There is a simplistic naiveté in this fictive family fare telling the story of Danish fairytale fabricator H.C. Andersen (Kaye) that lends the movie a tendresse even for the most hard-boiled souls. Charles Vidor’s picture gallantly beefs up hooky singing snippets (composed and lyricized by Broadway songwriter Frank Loesser) spawned out of Andersen’s world-famous stories (The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina and The Emperor’s New Clothes) with a main through-line of Andersen’s infatuation of a prima ballerina Doro (Jeanmaire), which begets the genesis of The Little Mermaid and then is transmuted into a spectacular ballet choreographed by Parisian danseur Roland Petit,grafted onto the climax.
In its not-so-complicated story-line, Andersen is dumbed down as a happy-go-lucky cobbler, and saddled with a sidekick, the orphan boy Peter (Walsh) who becomes increasingly protective towards him as he fears that Andersen is over the moon with an ungrounded idea that he is the knight-in-shining-armor for Doro, who is married to Niels (Granger, even so bratty and uppity), the troupe’s stroppy choreographer. Their marriage comes off as habitually vacillating between lovey-dovey show-off and fiery squabbles, but is far from on the rocks as Andersen postulates, Peter witnesses and understands Doro and Niels’folie-à-deux, but fails to disabuse a hot-to-trot Andersen of his wishful thinking, so a slipshod break-up ensues, the only time Andersen appears as a heartless bastard, although in the end the hatchet will be buried in an equally rash fashion because no one should set feet in between Peter and Andersen, hooray!
Danny Kaye has a soothingly mellow voice like a balm to a jaded ear, although his earnest performance is not a showstopper but his congenial amenity is a boon to its family audience, but indeed the money shot here are the ballet sequences, melded with cinematic bravura (its ravishing setting and montage dexterity) without an overarching pomposity and indulgence à laPowell & Pressburger’s THE TALES OF HOFFMANN and interlaced with a basic narrative structure, they are condensed to light up the screen within a none-too-wearing allotted screen-time which can at once impress rubberneckers and intrigue balletomanes, for this reason alone, it has a decisive edge over other screen commodities touting the high-brow superiority.
referential points: Mervyn LeRoy’s GYPSY (1962, 7.5/10); Powell & Pressburger’s THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951, 5.1/10) ; Jacques Demy’s THE YOUNG GIRLS OF RICHEFORT (1967, 6.9/10)