Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Warner Archive Grab Bag: Danny Kaye - The Goldwyn Years ""

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Warner Archive Grab Bag: Danny Kaye - The Goldwyn Years

WONDER MAN (1945; H. Bruce Humberstone)
What's this, a Danny Kaye superhero film? I wish. It isn't quite that, but it kicks off in a bright, colorful big band-y kind of way. Shot in Technicolor and it looks very nice indeed. What we have here though is essentially an early 'body switch' film. It's actually quite an odd concoction this one. Danny Kaye plays a dual role here in a pair of hyper-identical twin brothers. One is a silly, lively, club singer/dancer/performer and one is a bookish intellectual type. By a stroke of bad luck, the singer Kaye is bumped off and the bookish Kaye has to try to right things for him. The singer Kaye (Buzzy), as a ghost can enter the body of the bookish one (Edwin) in a way that sort of reminded me of ALL OF ME with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. Once "possessed" Edwin is prone to weird fits of gibberish that can only be compared to the comedy stylings that Charlie Callas made popular in the late 60s and early 70s. It's completely bizarre nonsense and yet it is somehow captivating.  So the movie is filled with lavish and wonderful musical numbers and lots of gibberish. It's like few musicals I've seen. Quite conventional is some parts and quite oddball in others. Danny Kaye holds it all together though with his wonderfully unhinged yet very precise comic performance. The film also features Warner Archive favorites Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy as goons and the equally talented S.Z. Sakall (CASABLANCA, BALL OF FIRE) as a befuddled delicatessen owner.

UP IN ARMS (1944; Elliot Nugent)
Starts as a pleasant Kaye comedy with him starring as a hypochondriac work as an elevator operator in a hospital so he can be close to doctors (who all avoid him because of his incessant inquiries). It's another case of a very nervous character that seems like something that could have influenced Woody Allen. What the film turns into is a war-time comedy/adventure as Kaye and his buddy Dana Andrews are drafted and sent overseas to fight (with their ladies Dinah Shore and Constance Dowling in tow). Dinah Shore can certainly belt out a tune when she wants to (and she does so several times in this flick).
I believe this film is making its U.S. dvd debut in this set.

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946; Norman Z. McLeod)
Affable comedy with some adequate musical numbers from director Norman Z. McLeod (HORSE FEATHERS, IT'S A GIFT), but it's not quite his best work. Kaye plays an unassuming milkman with a talent for ducking who gets himself into a mixup with a middle weight boxing champ wherein the press thinks he KO'd the guy (he just dodged a punch from the champ's partner). The boxing champ's manager has no choice but to train the milkman as a boxer to cash in on the publicity about him knocking out the champ. As he rising in the boxing rankings (due to tons of thrown fights) the former milkman of course becomes more and more insufferable. 

A SONG IS BORN (1948; Howard Hawks)
The first thing you notice about this film should be the director's name above. Yep, it's a Hawks movie. And a Hawks movie based on a story by Billy Wilder to boot. Plus it features Kaye along with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong.
This was Howard Hawks second film released in 1948 along with the western classic RED RIVER and the two films were released only about a  month apart. Today it would be a little odd for a director to have two films hit theaters so close together, but it feels to me a sign of the times these films were made in when the director was not necessarily a particular selling point. And besides, the two movies couldn't be more different. One is a cattle-driving western with John Wayne and Monty Clift and this is a musical comedy with Danny Kaye. Two completely different audiences one would think. 
Anyway, it's a Hawks film as I said and one of his collaborations with the great cinematographer Gregg Toland. This was Toland's second to last film and his second version of this story with Hawks who had made BALL OF FIRE together in 1941 (the same year Toland's most famous work, CITIZEN KANE came out).
So this is, as I said, pretty much a remake of BALL OF FIRE, but rather than working in encyclopedias, the bookish types in this film are working on a comprehensive encyclopedia of music (complete with recordings they are making themselves). While it's no BALL OF FIRE, the film is still quite solid and a must watch for hardcore Hawks (and Kaye) fans.

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