By Philip Berk
Arguably the greatest comedian of the sound era, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association again got it right when they awarded Danny Kaye a Golden Globe in 1951 as Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for On the Riviera.
Seldom seen since its initial release, it is one of Twentieth Century Fox’s best musicals.
Not surprisingly it was a remake of an earlier Fox musical, That Night in Rio because studio chief Darryl
Zanuck had a knack for recycling his hits.
On the Riviera far surpasses the original: it boasts brisk direction by Walter Lang, spectacular Technicolor, better preserved there than at any other studio, Gene Tierney looking absolutely gorgeous, a vibrant Corinne Calvet (her best role),and superb supporting cameos from Marcel Dalio, Clinton Sundberg and Sig Ruman. It also boasts the exciting choreography of Jack Cole, a clever screenplay-- the work of Valentine Davies and Phoebe and Henry Ephron ---but most of all the special material written by Sylvia Fine. Someone ought to do a retrospective of her work in film.
The producer, Sol C. Siegel, is one of Hollywood's most under appreciated geniuses. Check his filmography, starting with Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch at Columbia; Blue Skies at Paramount; A Letter to Three Wives and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at Fox and High Society and Some Came Running at MGM. The man knew how to get around and attract the likes of Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra.
But first and foremost, there is Danny Kaye.
At the height of his career he was lionized the world over by everyone, including Sir Laurence Olivier. A singular talent, he was discovered by Sam Goldwyn, and what better champion could you ask for?
The Goldwyn touch is evident in all of Danny’s films because the famed producer personally supervised all his movies while he was under contract, starting with Up in Arms
Rumor has it he took Kaye, then a promising Broadway actor and an overnight sensation in Lady in the Dark, dyed his hair red so he wouldn’t look so ethnic and possibly bobbed his nose.
Up in Arms was a runaway success, and he followed that with Wonder Man and The Kid from Brooklyn, both remakes of Harold Lloyd comedies.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty remains his best film.
Of course his success could never have happened were it not for Sylvia Fine (his wife) who wrote both the words and music, pioneering what we now think of as special material, patter songs; and every one of them is as fresh today as the first time you heard it.
Goldwyn took a break to concentrate on The Best Years of Our Lives but was reunited with Danny for Hans Christian Anderson. For this Frank Loeser wrote the songs and Silvia was not involved.
It was Kaye's last Goldwyn film, and he and Silvia moved on to greater success at other studios. For Warners, they made Inspector General, for Paramount, Knock on Wood and The Court Jester, and of course for Fox, On the Riviera.
That ten year period is among the most prodigious of any comic talent in the history of film.
Then came White Christmas, a Crosby-Irving Berlin confection -- Kaye replaced Donald O’Connor at the last minute -- but after that his career was essentially over.
He attempted more serious roles; Jacobovsky and the Colonel earned him mixed reviews, even a Golden Globe, but the magic was gone. He spent the rest of his life doing warm and fuzzy television, appearing so frequently that people forgot that he once was the greatest comic genius of the 40s, far surpassing the work of Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope or Red Skelton in terms of quality.