09 April, 2014

Hey Marvel, It's DC Calling


Okay, everyone check your capes at the door.
There’s a lot happening in the Super Hero Movie World at the moment.  So this latest “but I digress” of mine will try and touch on a little of it.  At least a couple things that struck me recently.  
To start, let’s start back in 2008 when Kevin Feige and John Favreau ushered in the modern Super Hero revolution with ‘Iron Man.’  Sure, we can go back to 2002 when Sam Raimi gave us his first ‘Spider-Man’ – and I loved that movie – but I’m touching more on the non-Spidey (and non-X-Men) lore.  Bear with me.
With the ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Captain America’ and ‘Thor’ series – culminating in an ‘Avengers’ series – it seemed Marvel had theatres all locked up in their favor.  But then a little movie called ‘Man Of Steel’ flew out of the Warner/DC world and proved they were still in the game.  Now with ‘Batman Vs. Superman’ on the way – and God I really hope they change that title – we can’t help but ask … what’s next?
It’s been confirmed that Marvel's “Untitled Movie being released 6 May, 2016” will be ‘Captain America 3.’  Of course, that means Warner Bros will have to decide if they’ll flinch on their release date.  Well, we have a response from the studio.  Dan Fellman (WB President of Domestic Distribution) said to Bloomberg News:
            “It doesn’t make a lot of sense for two huge superhero films to open on the same date but there is a lot of time between now and [6 May, 2016].  However, at this time, we are not considering a change of date for [‘Batman Vs. Superman’].”
PS, am I the only one pleading with anyone involved that they come up with a better title than ‘Batman Vs. Superman?’  Our “world’s finest” deserve better.  Sorry, moving on again …
This “date issue” sounds like a challenge to me.  It’s hard to tell if Marvel is over-confident after ‘Cap 2’s’ successful opening weekend, or if Warner Bros is simply prepared to step-up and face the opposition.  Playing “who’s got the bigger” aside, keeping the same release date is at least a two-fold issue.  First, it will (might) determine which comic label fans are siding with;  but, second, it could also backfire and diminish potential profits for both studios since they – those mega-minded suits in their ivory towers – rely so heavily on opening weekend box office performance.  (Wait, you mean they’re not as interested in which is a better story?  Might resonate with the audience, might have longevity?  Shame on you.  And, sure, go ahead and insert a “performance anxiety” joke here.  Thanks.) 
Sorry, quick side-note.  Remember in 1985 when ‘Back To The Future’ – an unquestioned hit – made $12 Million opening weekend?  Today that’s an unquestioned flop.  (Sure, there are the adjusted numbers, and it would eventually make $200 Million and garner four Oscar nominations, but you see what I mean.)  Those ivory tower suits really are just interested in “who’s got the bigger” opening weekend.  Exhibition tallies aside – and if you don’t think exhibitors don’t control this business, well, sorry – I will say that we haven’t seen an opening weekend with two big contenders like this in a long time;  and I am excited about it.
But let’s continue the line of thinking.  There’s no secret that Kevin Feige has ushered in a “golden era” of Super Hero Cinema.  Great movies?  Yes.  That link?  Yes.  That overlap into TV (ABC’s ‘Agents Of SHIELD’)?  The yes’s go on and on.  Then there’s “Phase 2,” from ‘Iron Man 3’ through ‘The Avengers 2.'  And we already know 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' and 'Ant Man' and ‘Cap 3’ and and and are coming.  Is Mr. Feige’s finger on the pulse?  Yes.  And please, sir, don’t take it off.  (And kudos to Disney in their buyout of Marvel for not interfering with him.  But that’s an entirely other adventure.)
So what’s next?  That is, what is DC’s response? 
Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not here to pedestal Marvel and smack DC.  I loves me the Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman as much as anyone.  But ever since ‘Man Of Steel’ ushered in the new DC super hero world, we can’t help but anticipate a “grand scale plan” of theirs that would put in place for their heroes as Marvel has done.  Now, to be fair, DC is working from a different starting point than Marvel did;  but we have to assume there will be multiple standalone movies followed by a ‘Justice League’-esque mega-movie a la ‘The Avengers,’ right?  Or do you think they're already trying to capitalize-on by putting Bats and Supes in the same -- next -- movie?    
So, then ... what’s next?
Well, IGN asked as well;  specifically of David S. Goyer – PS, no slouch this guy;  he was only involved in “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and ‘Man Of Steel’ – and he said:
            “I mean, it's too early.  I know that Warner Bros would love to make their universe more cohesive.  There have been a lot of general conversations about that, but it's really, really early.  I'm not sure.  Marvel has had enormous success, but I'm not sure that everybody should try to emulate them either.  It's just been vague conversations so far.”

