It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
The Five Pennies (1959) – Musical #254
Danny Kaye, Barbara Bel Geddes, Harry Guardino, Bob Crosby, Bobby Troup, Tuesday Weld, Susan Gordon, Ray Anthony, Shelly Mane, Ray Daley, Blanche Sweet (uncredited)
Themselves: Louis Armstrong
A biographical film on cornet player Loring “Red” Nichols (Kaye). It shows Nichols rise to fame as he creates the successful Five Pennies band, which specializes in playing Dixieland jazz. But at the top, Nichols abruptly retires due to a family emergency.
• Based on the life of Loring “Red” Nichols
• The last feature film of actress Blanche Sweet
• Working titles were Intermission, The Red Nichols Story and Red Nichols
• Red Nichols dubbed Danny Kaye’s trumpet solos.
• Barbara Bel Geddes’s singing voice was dubbed by Eileen Wilson.
• Sylvia Fine wrote three original songs for the film, “Follow The Leader,” “Lullaby in Ragtime” and “The Five Pennies”
• The set design and the cinematography.
• “Lullaby in Ragtime” performed by Danny Kaye
• “The Five Pennies” performed by Danny Kaye
• “When the Saints Go Marching In” performed by Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong
In the 1950s, biographical musical films were made about some of the top big band leaders and musicians of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman were some of those highlighted.
Another was cornet player, Loring “Red” Nichols. The film is loosely based on Nichols’s life, from his rise to fame to his retirement.
The life of Nichols offered tongue-twisting clown actor Danny Kaye a more serious role on film. But it’s not without its comedic moments. Kaye clowns in a “Home in Indiana” radio montage and makes fun of a bandleader played by Bob Crosby with his signature faces and sounds. But he also plays a character who is fueled by a huge ego, and a father who sacrifices a family relationship for success — which has consequences.
Barbara Bel Geddes plays his wife, Willa, and Susan Gordon and Tuesday Weld play Nichols’s daughter, Dorothy, at different ages.
While Nichols was a bandleader and composed, his hits and original songs aren’t included in the film. Instead, Kaye’s wife and composer Sylvia Fine composed some of her original songs. They are fine, but I would have preferred hearing some of Nichols true work.
While the film is enjoyable, my biggest takeaway is how visually stunning it is. It is a flat out gorgeous film. In nightclubs, we see lights flashing with pink, orange and red. Pink tints are used during montages, and the costuming and set designs are a dream. One stunning moment is Louis Armstrong’s first appearance in the film. At first you just see the bell of his trumpet in the darkness and then the lights come up to reveal Armstrong.
While some of this film is fiction, this is one of more enjoyable musical biographical films.
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