Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: I never liked Danny Kaye all that much. As a kid, I was baffled by his doddering presence on TV (in Disney specials, on talk shows) and always wondered why he was famous in the first place. I later came around to appreciating a few of the comedies made in his prime, such as The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - glossy, enjoyable films that were well-made enough to reign in Kaye's subtle-as-a-sledgehammer showboating. Kaye's 1961 starring vehicle On the Double, another one of Paramount Pictures' vault titles getting the reissue treatment from Olive Films, didn't change my opinion on him one bit. Danny Kaye fans will probably like it, however, since the WWII romp gives him full reign to indulge in a performance that is nothing but full blown Danny Kayeness.
In this shrill wartime farce, the pushing-50 Kaye improbably plays an Army private whose goofiness gets him involved in a top-secret intelligence mission. Ernie Williams is a dorky, healthy-living, jokey kind of guy prone to cracking up his fellow infantrymen with his impersonations of Hitler and his own superiors. The mimicry fails to endear him to his commanding officers, but it does allow him to be used as a pawn in an effort to throw off Nazis attempting to assassinate a high-level British Colonel. Private Williams and Colonel MacKenzie share an uncanny physical resemblance to each other, despite the esteemed Colonel's eye patch, mustache, and grey hair at the temples. After Williams is schooled in the details of the plan by Colonel Somerset (Wilfred Hyde-White), he adjusts himself to MacKenzie's blustery personality and hard-drinking lifestyle. While the impersonation fools the busty officer (British bombshell Diana Dors) with whom Colonel MacKenzie is having an affair, others can see right through the charade - including the Colonel's elegant wife, Lady Margaret (a good turn by Dana Wynter). Williams bumbles through the mission with predictable results, while the news that Colonel MacKenzie's plane was shot down over the Atlantic throws a wrench into the plans. Now intent on distracting the Nazis until D-Day arrives, Williams-as-MacKenzie gets himself into more outrageous situations as he finds himself falling in love with Lady Margaret.
On the Double served as a reunion between Kaye and screenwriter-director Melville Shavelson, who had previously collaborated on 1959's jazz musical The Five Pennies. Their familiarity gives On the Double a loose, unstructured feel when it desperately needed some tightening - especially when it came to Kaye's incessant mugging. One can faintly praise Shavelson for trying a few novel ideas, bookending the comedy with cheeky, ironic narration and using (for then) state-of-the-art special effects to have two Danny Kayes playing off each other. The movie is one big, overstuffed bore, however. It's burdened with an implausibility-stuffed plot, busy and overly artificial production methods, and that nagging sense of malaise which just about every big studio comedy from the '60s seemed to have.
Shavelson's worst mistake with On the Double was giving in to Kaye's constant overplaying (sorry to keep dumping on the man - I'm sure he was a sweet gentleman, but his work here is awful). So many of Kaye's scenes outstay their welcome by several minutes, making them painful to witness. Ironically, Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers took on a similar theme (bumbling idiot crashing high society) with the Pink Panther series and the uproarious The Party just a few years later. Their stuff is much more stylish and worthwhile than this regrettable mess.
The Blu Ray:
Olive Films' Blu Ray edition of On the Double preserves the film's Panavision photography in letterboxed 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The scenes involving split screen processing to show two Danny Kayes at once stick out for being more degraded than the rest of the film, otherwise it's an OK looking print with somewhat faded color and moderate instances of dust and white specks. Overall, a decent, unrestored yet nice looking transfer.
The film's monoaural soundtrack is presented here in a serviceable yet erratic mix, with sound effects and music pitched louder than the dialogue. A little raggedy, but the dialogue is clear and fine for what it is. No subtitles are included.
The wacky 1961 World War II spy comedy On the Double starred Danny Kaye as a bumbling soldier who goes undercover impersonating a powerful British officer - who happens to look exactly like Danny Kaye. Olive Films' Blu-Ray release of the film has their usual polish, although people who weren't fans of Kaye's over-the-top mugging to begin with won't be won over by this shrill and strangely boring flick. Skip It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.