So the question becomes whether Warner Bros is planning to unite their big screen features, which seems likely with Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in ‘Batman Vs. Superman’ as well as Dwayne Johnson’s commitment to [DC] in “an unspecified superhero role.”  And they already have television properties to work into their canon.  Currently, The CW airs the fan-favorite ‘Arrow’ and plans to launch ‘The Flash’ this Autumn.  And Fox will air the James Gordon-centric "Batman origin series" ‘Gotham.’  Emulation aside – call it whatever you want – DC is starting to make its own mark.

In the end, Warner Bros / DC is going to do whatever they can to avoid comparison to Marvel, but they’d be kryptonite not to at least take into consideration what’s made Marvel such a success.  Not to mention – and believe me this is no small thing – if they do play their cards right, they hold one big one-up on Marvel in that all their characters fall under one studio.

So we may still be a bit away from --










-- but who knows?  That’s the great thing about pow! crash! aieee! comic books.
There’s always “what’s next!”



22 February, 2014

The Court Jester
















HAWKINS
                        I've got it!  The pellet with the poison's in the
vessel with the pestle, and the chalice from the
palace has the brew that is true!  Right?

GRISELDA
                        Right.  But there's been a change.  They broke the
chalice from the palace.

HAWKINS
                        They broke the chalice from the palace?

GRISELDA
                        And replaced it with a flagon.

HAWKINS
                        A flagon?

GRISELDA
                        With the figure of a dragon.

HAWKINS
                        A flagon with a dragon.

GRISELDA
                        Right.

HAWKINS
                        But did you put the pellet with the poison in the
vessel with the pestle?

GRISELDA
                        No!  The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with
the dragon.  The vessel with the pestle has the brew
that is true! 

HAWKINS
                        The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the
dragon;  the vessel with the pestle has the brew that
is true.

GRISELDA
                                    (as if it’s the simplest thing in the world)
Just remember that.

            Yes, dear readers, it ranks up there with ‘Who’s On First?’  Glynis Johns as Griselda and, of course, Danny Kaye as Hawkins.  If you know the bit, you know how funny it is.  If you don’t?   Welcome.  You’re in for a real treat. 

But first …

Why don’t we open today’s entry with The Backstage.  After all, we have a Writer-Director team with us.  The brilliant – and I don’t use that term lightly – “Panama & Frank” as they were known.  And in our film today, they’re writing and telling the jokes – all through that amazing megaphone, Mr. Kaye – as few storytellers can.

Norman Panama and Melvin Frank grew up in Chicago and formed a storytelling team that showcased Bob Hope and Groucho Mark and crossed three decades, including multiple Oscar Nominations and such hits as ‘Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House’ (remade at least twice;  as ‘The Money Pit’ and ‘Are We Done Yet?’), the play ‘A Talent For Murder’ (the film version of which, coincidentally, stars Angela Lansbury), ‘My Favorite Blonde,’ ‘The Princess And The Pirate’ (with Virginia Mayo), ‘The Road To Utopia,’ ‘The Facts Of Life,’ ‘Monsieur Beaucaire,’ and (coming up) the fifth of my “Danny Kaye Top 5,” the holiday classic ‘White Christmas.’

To say that they have pedigree is an understatement.  Look ‘em up and realize the rest of the hits – critically and in popularity – they birthed.  Yes, “Panama & Frank” was a term of its own, and made co-comedy-writers insanely jealous.  And, so, it’s my pleasure to showcase one of their best here today.  The wacky and witty --

‘The Court Jester’ (1955)
w Norman Panama & Melvin Frank
d  Norman Panama & Melvin Frank

            Here we are in the home stretch of our “Five Film Retrospective” of Danny Kaye, today our fourth in this series’ list:  his incomparable ‘The Court Jester.’ 

