(#7 in a 12-part series to be printed at the beginning of each month)
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN – A movie musical from Samuel Goldwyn, Hans Christian Andersen is truly a lost gem. It’s even forgotten by lovers of Danny Kaye motion pictures, and fans of the music of Frank Loesser. Yet, back in 1952, this motion picture was a sensation. It grabbed six Oscar nominations, and generations of kids grew up loving the fables of the Danish storyteller. His heartwarming tales: Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and Inch Worm, put his village of Copenhagen on the map.
Danny Kaye was Sam Goldwyn’s Golden Boy. His movies during the 1940s were among the most lucrative for the studio. With Virginia Mayo, he co-starred in Wonder Man, The Kid From Brooklyn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and A Song is Born. In 1952, Goldwyn decided a fictional fantasy about the remarkable Dane should only be played by Danny Kaye. This piece of cinema was never intended to be an accurate biography.
Sam Goldwyn chose Frank Loesser as the composer for Hans Christian Andersen. Fresh from his triumph on Broadway with Guys and Dolls, Loesser was at the top of his game. His lyrics fit the comedic song stylings of Danny Kaye.
Moss Hart was a top playwright who was brought in to write the screenplay. His credits include You Can’t Take it with You (which won a Pulitzer Prize), The Man Who Came to Dinner, Gentleman’s Agreement, and the 1954 production of A Star is Born. Because he wrote Broadway shows, his magical words suited this particular production.
Goldwyn failed to hire known actors to support Danny Kaye, with the exception of Farley Granger and John Qualen. Since Kaye was in most scenes, the script crackled. However, the motion picture doesn’t get due credit by today’s critics, mostly because of the uninspired performances by the supporting players.
Additionally, the choreography falls flat when compared to the music and lyrics. The ballet sequences get in the way of the plot. By comparison, the operatic scenes during A Night at the Opera with the Marx Brothers really compliment the dichotomy of the comedy, and it remains a bona fide classic.
Finally, the film almost never plays on Turner Classic Movies. My assumption is the Fox Movie Channel, watched in fewer homes, owns the rights to the picture. A real shame in my estimation.
Supporting Actor Spotlight
John Qualen was an accomplished actor, memorable in award-winning pictures. His face was very familiar in The Farmer Takes a Wife, Wife vs. Secretary, Knute Rockne All American, Out of the Fog, His Girl Friday, and particularly in The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Grapes of Wrath,Tortilla Flat, and Casablanca. He later appeared in The High and the Mighty, Anatomy of a Murder, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Elmer Gantry, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and Cheyenne Autumn.
Qualen was the treasurer of The Authors Club; and a historian of The Masquers, a famous social group for actors. He had a thirty-year membership in John Ford’s stock company, and was often hired by the director for small roles. His scenes in The Searchers were written with his character type in mind at Ford’s request.
Because of his popularity in 1952, Danny Kaye hosted the year’s Oscar ceremony. He later appeared in White Christmas with Bing Crosby, and The Court Jester (who many regard his finest moment in film) with Basil Rathbone.
Danny Kaye was knighted by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in 1983 for his portrayal of Hans Christian Andersen. High praise for the unique comedian. He also received numerous honors, mostly for his unyielding work for UNICEF, including the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1981, and Kennedy Center Honor. Kaye also received the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur) in 1986. He was posthumously bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom just after his passing, the highest civilian honor. UNICEF’s New York Visitor’s Centre was re-named to remember Danny Kaye.
Danny Kaye should be remembered for his amazing talent and his unparalleled contributions to humanity. For an instant, he also allowed us to enjoy the simple stories of a Danish cobbler.
Until next time> “never forget”