A surprisingly risqué sex farce-musical starring Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, and Corrine Calvet, On the Riveria (1951) was the second and at times word-for-word remake of Folies Bergère de Paris (1935), which starred Maurice Chevalier, Merle Oberon, and Ann Sothern in the same parts. The first remake, made in-between, was That Night in Rio (1941), with Don Ameche, Alice Faye, and Carmen Miranda. The Kaye version has in its corner two gorgeous female leads, four terrific Sylvia Fine (Mrs. Kaye) songs, and beautiful second-unit photography of the French Riviera. Mostly though, its the sexual innuendo and double-entendres, genuinely startling in an early ‘50s Hollywood feature, that make it memorable. Censors were perhaps pressured into passing material already filmed twice before, and it's probably precisely because this was a first-class production using material originating from the much less prudish climate of the mid-1930s that allow On the Riviera to get away with as much as it does.
Fox's Blu-ray is problematic. Filmed in three-strip Technicolor, much of the film has spectacularly good color and is impressively sharp to boot. However, during nighttime scenes and in many studio interiors with lower level lighting, it appears those creating the video transfer tweaked the image more than a little too much. Generally, these scenes seem to have been darkened, made softer and, worst of all, overcooked the color to the point where everyone looks like Speaker of the House John Boehner. Indeed, at times everyone is so emphatically orange I half expected the cast break into the "Oompa-Loompa" song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Extra features are all ported over from a May 2007 DVD release.
Who's that strange man gracing the original 1-sheet poster?
American Jack Martin (Danny Kaye) is an entertainer at the Cote d'Azure nightclub on the French Riviera, singing and dancing and doing impersonations with the aide of his beautiful dancer girlfriend, Colette (Corrine Calvet). In a clever nod to the earlier film versions, among those he imitates are Maurice Chevalier and Carmen Miranda. During a performance, the audience abruptly exits en masse to watch the televised landing of famed aviator-tycoon and incorrigible ladies man Capitaine Henri Duran (also Kaye). (French television is apparently quite advanced in 1951, offering full color broadcasts three years before it was introduced anywhere in the world.)
Duran's finances are a mess, threatening the only deal that will save his company from ruin: the sale of 50 airplanes to his chief rival, Felix Periton (Jean Murat). Duran's wife, Lilli (Gene Tierney), unaware of her sexually-estranged husband's finances, invites Periton to a big social gathering at their home. Duran, however, has already left for London in search of a big loan.
Fearing the company will be bankrupt if Periton discovers Duran absent during the big reception, underlings Philippe Labrix (Marcel Dalio) and Louis Forel (Henri Letondal) persuade Martin to recreate his uncanny impersonation of Duran for the affair, hoping to stave off Periton until Duran's return. He agrees but, attracted to Lilli, he insists she must not be told of the ruse. They agree but secretly tell her anyway, so that he doesn't know that she knows. Later Duran comes back earlier than expected, so that Lilli thinks Duran is Martin and vice versa.
On the Riveria was the second of numerous films (Wonder Man, Knock on Wood, and On the Double also come to mind) in which Kaye either plays a dual role or part of the story hinges on him impersonating somebody. On the Riviera affords him a fairly straight part as Duran, so much so that after many long minutes following Duran I wondered, "When are we going to get back to Danny Kaye?" momentarily forgetting that's who I was looking at right then. The film generally avoids trick shots compositing two Kayes within a single shot, but there's some of that near the end and the subtlety in staging this is unusually good.
The Sylvia Fine songs written for her husband are decent though a bit more reserved than the tongue-twisting lyrics of their best collaborations. However, the choreography by Jack Cole and especially the dancing of the main chorus girl, an uncredited Gwen Verdon, compensate this. She's sensational, really standing out from the other dancers.
Mostly though, On the Riveria's racy dialogue dazzles most. Landing in Paris after a record-breaking flight (aboard a nifty, futuristic plane filmed in miniature): "All I would like now is a bottle of champagne and after that I would like to go to bed for a week. Who would like to join me … in cheering my brave comrades?" Later, when Lilli thinks it was Martin, not Duran, who made passionate love to her the night before, Martin responds to her outrage with, "What with the captain gone and you so desperate…Didn't you like my performance?" He then asks her for a letter of recommendation. And he asks if she knows of any other households where he "could do the same thing?"
One other note: In the Duran's house is a portrait painting of Lilli, in fact the same iconic bit of set decoration that's the centerpiece of the classic film noir Laura (1944).
Video & Audio
As noted above, the high-def video transfer of this full-frame, three-strip Technicolor production is very mixed. Bright exteriors, especially the second unit scenes shot in France, look great, but darker interiors are hot with orange so extreme the pallor of the actors' faces at times is about the same color as Danny Kaye's hair. These scattered scenes are also overly dark, as if to hide their original if stylized Technicolor brilliance. In scenes where the actors wear black tuxedos, blacks are so inky they come close to resembling empty mattes. The region A encoded disc offers optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles, while the 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is strong.
Supplements, all from the 2007 DVD version, include "The Riviera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation," which through clever editing demonstrates just how closely this version follows its two predecessors, while making insightful observations about their differences and the films' origins. "A Portrait of Danny Kaye" focuses on his charity work for UNICEF and other interests, including Chinese cooking, of which he was a bona fide gourmand. "The Jack of Clubs" is a brief but good featurette about the film's choreographer. Finally, a trailer is very oddly positioned, the 1.37:1 image on the extreme left side of the larger 1.78:1 frame.
Pretty good despite a problematic transfer, On the Riviera is a familiar sex farce told well, a fine if unusually adult comedy starring Danny Kaye. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.