A memorable moment with Danny Kaye.

This may be my greatest challenge yet... I found out about this blogathon and knew I had to join, but my excitement quickly turned to panic. You see, the point of this blogathon is to talk about one scene from one movie, a scene that you instantly rewinded or that you love watching so much, you drive away friends and family because you just can't stop viewing it and quoting it and reenacting it. (Not that I would know what that's like.) A hundred different ideas came to mind, but I finally decided to look at something from On the Riviera, a Danny Kaye-Gene Tierney picture I have mentioned before. I adore this movie, and although I plan on writing it up this summer, I figured I'd go ahead and give you all just a taste of the musical comedy fun that is On the Riviera. Definitely check out the rest of the wonderful roster, though. It's just too too.

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On the Riviera (1951) stars Danny Kaye as Jack Martin, an American nightclub entertainer, and Henri Ducan, a suave French pilot who is as famous as Lindbergh. Despite having a lovely wife in the form of Gene Tierney, Ducan would rather openly have affairs with many other women while he sets new flying records. Jack Martin spoofs Ducan one night in his show when the pilot and his wife come as honored guests. Based on how excellent the impression is and how similar the men look, when Ducan disappears to do a business deal on the night of an important party, Martin is hired to impersonate him for the night. It's all ripe for mistaken identities, running in and out of rooms, avoiding certain guests, and changing clothes a lot. The first time I saw this film, I loved everything about it, but one scene in particular kept replaying itself in my head...

After he's proven himself a hit in the Ducan spoof, Jack disappears from backstage in case Ducan wants to confront him in person about the potentially offensive routine. We don't know where Jack went because the film focuses on an exchange between Ducan and Jack's co-star/girlfriend (Corinne Calvet) instead, but eventually the camera takes us into a small bar area in another part of the nightclub. A trio of musicians very softly sing and play a French version of "Ballin' the Jack" while Ducan's wife, Lili, is lighting her cigarette. Right when we think we're about to hear Lili speak, a voice from nowhere joins the trio. All eyes turn to the left of the screen and the camera slowly pans over to Jack as he leans again the bar and sings.

His voice is gentle, restrained, and absolutely lovely to hear. He has a slight smile as he works the room, making contact with the room full of patrons. With barely a move, the audience (and me) are entranced. His vocals sound unlike anything else Danny Kaye recorded, maybe because he's not in full voice. When the song comes to the next verse, he slides himself forward so he's standing. Oh, now he'll do his signature crazy stuff, right? No. Kaye slowly dances as he demonstrates the moves the lyrics are talking about: putting your knees close, swinging them left and right, doing the "Eagle Rock" with such style and grace...

All the while, his hands move gracefully, he stays within one little spot, his eyes keep connecting with Lili's. When it gets to the last line ("That's what I call ballin' the jack"), Kaye's voice is almost a whisper and he does a slight bounce on his feet as walks straight to Lili's table to sit beside her. The song is over, the audience claps, Lili is intrigued and delighted, and I'm more than a little in love with Danny Kaye.

The expectation for this number is laid out for you if you've seen Kaye perform before--hell, the Ducan spoof that was just minutes earlier is big, busy and busy, with Kaye affecting a French accent and being flamboyant. Don't get me wrong; I love me some crazy Danny Kaye. But this routine is so pared down and so simple compared to his many, many others. He doesn't do anything extravagant or make funny faces. He keeps it all so buckled down, which reveals a different side to his voice and an outright sexiness to his moves and singing. I could listen to the recording of this song for hours, despite it only being about two minutes. He elongates words and it is goddamn smooth, you guys. The set-up is great, too. The camera establishes where the musicians are and where Gene Tierney is, so when it's Kaye's turn to perform, we don't need a shot of the band to know where the music is coming from and since we saw where Tierney is sitting, we can tell that when Kaye looks in that direction, his character is eyeing Lili and doing this to get her exclusive attention. Luckily, you can see the whole scene right here:


Admit it. You want to see On the Riviera now, don't you?

With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. Okay. I admit it. I have GOT to see "On the Riviera". Until then I'll spend hours on YouTube watching that scene.

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    Replies
    1. Glad someone feels the same! Every time I watch the film, I have to watch that scene twice.
      I haven't seen The Searchers yet, but your post has certainly intrigued me. Next time it's on TV, I'll have to record it.

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  2. I love the softer side of Danny Kaye. So happy to find someone else who does too! :-)

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    1. Danny Kaye has always melted my heart. Every film he does, there's a vulnerability and sweetness about him that is quite endearing. On the Riviera really let him tap into that (not as much as Hans Christian Andersen, though--that one broke my heart!).
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. What a fun scene. I love where you see him singling her out, and you described it perfectly! On my list now:)

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    Replies
    1. I've done my job then! It's such a fun movie, and if you're familiar with Danny Kaye's work, you'll notice how different it is from his usual work. I can't wait to write about it--once I have the time.
      Thanks for reading!

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  4. I love Danny Kaye's renditions of Balling the Jack and I'm happy to own both a DVD of On the Riviera and a CD that includes Balling the Jack. Actually, in this CD there is another song he sings in a soft voice, which I have always found quite romantic: "Madame I like your crepe". I also got to watch him perform Balling the Jack in 1980, during the Royal Variety Performance, at the London Palladium (just like the old days), in front of the British royal family, including the Queen Mother (all Danny's personal acquaintances)

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    Replies
    1. I didn't know there was a version of Kaye singing "Madame, I Like Your Crepes Suzette"--I always liked Red Skelton's in DuBarry was a Lady, so I'll definitely have to keep an eye out for Kaye's.
      Whoa, you got to see Danny Kaye perform?! The word "jealous" doesn't even begin to cover my feelings. I bet it was really something, especially given the location and the royalty!
      Thanks for reading!

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  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWnbC7PfGR0 Enjoy!
    I really have to correct the wrong impression I gave: I watched the Royal Variety Performance on TV. Not only that, but I didn't get to record it on VCR, because I hadn't realized Danny Kaye would be among the performers. I have been kicking myself ever since because, as far as I know, this is the only live Danny Kaye performance to be broadcast on TV. Thank you for the lovely post

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    Replies
    1. You know what? Still jealous. haha. That would've been fun to see a live performance from him, even if it was only on TV.
      Thanks for the video link! I'll be listening to it for weeks now. It's always great to find more material from Kaye. :)

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