Monday, September 08, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wonder Man (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A couple of nights ago I wrote about watching Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore in UP IN ARMS (1944), a childhood favorite.

This evening I watched Kaye in his very next film, WONDER MAN (1945). Like UP IN ARMS, it's part of the set Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years, which is part of the Samuel Goldwyn Classic series released by the Warner Archive.

WONDER MAN is a tremendously good-looking DVD. An early shot of Times Square, the pastel colors of the nightclub, and the colors of the Goldwyn Girls' gowns all look fantastic. As was the case with UP IN ARMS, I'm not sure this could be improved with Blu-ray. It's a visual treat with dazzling Technicolor.

WONDER MAN is a fun story with Kaye as identical twin brothers. One of the brothers, nightclub performer Buzzy Bellew, is bumped off by gangsters before he can testify against Ten Grand Jackson (Steve Cochran, in his second film, following BOSTON BLACKIE BOOKED ON SUSPICION). Buzzy immediately "haunts" his studious brother, Edwin Dingle; Buzzy wants Edwin to impersonate him until Ten Grand can be put behind bars.

This all causes complications with Edwin's budding romance with librarian Ellen (Virginia Mayo) and with Buzzy's fiancee Midge (Vera-Ellen), who fortunately has Monte (Donald Woods) waiting in the wings.

The film has Oscar-winning special effects which are still impressive today and must have really wowed audiences in 1945. The fantastic cast is an endless parade of fun faces, including both actors who played Goldie Locke in the Falcon detective series, Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy, as mob hit men.

Kaye and Vera-Ellen have a great number, "Bali Boogie," and Vera-Ellen also has a nice solo dance, "So in Love." (Her singing was dubbed by June Hutton.) This was Vera-Ellen's very first movie, and she's cute as the proverbial button. It's fun to see her teamed with Kaye nearly ten years before they costarred in the Christmas classic WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Mayo were all reteamed in their very next film, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946), which is also part of this set and which I'll be reviewing soon.

Ironically, the parts of WONDER MAN and UP IN ARMS which I feel have held up the least are Kaye's famous extended comic numbers, which simply don't know when to quit and end up wearing out their welcome. They tend to stop each film in its tracks.

Just the year before, Virginia Mayo had stood out from all the other Goldwyn Girls in UP IN ARMS, and now she makes a beautiful leading lady, with the Technicolor showing off her peaches and cream complexion to perfection.

This time around one of the Goldwyn Girls is Karin Booth of CRIPPLE CREEK (1952) and BADMAN'S COUNTRY (1958); she has dark hair in this. Carol Haney is listed as a Goldwyn Girl at IMDb but I didn't spot her.

The large cast includes Otto Kruger, Richard Lane, S.Z. Sakall, Natalie Schafer, Edward Gargan, Huntz Hall, Virginia Gilmore, Byron Foulger, Leon Belasco, and Luis Alberni. Dress Extra Extraordinaire Bess Flowers is an opera patron. IMDb says that Cathy O'Donnell (THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) is a nightclub extra; I need to go back and look for her!

WONDER MAN runs 98 minutes and was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It was filmed in Technicolor by William Snyder, Victor Milner, and the uncredited Karl Struss. Perhaps all those special effects shots necessitated some extra photographic help!

As a side note, I got a kick out of the loaves of Wonder Bread in S.Z. Sakall's deli, looking pretty much the same in the '40s as in the 2000s. I also loved the wooden refrigerated case with cartons of milk. Glimpses of items from daily life of decades ago are one thing among many I love about classic films.

This beautiful DVD also includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.


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