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The multi-talented Danny Kaye made a career out of his physical comedy and unique tongue-twisting novelty songs often penned by his wife and partner Sylvia Fine. In Merry Andrew (1958), Kaye took it down a notch, giving a more relaxed performance than in earlier efforts such as The Court Jester (1956). Gone are the Sylvia Fine specialty songs; instead the emphasis is on Kaye's comedic skills but musical numbers still figure prominently in the narrative.
In Merry Andrew, Danny Kaye plays Andrew Larabee, a teacher at an exclusive boys' school in England. Andrew comes from a long line of stuffy academics, and his often unorthodox teaching methods and happy-go-lucky attitude are frowned upon by his buttoned-down family as well as his fiance Letitia (Patricia Cutts). When Andrew travels to Italy on an archaeological expedition, he befriends a family of traveling circus performers whose tent is pitched over his dig site. In this zany plot twist, it isn't long before Andrew begins to hear his true calling - performing - and falls for the beautiful acrobat Selena (Pier Angeli).
The circus backdrop in Merry Andrew proves a perfect forum to showcase Danny Kaye's unique talents. The songs written by Saul Chaplin and Johnny Mercer are charming and upbeat with an accompanying musical score adapted and conducted by Nelson Riddle. The Variety review at the time said, "Merry Andrew has a happy-go-chuckley attitude and some of the smartest musical numbers in some time, set up by stand-out music and lyrics."
Merry Andrew bears the distinction of being the only film directed by the celebrated choreographer and dancer Michael Kidd, who won numerous Tony awards for his dynamic choreography on Broadway. Kidd had made a smooth transition to feature films, his most distinguished achievement being the rousing choreography for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). And the director's dance background is evident in the way Merry Andrew's vibrant musical numbers stand out such as "The Square of the Hypotenuse," "Pipes of Pan," and "Salud."
Unfortunately, Pier Angeli, who plays Danny Kaye's love interest Selena, did not get to enjoy the kind of happy ending so often told in a Hollywood musical. The beautiful Italian actress had been brought to Hollywood by director Fred Zinnemann to star in the critically acclaimed drama Teresa (1951). She enjoyed moderate success in American films throughout the next decade. However, when her career waned during the 1960s, she returned to Europe to find acting work. With two failed marriages (one to singer Vic Damone) and few acting prospects, Angeli sank into depression. She returned briefly to Hollywood to make one last film in 1971 before committing suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates.
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: Michael Kidd
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond, Isobel Lennart, Paul Gallico (story)
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: Gene Allen, William A. Horning
Music: Saul Chaplin
Cast: Danny Kaye (Andrew Larabee), Pier Angeli (Selena), Salvatore Baccaloni (Antonio Gallini), Noel Purcell (Matthew Larabee), Robert Coote (Dudley Larabee), Patricia Cutts (Letitia Fairchild).
by Andrea Passafiume