Warner Archive's four-disc four-film "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" DVD collection is part of the "Danny Kaye Centennial" that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of this truly talented comedian, dramatic actor, singer, and song-and-dance man. (He can play anything!) Archive has also released the "Danny Kaye Double Feature," which Unreal TV will review before this celebration ends.
Related reviews will be on two Blu-ray Kaye titles from a source other than Archive.
Each film in the "Goldwyn" set does an awesome job highlighting Kaye's charm and versatility; they also show that this genuine talent is a human Bugs Bunny regarding fast-talking his way out of tough spots, fairly literally running circles around his nemesis of the moment, and quickly changing into absurd costumes that at least temporarily distract his pursuer. Also, like his fictional but not more animated counterpart, Kaye lacks any inhibitions regarding comical cross dressing or getting up close and personal with his male tormenter of the moment.
Both the collection and Kaye's film career get off to a wonderful start with the 1944 movie "Up in Arms" that has him playing a hypochondriac who gets drafted and gets involved in zany misadventures while on a troop ship to the Pacific. The aptly named Dinah Shore is his leading lady in this one, which arguably is the best of a very good set.
One highlight from "Arms" is an uber-awesome song-and-dance number in an old-style movie theater. This one has Kaye's character theatrically (pun intended) condense the plot of a stereotypical film of the era into a few minutes.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of the "must-see" scene described above. Seeing Kaye, ala Jim Nabors in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," immediately go from a high voiced wimp to a rugged baritone is only a small part of this incredible performance.
Another of the numerous memorable moments involves Kaye disrupting an entire bunk room full of soldiers in the middle of the night.
"The Kid From Brooklyn" from 1946 earns second place in the ranking of these films based on both the very clever narrative technique throughout the entire film that becomes apparent in the final moments and the opening number by the Goldwyn Girls (think an earlier and hokier version of the The Love Boat Mermaids) in the most pristine dairy barn in recorded history.
"Brooklyn" has Kaye playing a milkman who is thrust into the spotlight after a stage door confrontation with a professional boxer. This transformation from a seller of dairy products to prize fighter gets our hero mixed up with shady promoters, a tough dame with a heart of silver, and fellow pugilists with their own agenda.
Although Kaye shines as usual in this one, a scene in which his opponent in a championship bout is accidentally repeatedly pummeled and knocked about is classic slapstick. It is also fun to see Lionel Stander, who plays Max in the '80s lightweight action-adventure show "Hart to Hart," in a featured role.
1945's "Wonder Man" is arguably one of the Seven Wonders from Kaye's film career. This one provides Kaye a chance to engage in his trademark technique of playing multiple characters; in this case, Kaye plays very mild-mannered brainiac Edwin Dingle and the ghost of Dingle's much more outgoing brother, who is a nightclub performer right up to the final night of his life.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube again, is of this fun film's opening scenes; it demonstrates Kaye's chemistry with leading lady Virginia Mayo (who should also be held but never excluded) and further demonstrates his awesome versatility.
Seeing Kaye rapidly switch his personality and portray Dingle impersonating his brother is the most fun that you can have watching a film. Seeing Natalie Schafer from "Gilligan's Island" in brief but hilarious cameo is especially nifty.
The fourth film is also very good but a little more serious than a typical Kaye film. It is the 1948 Howard Hawks production "A Song is Born," and has Kaye playing a professor who specializes in folk music.
Kaye and his fellow bachelor colleagues are academics who have lived and worked together in a beautiful home in New York City. Their task for the foundation that funds their work is to write an encyclopedia of music accompanied by recordings of the described music.
A really fun plot twist that informs these ivory tower types of the new musical forms of jazz and swing propels Kaye's character to the world of night clubs where he meets a singer/gangster's girl played by Mayo, who rapidly becomes Snow White to Kaye's character and his fellow "dwarves."
The following clip, once again from the good folks at YouTube, is a really great one between Kaye and Mayo in "Born." It shows that they are just as good as Hepburn and Tracy and every other classic screen couple.
Seeing Mayo's character initially shake things up and ultimately lead the gang on a wild "hare raising" road trip to New Jersey followed by heroism adds great fun to a film with less mayhem than a typical Kaye flick.
The musical aspect of "Born" provides an opportunity to have many musical giants of the era join the fun. These include Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, and the especially awesome Louis Armstrong.
The final note regarding all four films is that they simply cannot make them like that any more because no one else has the late Kaye's perfect blend of talents.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding the "Goldwyn" films or Kaye is encouraged to email me. You can also contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.