Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1945. The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Screenplay by Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson, Philip Rapp, adaptation by Jack Jevne, Eddie Moran, from a story by Arthur Sheekman. Cinematography by Victor Milner, William E. Snyder. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Music by Ray Heindorf, Heinz Roemheld. Production Design by Ernst Fegte. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by Daniel Mandell. Academy Awards 1945. Cannes Film Festival 1946.
The supernaturally-tinged plot of this film is mainly a vehicle for Danny Kaye to lord over the screen, which he does exceptionally well. As a nightclub comedian he sings, dances and tells jokes on the night before he is due to appear before a judge to give evidence against a gangster who is accused of murder (witness protection just never occurs to anyone in this world). The accused sends goons after Kaye who plug him full of lead in his dressing room, while across town his shy, bookish researcher twin brother (also played by Kaye, obviously) finds himself suddenly hearing voices from his now departed sibling. Trying to get a romance going with a beautiful librarian (Virginia Mayo), the second Kaye is drawn away from their dinner date to Prospect Park in Brooklyn where the first Kaye appears as a ghost. He tells him he needs to let him possess his body so he can still testify against the gangster and maybe have another night on stage at the club. We have scenes of manic Kaye playing two people at once as the narrative is perpetually finding any excuse for the special effects scenes (the quality of which deservedly won the year’s Oscar in that category, a great deal of them still look terrific). It’s not as fun a movie as it should be, reuniting Kaye with Virginia Mayo for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty two years later would prove to be far more diverting; here the film is far too obsessed with making sure the star pulls his rubbery face in a million directions. It feels more like watching an Olympic athlete train than seeing someone entertain you, and the fact that Kaye’s style of comedy and performance is dated, though not painfully so, doesn’t help. S.Z. Sakall has some funny moments as an exasperated shopkeeper who cannot keep up with our star’s perpetual distractions.