After our first three --

            ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’
            ‘Up In Arms’
            and ‘Wonder Man’

-- we find ourselves in today’s gem.  And, no, I don’t use “incomparable” lightly either;  for whom can we compare to Mr. Kaye?  There’s Keaton and Lloyd and Chaplin;  and even Hope and Skelton and Allen.  But Kaye?  Encapsulating everything he did, the way he did?  In as relatively a brief amount of time as he did -- remember, over four decades, Kaye only made seventeen films -- no, I’m not so much comparing as … well, moving on …

            Coming into the mid-fifties, the previous two decades were filled with medieval glory – from Fairbanks to Flynn – and so Hollywood had to play-on.  And who better to spoof the merry madness than Danny Kaye?  Teamed with Panama & Frank, ‘The Court Jester’ is indeed a match made in comedy heaven.

            While the infant King of England awaits his rightful place as leader of the British Empire, he’s usurped by Roderick (Cecil Parker), a wannabe ruler of the throne.  Brave rebel leader The Black Fox (Edward Ashley) intends to remove Roderick from the palace and bring the crown back to its true owner.  But in the meantime The Baby King needs to be looked after, which becomes the job of Hawkins (Kaye).  The Black Fox travels with The Baby King and his Rebels as they search for the key to a secret tunnel that will give them access into the castle.  Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), one of The Rebels, meets a man en route who is to be Roderick's new Jester.  The Rebels quickly switch said Jester for Hawkins.  The Rebels can then find the key and initiate the overthrow.  But wait!  Hawkins is not only mistaken for A Master Assassin, but Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) falls in love with him, which puts him in doubly hot water with Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), the evil genius behind the merry madness.

            (Whew!)

            Yes, the plot may seem a tad intricate, but I assure you it’s in the best sort of way.  How?  Why?  Well, as we talked a little about in the ‘Wonder Man’ review – Kaye playing an Entertainer and Dual Role there – Panama & Frank here mold The Story to Kaye’s talents.  He’s a Jester, an Entertainer, hypnotized in and out of heroism, again in a Dual Role, plus there’s the passioned homage to the classic swashbucklers of their time.

Our old friend Bosley Crowther sums it up well in his original New York Times Review (2 February, 1956);  saying, in part, “It stood to reason that somebody would eventually cut loose and do a slam-bang burlesque on recent movies about knighthood and derring-do.  And we are happy to report that it's been leaped-at by no less a clown than Danny Kaye, who lands with both feet in ‘The Court Jester.’
“[Panama & Frank], being ardent showmen, have opened Mr. Kaye to a whole area of Robin Hoodish romance in which to range.  They’ve started him off in the green-suited retinue of a bold and gallant Forest Leader who champions an infant heir to the English throne.
 “Then they whirl him around a few times and head him straight to the court of the wicked, conniving fellow who has usurped the throne.  And there, in the guise of A Court Jester, have him outrageously involved in palace intrigue, a romance with a princess, and a daring plot to enthrone the infant.
“There’s Mr. Kaye making ardent passes at Glynis Johns and Angela Lansbury, all the while under Mildred Natwick’s spell.  Literally.  And there’s Mr. Kaye frantically regaling the court with the – always wonderful – Sylvia Fine lament of a maladjusted jester who is a bundle of quivering nerves.
            “If one should sense a somewhat broader and blunter attack on farce — and on the shaping of a character — than is usual with Mr. Kaye, that would not be surprising, for this story does not have subtlety.  [Kaye] is a funny fellow bounced all over the place.
“But Mr. Kaye – and Cecil Parker and Miss Lansbury and Glynis Johns and (especially) Basil Rathbone – play it adroitly.  The color and the costuming are gaudy, and the whole thing, on the VistaVision screen, has an audacious size and splash about it.  But in the end, as we hope it to be?  Brilliantly good fun.”
            Indeed, sir, brilliantly good fun it is.
Switching moods for just a moment, while he was world famous for his comedy – and ‘Court Jester’ is as good an example of that as any – Kaye’s last [feature film] appearance, ‘Skokie’ (1981), portrays a serious tone;  that of a Holocaust survivor protesting a planned march by Neo-Nazis.  (And if you haven’t seen his speech in the church, please do.)  Kaye also went serious in ‘Me And The Colonel’ (1958), ‘The Five Pennies’ (1959) and, with Katharine Hepburn, in ‘The Madwoman Of Chaillot’ (1969).  Why switch moods at all here (in this blog)?  Simply because of talent.  Mentioning talent.  Kaye was funny, sure;  but his talent?  Working both sides of the fence, comedy and drama?  I’d be remiss if not at least mentioning it.

