|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
|The Kid From Brooklyn (1946)
"AAAGGGHHH!!! THE 'TECHNICOLOR'! I'M BLIND! Someone turn down the contrast! Danny Kaye's golden locks are burning out my retinas!"
This was a strange one. I don't know if I've ever seen this type of hybrid before in the course of my movie watching and dissecting "career". First and foremost, this is a remake of "The Milky Way" starring Harold Lloyd. Not a re-imagining, but a scene-for-scene remake of the earlier black & white picture (with the addition of song and dance numbers which I'll get into later). What's notable about this remake is that the former picture was made only 10 years earlier. Even the idea-starved producers of today would find repackaging something from 1997 a tough sell. Can you imagine the pitch meeting?....
"We're gonna remake 'Titanic'! I don't think that well's dry yet!"
At any rate, this version was hatched as a vehicle for Mr. Danny Kaye. He plays the title character Burleigh Sullivan, a dimwitted perpetually clumsy milkman. He's of the sweet but misguided variety, with an endless supply of nervous energy to go with his rubber-based face and joints. So be prepared for a lot of falling down and sundry other examples of the slapstick variety. I've said before that I've never been a fan of this sort of comedy, but when you sit down to watch a Danny Kaye film it's par for the course. Physical antics paired with an uncanny ability to perform tongue-twisting songs and monologues were Kaye's bread and butter for the better part of 30 years on the silver screen.
The plot is laid out in rapid-fire bursts. In short order Burleigh the Milkman finds himself a romantic interest (an out of work dancer/singer with the unfortunate name of Polly Pringle played by frequent Kaye female lead Virginia Mayo), loses his job, and then gets into a scuffle with a pair of drunkards who are harassing his night club performing sister (played by Vera-Ellen). By some fairly convoluted means, (which I'll get to later in "The Fightin'" section) the 2 harassing drunkards, one of whom is the current Middleweight champion of the world, Speed McFarlane (Cochran) are given their just desserts. It's just a short leap from this event to the scene where the disgraced champ and his team of spin doctors are trying to figure out how they can save face and maybe turn this "champ gets knocked out by milkman" disgrace to their favor. Walter Abel plays the promoter/manager and he does a nice job as a slimy yet likeable character, which is no small feat. The trainer is played by Lionel Stander, who played the exact same role in the original film that this one is based on. But the star of the trio is Eve Arden. She plays the assistant/brains-of-the-operation and she achieves something that is so often attempted but rarely pulled off. She's got, in the parlance of this movie's time, MOXY. She's CHEEKY. She's SASSY. Her zingers at the men's expense remain as dry as the Sahara, never coming off in an overtly condescending way. She's smarter than these mooks, but she doesn't need to point it out at every turn (mostly because they manage to do it for her anyway.)*
But I digress. Even with the break neck speed of the exposition and "character development", this sucker clocks in at just under 2 hours. And this is due to the REAL meat and potatoes of this movie; the musical numbers. And here was the greatest hurdle for yours truly. While I'm not a huge fan of musicals, I know what I like. You see, I find the idea of singing what you'd normally be saying to be intrinsically funny, not to mention, vaguely embarrassing. Not for the actors, but for myself. Call it narcissistic, but I can't help picturing myself doing the same thing, and the idea of it just seems so damn... I dunno.... goofy. The mental picture of me sitting in my cubicle with an orchestra lightly playing beneath my sung pronouncements never fails to induce the chills in me...
Me: (singing) "Do you have any pa-per-clips?!"
Chorus: "Any pa-per-clips?
Me: (turning to the unseen audience) "YES! ANY PA-PER-CLIPS!!"
