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JANUARY REVIEW: HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1952)

(#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 garnered six Oscar nominations, and generations of kids grew up loving the stories of the Danish storyteller. His worthy tales of Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Inch Worm, etc., put his village of Copenhagen on the map.

Back Story

Danny Kaye was Sam Goldwyn’s Golden Boy. His films during the 1940s were among the most popular for the mogul’s studio. With Virginia Mayo, he starred in The Kid From BrooklynWonder Man, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and A Song is Born. By 1952, the producer decided a fictional fantasy about the remarkable man from Denmark should only be played by Danny Kaye. This piece of cinema was never intended to be an accurate biography.

Positives

Goldwyn decided that Frank Loesser should be the composer of the score for Hans Christian Andersen. Fresh from his triumph on Broadway with Guys and Dolls, Loesser was at the top of his game. His lyrics suited 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.

Negatives

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 movie, and it remains a bonafide classic.

Finally, the movie almost never plays on Turner Classic Movies. My assumption is the Fox Movie Channel, which is viewed in fewer homes, owns the rights to the picture. A real shame in my estimation.



Supporting Actor Spotlight

John Qualen was an accomplished character actor who was memorable in iconic motion pictures. His face was very familiar in The Farmer Takes a Wife, Wife vs. Secretary, His Girl Friday, Out of the Fog, Knute Rockne All American, and particularly in, The Grapes of Wrath, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Tortilla Flat, and Casablanca. His later appeared in The High and the Mighty, Anatomy of a Murder, Elmer Gantry, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and Cheyenne Autumn.

Qualen was treasurer of The Authors Club, and historian of The Masquers, Hollywood’s famed 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.

Epilogue

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 Huminatian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1981, and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984. Kaye also received the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur) in 1986 for his UNICEF work. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom just after his death. UNICEF's New York Visitor's Centre is named to honor Danny Kaye.

Danny Kaye should be remembered for his amazing talent and his unparalleled contributions to humanity. For a time, he allowed us to also explore the simple fables told by a Danish cobbler.