To note, in casting Patton Oswalt in ‘Dollhouse’ – a comedian in a serious role – Joss Whedon comments on how difficult it is to be funny;  therefore, in contrast, to place someone with that innate talent – bringing us the funny – but then bringing us to tears is, more than you’d think, natural.  After all, look at Chaplin in ‘The Kid.’  The card at the head of that classic reads, “a smile, and perhaps a tear.”  Yeah, we should all be so lucky to enjoy both from that level of talent at the same time.

A 2001 (DVD) review of ‘The Court Jester’ writes, in part, “The supporting cast includes Robert Middleton (Sir Griswold), Michael Pate (Sir Locksley), Herbert Rudley (Captain of the Guard), Noel Drayton (Fergus), John Carradine (Giacomo), Alan Napier (Sir Brockhurst), Lewis Martin (Sir Finsdale) and Patrick Aherne (Sir Pertwee).  A fun, feel-good film, [it’s] a virtual showcase for the versatile Danny Kaye, and he gives an unforgettable performance.  This is true comedy at its best.  For some real laughs, just call for Kaye.  Completely conducive to contemporary conviviality.  Get it?  Got it.  Good.  Yea, verily, yea!  Indeed, the magic of the movies.”

(And for those of you that know, I love the inclusion there of, “Get it, got it, good;”  one of my favorite exchanges in the movie.)

According to his daughter, Dena Kaye, for the rest of his life, whenever someone would recognize [Mr. Kaye] in public, they would run up and deliver "Pellet With The Poison" from our film today.  Kudos to Panama & Frank?  To Sylvia Fine?  To Mr. Goldwyn for originally recognizing Kaye’s talent?  To Mr. Kaye himself for being able to step-up and perform?  Yes and yes and yes and yes.

After all, maybe it’s not to whom we say thank you, but that – from Kaye’s “premiere” in 1944 through the next four decades – we can say thank you.

I don't normally do this, but I have to here.  That is, include a "behind the scenes" photo from "the making of."  This one of our Sherlock Holmes and Jessica Fletcher in the Studio Commissaary while shooting 'The Court Jester.'  And, to my dear Diana Kongkasem's credit, note Ms. Lansbury enjoying a cheeseburger and fries.  God bless her.  


            Up next?  To finish off our “Top 5 Of Danny Kaye,” one of the great holiday classics:  his ‘White Christmas.’



15 February, 2014

Wonder Man


            
         Aaaaand we’re back. 


            It’s 1945.  World War II is coming to an end.  By June, when today’s film is released, The Yalta Conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt has been held (discussing Europe's post-war reorganization, but eventually divided by the eminent Cold War);  and Roosevelt dies, replaced by Harry Truman.  Adolph Hitler commits suicide and V-E Day (Victory in Europe) is declared.  Though it would be months before the Atomic Bombs are dropped on Japan – all but declaring V-J Day (Victory in Japan;  and it’s this day that sparked that famous photo of the sailor kissing his girl in Times Square) – by the end of the year, one of the bloodiest battles in the world would finally be over, and people could breathe again.
            
