We’ve come to the end of our time with Danny Kaye and it’s was a pleasant experience, overall. None of the movies in Warner Archive’s two Kaye collections were terrible or unwatchable, although I did find two (The Court Jester and The Kid From Brooklyn) head and shoulders above the rest. Our final Kaye film is a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1941 comedy, Ball of Fire with Hawks taking another turn in the director’s chair to helm this. Not having the original to go off of didn’t affect my viewing, but knowing the cast of the original did color my perspective. The musical numbers make sense compared to the past Kaye movies where they’ve felt squeezed in, but Mayo is horribly miscast which causes the rest of the movie to slog to its inevitable conclusion.
The penultimate review in my Danny Kaye series sees the actor return to the comedy I enjoyed in The Court Jester. In fact, I found The Kid From Brooklyn as entertaining and engaging as Kaye’s beloved vessel with the pestle! The blend of musical and comedy remains unbalanced and jarring, but the work of Kaye and his returning cast from Wonder Man are delightful. The story of a little milkman turned boxer shows what Kaye could do when the studios realized spewing gibberish wasn’t his only forte.
Danny Kaye returns in a film cementing several of the tropes he’s commonly identified with: pairing with actress Virginia Mayo and playing a dual role. Wonder Man is a diversionary picture about gangsters and two brothers mimicking Goofus and Gallant. There’s a fair bit of humor where Kaye’s concerned, but the overemphasis on musical numbers in the third act dampens the impact of the established narrative which is woefully underdeveloped. However, you can’t fault song and dance numbers when the delightful Vera-Ellen is on-screen.
We’ve reached the first clunker in my journey through Warner Archive’s Danny Kaye Collection, and it makes sense to have it be his debut film. Up in Arms is known to Disney historians as the film which almost received an animated short film in the middle devoted to Roald Dahl’s story of airplane gremlins, and it certainly could have provided some direction to this shiftless comedy. The worst elements of Kaye’s persona are on display in this silly tale revolving around women being detrimental to the military. On top of all that, there are out-of-place musical numbers and narration enhancing the question about what is the point of it all.
The Five Pennies conjures up comparisons to similar musical biopics such as Night and Day or Young Man With a Horn; the latter, especially, due to its emphasis on horns. I enjoyed this far more than the previous two entries, but The Five Pennies suffers from the same issues plaguing all musical biopics between 1940-1960, a melodramatic script unable to balance the music with personal drama. In this case, our protagonist’s relationship with his daughter could lead somewhere if the characters didn’t vacillate between unlikeable and straight-up confused.