My Two Favourite Danny Kaye Films

Danny Kaye(1911-1987). Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Danny Kaye was a man of many talents. He was a brilliant dancer, a gifted comedian(both in terms of delivering funny dialogue as well as performing physical comedy), he was also a terrific singer, hosted his own television series(1963-1967) and was a conductor, pilot and chef. Danny was also a dedicated humanitarian and became the very first UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in 1954, a position that he would hold until his death in 1987.

He sadly contracted Hepatitis through a contaminated blood transfusion while undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery three years before his death. He did so much good and brought so much joy to so many around the world. By all accounts he was a decent, gentle and down-to-earth man.

Whenever I see his name in the credits or on a DVD cover, I know that I’m about to be in for a treat. He made so many wonderful films over the years. The following two have become my top favourites of his. Not only do I love these for their respective stories and characters, but I think these two in particular also best highlight his skills as an actor, comedian, singer and dancer.

White Christmas(1954)

Danny with co-stars Vera-Ellen, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.

This was the first film of Danny’s that I ever saw and it instantly became one of my favourite classic films.

What I love most about his performance here is that he gets to dance, sing and perform comedy, as well as play a few more serious moments too. He also has lovely chemistry with Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby.

Danny plays Phil Davis, the best friend and professional partner of fellow entertainer Bob Wallace(Bing Crosby). The pair become friends after Phil saves Bob’s life while serving in WW2. They go on to become a highly successful musical double act on civvy street in the years after they leave the army.

Meeting up with sisters Betty and Judy(Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen), the pair find themselves at an inn in Vermont run by their old commanding officer(Dean Jagger). Upon learning the general is in financial dire straits they arrange to put on a musical play to help him out. Love and friendship blossoms and incredible musical numbers await.

Danny’s standout moment in this for me is the incredibly catchy Choreography sequence, which sees theatrical expressions, pretentions and traditions collide with more modern entertainment and dress such as tap dancing and short dresses. He’s hilarious as he delivers a mix of exaggerated facial emotions and wild theatrical gestures, coupled with wide-eyed amazement while he watches Vera-Ellen descend from the ceiling and start tap dancing. Shoutout to supporting dancer John Brascia who randomly leaps out of the floor to join in with the dancing midway through the sequence. 🤣

This is a timeless classic that wouldn’t be what it is if Danny hadn’t been cast as Phil.

The Five Pennies(1959)

Danny Kaye, Tuesday Weld and Barbara Bel Geddes in The Five Pennies.

This will forever be my favourite Danny Kaye film and performance. This semi-biographical film tells the true story of jazz musician Red Nichols who was one of the greats up there with his friend Louis Armstrong(who plays himself in the film).

He formed a group called The Five Pennies in the 1920’s whose members included Miff Mole, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Gene Krupa.

When his young daughter Dorothy(played by Susan Gordon as a child and Tuesday Weld as a teenager) contracts polio and becomes seriously ill, Red gives up his musical career to take a job in a steel factory to ensure a regular wage is coming in to pay her medical bills. As the years pass he begins to make tentative steps to once again take up his cornet and go back to performing in public.

This is such a touching film and I think Danny’s performance here is the best he ever gave. He put so much into this performance and it shows in every scene. He looks like he’s really playing the cornet even though Red Nichols himself recorded all of the music for those scenes. It’s a rare serious dramatic role for him too(although he does get a few funny moments, such as when he puts on an act on his first date with his future wife played by Barbara Bel Geddes) and I wish he could have done so many more like this. He makes Red the father, husband and friend that we all wish we had and that we all deserve.

The highlights for me are the scene where Louis Armstrong and Danny perform When The Saints Go Marching In. The pair are in perfect sync and are clearly having so much genuine fun in the moment.The other one is the scene where Danny, Louis and Susan Gordon sing together when Red takes Dorothy to see Louis performing at a club. I also love the scene where Red comforts an upset Dorothy and puts her to bed, and then later she gets up and they play poker together. I also love Danny in the scene where Red is trying to distract Dorothy from the pain she’s in during a treatment for her legs.

This is such a heartwarming and touching film and proves Danny was just as adept at dramatic roles as he was at comic and musical ones.

Danny’s wife Sylvia Fine wrote the song The Five Pennies and it was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars. Sylvia wrote many other songs for Danny in both films and recordings throughout his career.

Danny and Sylvia photographed in 1945.Image source Wikimedia Commons. The pair were married in 1940 and remained together until Danny’s death. Their only child, daughter Dena, was born in 1946 and would become a journalist. Sylvia died in 1991.

This is my entry for the Danny Kaye Blogathon being hosted by Erica over at The Poppity . Be sure to visit her site over the next few days to read all of the entries celebrating Danny’s life and career.


11 thoughts on “My Two Favourite Danny Kaye Films

  1. What a delight reading about these two films, Maddy. 😀
    I share with you a very deep appreciation for WHITE CHRISTMAS. It is the top family favourite film at our place because it is such a feel-good story with an irreplaceable cast. Phil and Bing just meshed together so naturally and their talents really complimented one another. While I am a big Donald O’Connor fan, I could not imagine anyone else other than Danny playing Phil Davis. My favourite dance sequences are “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “Mandy”.
    Interestingly enough, I saw THE FIVE PENNIES before WC and it also happened to be the first Barbara Bel Geddes’ film that I saw outside of VERTIGO. Danny and Barbara surely had nice chemistry together. I did need some tissues when their daughter fell ill but thankfully it wasn’t nearly as sad as PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, which I saw around the same time. Danny proves in this film that he is as good in dramatic roles as he is in comedic ones. And I agree with you that his mock-cornet playing capabilities look very real.
    Thanks so very much for your participation, my dear! We are blessed to have you writing with us once more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this! I haven’t heard of The Five Pennies, but it sounds great. I also love White Christmas; we watch it every year. Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen’s chemistry is fantastic! I love the scene where he’s going wobbly legged to distract the general. 🙂 ~Reina

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I ADORE White Christmas, and I’m excited to find someone else who also gets a kick out of the “Choreography” sequence! I find it so funny, but my mom thought it was pointless and boring and would usually fast-forward through it when I was a kid.

    I still haven’t seen The Five Pennies, but I recently got it in a DVD set of Danny Kaye movies, so I will watch it at last! One of these days…

    Liked by 1 person

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