            Why the brief history reminder?  Because, remember class, timing greatly affects art.  As I wrote in the Bob Hope Top 5, the ‘Road To Utopia’ release was pushed two years.  Possibly because of Crosby’s ‘Going My Way’ but, more probably, because the studios wanted to get out their lineup of war-related movies.  With the war coming to an end, they needed to get those out first.  A comedy could wait.  (The same can be said for the re-work-on and pushed release of the Bogart-Bacall classic ‘The Big Sleep.)  So the next Danny Kaye film?  It’s no surprise that there’s no war in it, and that it’s perhaps the wackiest of the Kaye oeuvre.  After the huge success of his first feature, audiences were ready to inhale as much Kaye as they could get.  And by mid-1945, the dark cloud of The War slowly dissipating, Samuel Goldwyn knew it was time to give it to them. 

So far in this Top 5 Retrospective of Danny Kaye, we have ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ and ‘Up In Arms.’  Now, ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your pint of Prospect Park and get ready for:

‘Wonder Man’ (1945)
            w Don Hartman & Melville Shavelson and Philip Rapp
                adapted by Jack Jevne and Eddie Moran
                from an Original Story by Arthur Sheekman
            d Bruce Humberstone

            Danny Kaye indeed plays a dual role here, that of estranged twin brothers.  One is Buster Dingle, better known as “Buzzy Bellew,” the goofy headliner at The Pelican Club, a classy nightclub.  The other is Edwin Dingle, Buster’s polar opposite, a quiet genius whose world is his library as he works on his next book.

Well, Buster becomes witness to a mob murder by "Ten Grand" Jackson (Steve Cochran in his film debut) and Buster's promptly murdered himself.  He comes back as a ghost, calling on his long-lost brother to help bring “Ten Grand” to justice.  As a result, the shy Edwin must take Buster's place until after his testimony is given.

But!  Edwin now has to balance his once quiet world with being thrown into his brother’s over-the-top one.  There’s needing to perform at the club, sure – after all, the bad guys need to still think he’s alive – but then there’s Madge (Vera-Ellen in her film debut) who’s dating Buster, and Ellen (Virginia Mayo) who we want to date Edwin.  Not to mention “Ten Grand’s” boys who can’t understand how Buster could still be alive, when they dumped him in the lake!  Guess they better finish the job.

In the end, Edwin fights his way to The Opera where the District Attorney is.  Of course, the only safe place for him is on stage, where he has to “perform” the testimony (one of the better numbers in the picture).  All’s well that ends well – for Buster and Edwin – and we wholly believe our heroes live happily ever after.  Ellen:  “Will we ever really be free of Buster?”  Edwin:  “I guess there will always be a little Buster inside of me.”  And that’s just fine with us all.

             In his original New York Times Review (9 June, 1945), Bosley Crowther wrote, in part, “Danny Kaye and Samuel Goldwyn are not to be mistaken for a shrinking violet.  And so, when the public shouted "Bravo!" at Mr. Kaye's first starring film, ‘Up in Arms,’ it was rather to be expected that he—and Mr. Goldwyn—would be back. That Kaye is—and now he's brought along his brother—in Mr. Goldwyn's latest picture, ‘Wonder Man.’

“Mr. Goldwyn has concocted a wholesale, complete and exhaustive demonstration of Mr. Kaye.  There is Mr. Kaye playing a flamboyant and erratic entertainer in a nightclub and also playing his twin brother;  a solemn, bespectacled bookworm.  There is Mr. Kaye 1 getting bumped off by some underworld characters, and there is Mr. Kaye 2 being haunted by his brother's frolicsome ghost.  There is Mr. Kaye 2 trying desperately to fill his dead brother's shoes while the latter, as an ectoplasmic prompter, kids around gleefully.  And finally there is Mr. Kaye (both of him) running joyfully away with the show.

             “The tremendously talented [Kaye] manages to give an exhibition of most everything he can do.  And all of it is amusing.  He chatters and cracks jokes winningly, races about in mad confusion and sings songs like something quite mad.  Best of his acrobatic song-fests are a take-off of an asthmatic gent trying to sing "Otchi Tchorniya" and a wild end-performance at The Opera.

“There are stretches of tedium in the middle (Mr. Kaye's writers nodded now and then).  But the idea is right for this rare cut-up and he whirls it around both of his heads.”
            
