Thursday, April 2, 2015

Danny Kaye Gets Up in Arms

Danny Kaye's feature-length film debut is a serviceable musical comedy intended as a showcase for its star and radio singing sensation Dinah Shore. In that regard, Up in Arms (1944) works well enough, though Kaye became a more controlled--and more effective--entertainer in later films such as the comedy classic The Court Jester (1955) and perennial favorite White Christmas (1954).

Dinah singing "Now I Know."
Kaye plays Danny Weems, a hypochondriac who works as an elevator operator so he can be near the many physicians working in his building. He fancies himself in love with a nurse named Mary (Constance Dowling), although he'd be better matched with Mary's friend Virgina (Dinah Shore). To complicate matters, it's instant love for Mary when she meets Danny's pal Joe (Dana Andrews). Before these romantic entanglements can be worked out, all four friends wind up in the Army--with Danny accidentally smuggling Mary aboard the ship carrying his unit into action.

In character for the "Theater Lobby"
number written by his wife Sylvia Fine.
Kaye seems determined to carry this flimsy plot by himself if required. He employs physical comedy, uses a wide variety of different voices, and sings nonsensical songs at breakneck speed. Most of his routines are very funny, but he could have benefited from more structure and a better supporting cast. Dana Andrews has little to do and seems out of place. Constance Dowling has one funny scene with Danny. The only other performer to stand out is Dinah Shore, who shows why she was successful enough to get her own radio show, Call to Music, in 1943.

Indeed, Danny and Dinah provide three good reasons to watch Up in Arms: her rendition of the Oscar-nominated ballad "Now I Know"; Danny's appropriately-titled "Theater Lobby Number," which is a musical "summary" of a made-up movie with Kaye playing all the characters; and, best of all, Danny and Dinah combining for "Tess's Torch Song." The last number is a hoot, with Goldwyn Girls sprouting from giant vases in the background and the two stars repeating each other's nonsensical lyrics with perfection. In fact, it's so good that--instead of a closing scene--there's a short reprise of "Tess's Torch Song" just prior to the closing credits.

Danny, Dinah, and Goldwyn Girls in giant vases!

Virgina Mayo.
Speaking of the Goldwyn Girls, one of them is played by Virgina Mayo (in fact, she has a brief speaking part as a WAC named Joanna). While she and Kaye never share a scene together, the two subsequently teamed up for Wonder Man (1945), The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).

Dinah Shore appeared in only a handful of films and never achieved silver screen stardom. That probably didn't bother her much, since she remained a recording star through the 1950s and also achieved success on television. After a career lull during the 1960s, she made a comeback as a popular daytime talk show host in the 1970s.


  1. "To complicate matters, it's instant love for Mary when she meets Danny's pal Joe (Dana Andrews)." My daughter and I can relate. Sigh!

    My son, on the other hand, is quite the Dinah Shore fan. Thanks to Disney's "Bongo" he's looked her up on YouTube.

  2. True, it's not one of Kaye's best, but I agree that the Torch Song number is a humdinger.

  3. Kaye's a special case. Had to be the master of anything he absorbed: those tongue twisters written by his wife, choreography (one of his numbers is called that), A fencer who forced Basil Rathbone to employ a double, and extracirricular activities pilot, chef, orchestra conductor. Handsome enough to play straight roles, he often played doubles - one assured, one nerd. Or in Court Jester, both in the same person. Compared to his contemporaries, pretty much forgotten. Other than "the other guy" in White Christmas.

    1. Danny Kaye is indeed often overlooked. Thanks for listing many reasons why he shouldn't be!

  4. Never much cared for him. This film has not aged well. The one Kaye film I really like is "The Court Jester." Angela Lansbury, who was in the film, made an interesting remark about Kaye to Robert Osborne (I paraphrase): "He always acted like he was the whole show but 'The Court Jester' was the one time he actually seemed to be relating to the other actors."

  5. I tend to shy away from Danny Kaye movies because sometimes he's a bit too much. But he certainly had a lot of talent, and brought a lot of laughter to people's lives.

    I really enjoyed your review!

  6. I love this movie despite its weaknesses. When I first saw it back in the cassette era, I recorded Tess' Torch Song off the tv and listened to it over and over again. It's still a favorite to this day! I have a real soft spot for Danny Kaye even though he was often over the top. I usually like more subtle entertainment, but he just gets me!

  7. It's not a brilliant movie but "Up in Arms" does have its moments, especially the ending number. I am so glad you posted a photo from it because the Goldwyn Girls sprouting up from the giant vases was a hoot!