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Friday, April 8, 2011

MERRY ANDREW (1958)

This modestly-scaled musical with Danny Kaye as a British prep school teacher, the only film helmed by famed choreographer Michael Kidd, is an unsung charmer. Why it never caught on is a mystery; and a shame since it holds up much better than Kaye’s better known early successes for Sam Goldwyn. The story puts Kaye in England (with a spot on British accent) where an archeological dig for a long sought statue of the God Pan lands Danny face-to-face with a lion. He’s dug himself right into a circus tent! Soon, he’s also fallen for the lovely daughter of the proprietor, winningly played by a game Pier Angeli & the great operatic basso-buffo Salvatore Baccaloni. There are only five or six songs in the film, but each is a delight (check out that counterpoint melody Danny sings against his brothers), with remarkably sophisticated lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer to accompany Saul Chaplin’s catchy tunes. And, yes, the script is by the same I.A.L. Diamond whose next project was SOME LIKE IT HOT/'59. (You thought there were two I.A.L. Diamonds?) You’d never guess this was Kidd’s first pic, even with the dances for BAND WAGON, GUYS AND DOLLS and SEVEN BRIDES under his belt. What a kick to watch him shoot so much stuff in a carefree out-of-doors manner rarely seen at the time. (Did the French New Wave ever see this?) These are some of the most delightfully unstylized musical numbers ever filmed. Yet they never look awkward or out of place. Alas, the days of human-scaled musicals were all but over. And they’ve yet to return.

NOTE: This film has just come out on Warners' VOD service. But this Write-Up is drawn from a theatrical showing during the film’s initial release . . . and not seen since. You do the math.

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