A couple of things of interest here.  One – much like his ‘Up In Arms’ review – he liked it, but also found the story a little “eh.”  Two, he makes specific mention of the two Mr. Kayes, which would weave in and out of the entertainer’s life for much of the rest of his career.  In this, he plays two roles, in ‘Mitty’ he daydreams himself as several, and in ‘Court Jester’ he’s magically switched from goofy to gallant with but a snap of a finger (a very funny running sequence;  and we’ll get there in that review).

            The story thing I get.  I brought up the same conundrum in my ‘Up In Arms’ Review and I think it holds here as well (demurring Story for showcasing Mr. Kaye).  I also think it stands next to what I said about when things are released.  As much as the studios wanted to get their backlog of war-related movies out, I think Mr. Goldwyn wanted to get this non war-related movie out and, perhaps, again, it was more significant – timely? – to showcasing why the audience wanted to be there:  the take-me-away-from-it-all silliness of Danny Kaye.
           
            And I do, as well, stand by this being the wackiest of his movies, certainly his early work.  (Though Kaye would always be on the silly side, including a wonderful turn as a Dentist in a 1986 episode of ‘The Cosby Show.’  Watch there as the consummate professional still hits it out of the park.  And watch Bill Cosby – no slouch himself – who can’t help – even as the cameras roll – marvel at the man.  That’s saying something.  But I digress.)  Some of the moments in our movie today border a little too wacky, for me anyway.  I love the first time the two brothers meet in the park – and there’s some amazing visual effect work there, which we’ll touch-on in a bit – but by the time he gets to swinging in the tree to “Rock A Bye Birdie,” it borders too much.  Likewise, when he’s on the phone with Ellen and pretends to be in a pet shop.  Too much?  Well, too each his own.

I don’t want to belabor Story here more than we already have.  Is it good?  Does it work?  Does it work as a Danny Kaye vehicle?  I leave it up to you.  But one plot point I do love and want to bring up is the moment we meet Buster as he comes in to the nightclub.  He immediately puts on a silly act – that’s who he is – but what’s so great about it is everyone’s accustomed to how wacky he is, so no one thinks much of it.  So when Edwin has to pretend to be him later, and is so far out of his element but trying his best, floundering at being the suave entertainer, again, everyone just thinks it’s part of an act;  just Buster being Buster.  (And, again, how great Mr. Kaye is bouncing between the two brothers.)

A few quick beats here.  

The first, I'd like to showcase Virginia Mayo.  Interestingly, she started as A Goldwyn Girl (you can see her -- uncredited -- in 'Up In Arms') and would star alongside Kaye in 'Wonder Man' and 'The Secret Life Of Secret Mitty.'  But she was a hell of an actress -- and a hell of a dame -- in her own right.  If you haven't seen her dramatic work -- 'White Heat' with James Cagney, 'Captain Horatio Hornblower' with Gregory Peck, 'The Best Years Of Our Lives' with Dana Andrews et al and she was Paul Newman's first leading lady in 'The Silver Chalice' -- please look 'em up.  You'll thank me.  (On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting her at the 1993 Lone Pine Film Festival -- she shot 'Along The Great Divide' there with Kirk Douglas -- and of course I had to bring up my favorites.  She was surprised this eighteen year old kid had even heard of them!  I said I loved them.  And she smiled.)  

The second quick beat are those amazing visual effects.  First and foremost, with as comfortable as we the audience have become in this department, please keep in mind we’re watching effects done in 1945.  Are they “perfect?”  (That is, as seamless as we’re accustomed to today?)  No.  But it was seventy years ago.  (For that matter, rewatch ‘King Kong.’  That was only eighty years ago.  And if you’re not appropriately impressed, well … anyway …)  Sure, there’s the easy(ier) stuff like his standing in the middle of the cement in the park or the “lean overs,” but especially take a look at the scene where Buster – by this time a ghost, remember – is sitting at the bar trying to pickup the glass and his hands go right through it.  And we see his hands go right through it.  Not just a wipe, it was matted.  That took time.  No wonder the film – yep – won The Academy Award.

