The Strange Case of Danny Kaye

Up in Arms (1944), an otherwise unmemorable film, is his first starring role, and one wonders what exactly Goldwyn was thinking. At least one would wonder, had one not the strange knowledge of the rather remarkable exception to the trappings of Hollywood that was the career of Eddie Cantor, which had been in full bloom about fifteen years before. Herein lies the mystery. In 1944 Cantor’s career, while not on the rocks, was certainly nothing to write home about. He was working, but it was nothing like the work he had done in the thirties, wherein he would come on screen and pitch like a goddamn banshee, whining, mugging, in general giving us an exceedingly hard time of understanding from just what tradition of masculinity he could have come. Did Goldwyn, recalling the freshness (and bank) of the early Cantor films somehow hope to relive it with the new Jew on the lot? DId he attribute the taming of Cantor not to the passage of time and vogue, but to Cantor himself? Did he think that maybe there’s something about Jewishness that will always be hot, it’s simply a matter of finding the right Jew for the public at the right time? All this, even while consciously trying to make Kaye less Jewish to the public? And was it part of the general secret/non-secret obsession of Hollywood with Jewishness, or Goldwyn’s particular relationship to it? Many questions. Yet the pleasant surprise comes of seeing Kaye bloom in spite of varying expectations. Somehow amidst the scraps of other performers that are being thrown at him he emerges—if briefly—as his own man. The energy of Cantor: borrowed. But appropriated. The facial contortions of Red Skelton: borrowed. But made tolerable. 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~ by levantor on May 28, 2008.

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