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.
Danny Weems (Kaye) is a hypochondriac drafted into the army alongside his best friend, Joe (Dana Andrews), the woman he loves (Constance Dowling) and the woman who secretly loves him (Dinah Shore). When his crush, Mary ends up trapped on the boat bound to sail with the rest of the men, Danny and Joe have to find a way to return her home without anyone noticing.
I’m recalling a Boris Karloff film about a soldier attempting to get a woman off an army base, but for the life of me I can’t remember the title; Up in Arms felt like that only slightly better. Coming out towards the tail end of the war, it’s understandable the script wants to pep up audiences with comedy, but nothing of significance happens throughout a too-long hour and 46-minutes. For all the fears of entering the war Danny should have, he’s pretty cool once he gets on the boat. There’s no action, consequences, or fear of death to keep the plot moving, so the story is just about getting a woman off a boat. Of course, the third act weirdly introduces a brief foray into Weems’ kidnapping by the Japanese enemy. It’s a bizarre comedic moment hard to swallow considering the massive death toll of those fighting overseas.
The comedy is present, particularly Kaye’s running gag about making other people sick through the power of suggestion. As a fellow hypochondriac, I salute him! Unfortunately, his shtick is there as a dog and pony show showcase of his talents, part vaudeville act and part narrative where the former overpowers the latter at the oddest times. Several sequences involve him talking in gibberish or twitching, which isn’t funny when it looks like a mental defect. Watching later movies, I see where Kaye toned it down and blended his humor into a workable fashion, but this is rough. The third act is a Busby Berkely-esque dream sequence about Kaye’s numerous lady friends which goes on for so long it stops being a dream and just a way to get Kaye and Dinah Shore together to sing. The movie is blatant about what it’s doing, leaving the audience to tune out during what should be the closing act of the movie.
The rest of the cast is fine as straight men opposite Kaye’s manic Weems. I was shocked to see Dana Andrews in this picture but everyone’s gotta pay the bills, right? Andrews is the prototypical nice guy/best friend to Danny who secretly loves Danny’s girl and she him. He isn’t tasked with much except exasperation and support of his friend. It’s great watching Andrews in comedy, but there’s no purpose for him in the role. There’s a running joke about one soldier’s love for Veronica Lake and her presence is felt through photos and talk about her (Go Ronnie!), which is weird because actress Constance Dowling looks eerily similar to Lake. Mary Morgan is the girl next door trapped on a boat with a bunch of men, and, like Andrews, that’s the extent of her character. The true humor is derived from Weems’ belief that putting a helmet on Mary and making sure she keeps her head down will prevent others from realizing she’s a female. She’s got a full face of makeup on! Shore is another girl next door, the difference being she loves Weems. Shore is good, but like the other two actors who aren’t Kaye, she has little character and generally is relegated to singing in the third act.
Overall, Up in Arms isn’t Kaye at his best, although you shouldn’t expect too much from his debut. The thing is, if we didn’t know he was bound for stardom you can’t see it here. The movie’s plot never figures out if it’s comedic or serious, and just focuses on a minor problem resolved in ten minutes. It’s for the Kaye purists out there.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.