So, I say, if you're going to do it, why not do it BIG. The more over the top, the better. West Side Story. My Fair Lady. The Pirates of Penzance. Grease. These are the type of musicals that I like. The one's that unashamedly have their characters suddenly breaking into song, whether it's during a knife fight or after getting stranded at the drive-in. And this is where I feel "The Kid From Brooklyn" has failed. Rather than having the characters break into spontaneous song, they use the old crutch of framing the musical numbers as night club acts or stage productions that take place during the regular goings-on of the story. I feel that rather than infusing the picture with a breath of fresh air and picking UP the pace, this has the opposite effect of bringing everything to a grinding halt. The narrative is interrupted so they can trot out Mayo's Polly Pringle singing a nearly petrified torch song. And Vera-Ellen as Kaye's sister gets two huge song-and-dance numbers. She's of the "tap-dancing sparkplug" variety of dancer, moving at a machine gun-paced clip. Sadly, rather than marveling at the gracefulness of her motion, I found myself grimacing with sympathy shin splints. Both women are accompanied by a troupe of dancing and singing women referred to in the credits as "The Goldwyn Girls", named for the head of the production company, Samuel Goldwyn, and chosen less for their performance talents and more for their physical attributes. This had the doubly daunting effect of being both sexist AND bringing down the quality of the musical numbers.
Even Danny Kaye's usual vocal calisthenics are rendered ineffective, mainly due to how crudely they're shoehorned into the plot. The previously shy and retiring Burleigh Sullivan comes back from his cross-country conquests in the ring a changed man, full of confidence and bravado. While his "Hiya Doll!" attitude towards his gal Polly and jocularity with the press and public is understandable, his sudden monologue/song about a Russian ballerina named "Pavlova" (performed during a promotional dinner for the upcoming title bout) is so far out of leftfield, it borders on surrealism. Not to mention the fact that we have to wait until the 90-minute mark to see Danny Kaye "do his thing". But by this point, I was just praying for the end credits.
The Fightin' - 1 - 2
As this is not really a boxing picture but rather a musical with a boxing plot device, the level of talent in the fighting scenes is nil. The fight settings with their massive crowds are the most impressive aspect. This was well before the days of computer-generated extras, so the only choice was to fill a room up with real live folks, which they did. But the actual fighting was played strictly for laughs. Even the supposedly "skilled" opponents that were taking a dive looked iffy.
That brings us to Danny Kaye. While the "scrawny-guy-turned-boxer-winning-by-less-than-on-the-level-means" device certainly isn't a new idea (see here and here and, for that matter, every other boxing movie starring a comedian ever made...), it's brought to new levels of ridiculousness this time out. You see, the main weapon in Burleigh "Tiger" Sullivan's arsenal is, sigh.... ducking. That's what he's got going for him. He's really good at ducking. And this being the slapstick affair that it is, it's not just bobbing and weaving. No, Kaye goes into a full-body apoplexy, with the bending and the wiggling and the foot shuffling, which, by the way, was very reminiscent of a certain "Curly Shuffle" of Stooges origin. But that's neither her nor there. The bottom line is it's supposed to be goofy rather than realistic. And to that end it's a success.
Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3
In the end, this movie has to be judged on the basis for which it was created. As a musical the dance numbers are stiff and the tunes are terminally uncatchy. As a vehicle for Danny Kaye's specific physical and vocal talents, the framing boxing story is an uncomfy fit. And as a remake, it's not nearly as good as the original. So not only will this not appeal to fans of boxing movies, but musical fans are going to be disappointed as well. For that paper-thin cross section of Danny Kaye/boxing movie fans, you'd be better off with a "Rocky"/"The Court Jester" twin bill.
(By the way, the absolute photo negative opposite of that double feature, both in content and in quality, would be this movie coupled with the "Sly-as-a-singing-cowboy" epic, "Rhinestone". But you should definitely consult a physician before partaking in any movie marathon of that nature.)
|Starring: Danny Kaye,
Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen,
Steve Cochran, Eve Arden,
Walter Abel, Lionel Stander
|"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"|
|By The Way...
* If you're like me (a product of the 70's and 80's, born well after when this movie was made), when you see Eve Arden you'll immediately start thinking, "Where have I seen her before?" I had to peek at her IMDb profile before I realized she was the principal from "Grease" and the ever popular and prosaicly named "Grease 2".