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Case Number 26431

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On the Riviera (1951) (Blu-ray)

Fox // 1951 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 19th, 2013

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All Rise...

As luck would have it, Judge Clark Douglas looks exactly like a local hobo.

The Charge

You'll double over with laughter!

Opening Statement

"Didn't I? Didn't I?"

Facts of the Case

Jack Martin (Danny Kaye, The Court Jester) is an up-and-coming American entertainer who currently has a gig doing nightly performances on the French Riviera. While he hasn't quite made it big yet, his girlfriend Colette (Corinne Calvet, The Far Country) is convinced that he's on the brink of stardom. Unfortunately, Jack's employer isn't nearly as impressed. Unless Jack can come up with a way to make his act even more exciting by the end of the week, he's out of a job.

While Jack is attempting to figure a way out of his predicament, everyone else is focused on another man spending some time on the Riviera: the famous industrialist Henri Duran (also played by Kaye). As luck would have it, Jack is very nearly a dead ringer for Duran (though he lacks the businessman's monocle and mustache). In no time at all, Jack has been offered a very large sum of money to impersonate Henri in a variety of social situations. So begins a tangled web of confused identities interspersed with bouts of musical mayhem.

The Evidence

Danny Kaye may be one of cinema's most underappreciated talents. To be sure, Kaye still has quite a few fans and he was rewarded with both commercial success and critical acclaim throughout his career (not to mention a pair of honorary Academy Awards), but one still doesn't hear his name mentioned very often when cinema's great actors are discussed. I suspect that part of this may have something to do with the fact that Kaye's talents were often best-utilized in the service of fluffy, underwritten films. Who needs a strong story when you have a performer like Kaye leading the charge? Watching On the Riviera serves as a strong reminder of just how much better he was than many of the films he appeared in.

As mistaken-identity comedies go, On the Riviera is pretty thin soup. The reasons the film manufactures for Jack to impersonate Henri are pretty contrived, as are the predictable romantic entanglements that ensue (a subplot involving Henri's wife wastes the considerable talents of Gene Tierney). It's easy to see where things are headed in no time at all. The plot only exists for two reasons. First, to give viewers the pleasure of watching Danny Kaye play two different characters (including one character struggling to do a successful impersonation of his other character). Second, to give viewers a chance to catch a few of Kaye's signature wackadoo song-and-dance routines. On those counts (particularly the second), the film works like gangbusters.

Kaye is clearly having a blast in this thing, and it's honestly not much of a surprise that he managed to secure a Golden Globe win for his efforts. His French accent (which he employs as Henri and Jack-as-Henri) is definitely on the broad, corny Pepe le Pew side, but it's quite entertaining. It's fun to see the actor flip back-and-forth between Henri's bemused charm and Jack's manic desperation; the film is essentially his version of The Nutty Professor. Truth be told, it's actually his version of Folies Bergere de Paris, the 1935 film starring Maurice Chevalier. That film received an American remake starring Don Ameche in 1941, and was dubbed That Night in Rio. I haven't seen either of the earlier versions, but given that the plot is the least of On the Riviera's virtues, I can't help but wonder how much more tedious those versions might feel without Kaye's energy fueling them.

The musical numbers are definitely the high points of the film, with the funniest and most inventive being "Popo the Puppet." In that particular tune, Kaye plays a child-like marionette and engages in an impossibly gleeful and goofy story about visiting the zoo. It's hysterical stuff, and the other tunes certainly offer plenty of charm. I could have done without a few of Kaye's ethnic stereotypes, but that's simply a reminder that the film is a product of its era. At least Kaye's assorted stereotypical impressions never seem particularly mean-spirited.

On the Riviera (Blu-ray) offers a decent 1080p/Full Frame transfer that dazzles in some areas while disappointing in others. Detail is strong throughout, and depth is impressive, too…but flesh tones are wonky and colors are inconsistent. It looks good, but it's not quite the stunning Technicolor experience you might be hoping for. The DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio track is less problematic, offering crisp dialogue and robust music throughout. It's simple yet effective. The supplemental package offers three engaging featurettes ("The Riviera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation," "A Portrait of Danny Kaye" and "The Jack of Clubs: Choreographer Jack Cole") and a theatrical trailer.

Closing Statement

Fans of Danny Kaye will certainly want to check out this Blu-ray, as the actor isn't particularly well-represented in hi-def just yet. Those who only have a casual interest are probably better off starting with White Christmas or The Court Jester.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 80
Story: 75
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Blu-ray
• Classic
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes
• Trailer


• IMDb

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