isn’t henpecked here, he’s mother-smothered instead, but it works. Virginia Mayo is the lovely mystery woman who leads him headlong into the biggest adventure Mitty never dreamed. Good supporting performances from Fay Bainter as Mrs. Mitty, Thurston Hall as Walter’s boss, Boris Karloff, Ann Rutherford, Florence Bates, and also a great bouncy NYC vibe and perfect score from David Raksin. Sylvia Fine’s “The Little Fiddle” and “Anatole of Paris” are Danny classics. The dream sequences are beautiful, and now you know there were supposedly a couple of others filmed, including Boris Karloff reprising his Frankenstein character and another with Danny as an Irish informer on the run from authorities. There’s a nice appreciation of the movie here from Dorian TV at her blog. This is a big beautiful production, plenty crazy enough to satisfy modern sensibilities. A must-watch!
At 8pm: 1952′s Hans Christian Andersen. This is indeed a big, gaudy fairy tale of a movie, chockful of songs, cute little kids, good tunes (by Frank “Guys and Dolls” Loesser), and — now don’t get scared off — lots of ballet. LOTS of it, thankfully danced by the saucy French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire who eez very Fraunch, as some might say. Just when the movie threatens to overwhelm, something genuine comes along like “Thumbelina” or “The Ugly Duckling” (quite a nice sequence) and it’s terrific. There’s also a weird and more-than-a-little twisted psychosexual vibe running not much below the surface in Hans Christian Andersen, a rivalry (for the ballerina) between the asexual Hans and the fiery balletmaster played by Farley Granger, culminating in a ballet face-off sequence that is riveting and utterly nuts. The movie is not typical Danny Kaye, but it’s very entertaining, full of good music, good songs and it has that filmed-entirely-on-a-soundstage lack of verisimilitude that seems perfect for this lush facsimile of the life of Hans Christian Andersen. Definitely watch this!
At 10pm: 1956′s The Court Jester. Probably Danny’s best, most perfectly executed and most fun movie, and it deserves the love it gets. The opening song “Life Could Not Better Be” perfectly sums up the delights to come. The cast is top-notch: Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick, Basil Rathbone, Robert Middleton, and so many other familiar faces. The Court Jester is pure delight, beautiful to look at, wonderful to listen to, alternatively hilarious, romantic and thrilling. Danny, unlike some other screen comedians, is truly as believable as a hero when the time comes for him to step up to bravery, as he is as a bumbling coward. Highlights for me: All the songs, Kaye as an old man trying to flummox royal soldier Herbert Rudley, Kaye explaining about the Duke and the Doge to Cecil Parker, Breckenridge’s Curse as explained by Glynis Johns, Natwick putting Danny under hypnosis and then Danny going to Lansbury and wooing her…what the heck, all of The Court Jester! Need I even mention the greatness of “the vessel with the pestle”…? Even if you’ve seen this before, I guarantee you will feel better after watching it again!
At 12 midnight: A Song is Born, from 1948. I have to admit I don’t like this one very much. Certainly my least favorite of the Goldwyn movies, but it’s a goldmine if you love classic jazz performers as the movie is loaded with them. Virginia Mayo looks gorgeous, at least, though this remake of Ball of Fire – a female fireball messin’ it up with a fusty academics — hasn’t the life of the original nor even the verve of a successful Danny vehicle of that time. I haven’t watched it in a while so maybe it’s gotten more entertaining with age, and I do get where it fits into his film continuum, but don’t say I recommended it. Did somebody forget that Danny was a singer? How did they not give him any songs in this? Too drab overall.
At 2am: 1945′s Wonder Man. This is more like it. Danny’s second film for Goldwyn, this is a double-identity tale of a bookish twin and his snazzy brother who comes back from the grave to solve his own murder. Dancer Vera-Ellen made her screen debut in this, and Virginia Mayo had her first full-on co-starring role opposite Danny here. There’s a great appearance from the legendary be-jowled Cuddles Sakall here, and fun musical sequences abound. Wonder Man isn’t exactly a classic in the sense of being one-of-a-kind good, but it’s cute and funny and overall very entertaining. This one I do recommend!
At 4am: 1961′s The Man from the Diner’s Club. Hmmm…this is more like a weak Jerry Lewis comedy than a good Danny Kaye comedy. No songs, looks maybe like a TV show with its stark B&W photography. Kind of forgettable, but you’ve got to watch it at least once so you can forget it, right? Oh, I will say that it’s nice to see Cara Williams in this movie; those of you classic TV fans will remember her as Harry Morgan’s wacky wife in Pete and Gladys.
In addition to Dena Kaye’s Danny Kaye Centennial site mentioned above, there are some other terrific web resources which have sprung to life about Danny. One of my favorites is DannyKaye.Net, The Definitive Danny Kaye Website, a beautiful and comprehensive site, fan-created, and be sure to connect up at Facebook with it to keep abreast of frequent updates, too. Steve Kimball’s Danny Kaye Tribute and Fan Website, www. dannykaye.org, is another wonderfully put-together and fascinating site — completely awesome! Both of these sites have deep content and have been compiled with lots of love, and it shows. There are links within them to other Kaye information on the web, too. There’s also MyDannyKaye.com which also has lots of nice content. Once again I must mention author David Koenig (you may already be familiar with him if you are a Disney fan — he’s written several highly-regarded tomes on the subject!) and his brand new Danny Kaye: King of Jesters book. It’s a wonderful resource for longtime fans or for new converts who want to learn about this brilliant entertainer.
Coming Soon — I’m going to a Part 2 later today, a selection of Danny Kaye photos from my collection, because Danny’s worth it!
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