On the Riviera

| October 15, 2013

Danny Kaye was more than a song-and-dance man—a star of stage and screen (both big and small). He was also a humanitarian who supported numerous charities and served as the first ever ambassador-at-large of UNICEF. All those who knew him, so far as I can tell, declare him to be nothing short of an absolutely great man. To learn about the life of Danny Kaye, then, is to realize we need more Danny Kayes.

Now, I mention Kaye’s humanitarian efforts here not merely as some clever way to introduce 1951’s On the Riviera, a film in which Kaye plays a dual role (hence more Danny Kayes), but because I do wholeheartedly believe this sentiment. He was an incredible talent, and on all accounts, an incredible individual who we should all strive to emulate. And 20th Century Fox Studio Classics has given us the opportunity to admire the man once more (or perhaps for the first time) with a stellar Blu-ray release of On the Riviera.

This musical-comedy tells the story of Jack Martin, a French Riviera nightclub performer, who discovers he bears a remarkable likeness to famous pilot and industrialist Henri Duran, and subsequently makes a name for himself through a lavish show centering on his impersonation of Duran. Predictably, Jack later finds himself hired to temporarily pose as Duran when Duran goes missing. It’s the same old story about the (relatively) impoverished imposter turning out to be a better husband/businessman/what-have-you than the man he’s impersonating.

I say “predictably” and “same old” when referring to the story here as this is indeed a story that’s been told on film many times before. Although I’m sure there are other, more broadly recognizable examples, I kept thinking back on Ivan Reitman’s Dave (1993) for one. But the story goes further back than that. In fact, On the Riviera was the third of three virtually identical films Fox adapted from a play they had optioned entitled The Red Cat. The first of these was Folies Bergère de Paris (1935), starring Maurice Chevalier, which was followed by That Night in Rio (1941) with Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda.

Being familiar doesn’t make the film superfluous, however. Kaye is fantastic in his dual role, creating such nuanced characters that it’s easy to be swept up in the illusion that they are in fact different people. What’s more, On the Riviera features some terrific song and dance numbers (apart from the “Popo the Puppet” routine, which I find embarrassing and almost entirely unwatchable) and also boasts Laura’s Gene Tierney in a supporting role. It’s absolutely worth picking up, especially on Blu-ray from Fox Studio Classics.

Once again, Fox pushes out a stunning archival Blu-ray with On the Riviera, boasting the spotless video and spot-on audio we’ve come to expect from the studio. On the Riviera having been shot in Technicolor, this Blu-ray shines brighter than most, as the dazzling colors make for an added visual treat. And following the example set by such recent Studio Classics releases as The Fly and A Letter to Three Wives, On the Riviera also boasts some nice special features, including the 26-minute “Portrait of Danny Kaye”; a featurette centered on the film’s choreographer, Jack Cole; and most interestingly, a 10-minute featurette about similarities and differences between the three pictures Fox based on the The Red Cat.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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