Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1952. The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Story by Myles Connolly, Screenplay by Moss Hart. Cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Music by Walter Scharf. Production Design by Antoni Clave, Richard Day. Costume Design by Antoni Clave, Mary Wills. Film Editing by Daniel Mandell. Academy Awards 1952. Golden Globe Awards 1952.
The famed teller of tales is the central character in a fictional biography whose purpose is actually difficult to discern: the songs feel incidental so it’s not an excuse for a full-out musical, there’s little opportunity for star Danny Kaye to do his craziest acrobatic tricks so it isn’t one of his more indulgent vehicles, and Andersen’s most famous stories (The Red Shoes, The Little Mermaid) are referenced but never take central stage on screen…so why make up an entirely fake story about him? The Great Waltz wasn’t really about Strauss but at least it was about his music. No harm done, though, as Kaye brings genuine warmth to this beautiful confection in which Andersen is portrayed as a poor cobbler in a tiny Danish village who annoys the locals by making children late for school with his enthralling stories. When the fed-up schoolmaster tells the village elders that either Andersen goes or he does, our hero’s apprentice convinces him to chase his dreams to Copenhagen and he does; setting up shop in the capital city, he lucks into a job working for a ballet company whose prima ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire) captures his heart. He sees her tempestuous relationship with her husband (Farley Granger) and assumes that she is being abused by a tyrant, having no idea that they have a hot-blooded sexual chemistry and make up about as passionately as they fight (and yet this is a movie for kids). Andersen sews her a whole bunch of beautiful slippers before being inspired to write The Little Mermaid for her, which is performed to great acclaim and leads to his career opportunities as an author despite the heartbreak of his personal life. Other stories of the master fairy tale spinner are referenced and turned into songs, including The Ugly Duckling and the Oscar-nominated Thumbelina, but while the film is pleasant and good-natured, it doesn’t quite find the point between fantasy and reality that it’s looking for and is never sure just how innocent it wants to be. The ballet scenes are all wonderful, perhaps not as magical as in Powell and Pressburger’s contemporary films The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann, but if you watch it solely to see the dancing you will not be disappointed.