And, third, our Supporting players.  First there’s Vera-Ellen (again, in her film debut).  She was only twenty-four when Mr. Goldwyn plucked her off a Broadway stage for ‘Wonder Man.’  Over the next twenty-five years she’d dance with Gene Kelly (‘On The Town’ and please see their “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” in ‘Words And Music’), Fred Astaire (‘Three Little Words’ and ‘The Belle Of New York’) and Donald O’Connor (‘Call Me Madam’).  And she’d reunite with Kaye in perhaps her most famous role in ‘White Christmas.’  Then there’s the always great S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the Deli Owner.  Probably best known for ‘Casablanca,’ though he’s already popped up in this blog as he appears in Errol Flynn’s ‘San Antonio,’ it’s his great role in our film today that gives us the very funny “pint of Prospect Park” bit;  though I’ll leave discovering that gem up to you.  Then there’s our District Attorney, played by Otto Kruger.  For you Noir fans out there, yep, that’s Jules Amthor from ‘Murder My Sweet.’  As the Assistant District Attorney?  Richard Lane.  Yep, for you Boston Blackie fans, Inspector Farraday.  The sailor in the park?  That’s Huntz Hall, one of the original Dead End Kids.  Oh!  And did you recognize the lady bothering Edwin in the library?  None other than Natalie Shafer, Lovey Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island.’

While we’re here, we might as well touch on our Behind-The Scenes.  In the Writers’ Room, there’s Don Hartman, who we’ve touched on before, then Melville Shavelson, who would work with Mr. Kaye again in ‘The Five Pennies’ (which Shavelson Scripted and Directed) and ‘The Seven Little Foys’ with Bob Hope (which has the must-see number of Mr. Hope and none other than James Cagney dancing together).  Philip Rapp would reteam with Kaye on ‘The Inspector General.’  Jack Jevne started his career in a 1919 Silent and over the next thirty-seven years would touch eighty-seven films.  Eddie Moran started in 1923 and is probably best known for his work on the ‘Topper’ series.  And our Director this time out?  Bruce Humberstone started in 1924 and is probably best known for his work on the ‘Charlie Chan’ and ‘Tarzan’ series.  So, as I say, keep up on your cross-referencing;  especially in this time period – the forties – as it’s wonderfully surprising what you’ll find.

In wrapping up, I thought I’d pull clips from a few recent reviews (between 2002 & 2009, when two of the DVD versions were released).  As I mentioned in the ‘Mitty’ Review – how exciting it was that so much time and talent went into getting that remade – I’m as excited to see today’s audiences still thrilled by 'Wonder Man' …

“This is one of my all time favorite movies. The music is lively and the antics are purely classic Kaye. This is a must see for anyone who loves musicals and comedy. There are some great character actors in this piece and ordering potato salad has never been so silly.

“‘Wonder Man’ has some of the finest moments of pure anarchic ad-libbing and timing you will ever get to see after The Marx Brothers.”

“I consider [Kaye] to be the second funniest redhead in showbiz (and do I have to mention who the funniest is?).  He comes across as this warm and gentle guy with massive comedic and musical gifts … always exhibited a flair for funny facial expressions ... introduced songs rife with glib, rapid-fire double-speak … and was a natural at physical comedy.  With the success of his first starring role in the 1944 feature ‘Up In Arms,’ the powers-that-be in Hollywood couldn't wait to throw Danny Kaye back into the public consciousness.  So, a year later, Kaye's second feature film ‘Wonder Man’ was released.  His wife Sylvia Fine, throughout Kaye’s career, has excelled in writing specialty lyrics and songs which ideally suited his talents for mimicry and double speak.  She contributes here with "Bali Boogie" and adapts the Russian song "Otchi Tchorniya" to Danny Kaye's particular brand of musical mayhem.  To quote several of the extras in this film: "What a guy."”

Going back (just briefly) to the timing of this picture, I’ll share the last card that appears in the credits.  Because it was at Danny Kaye’s personal request that he and Mr. Goldwyn make this gesture.

            "This is overseas program no. 913 to Families and Friends of Servicemen and Women:  Pictures exhibited in this theatre are given to the armed forces in combat areas around the world. WAR ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY."

            Thank you, Danny.

            Up next?  We go back to Medieval Times to fight Sherlock Holmes and fall in love with Jessica Fletcher in ‘The Court Jester!’