Knock on Wood (1954)

“I don’t know what’s wrong, Marty; the words keep coming out — I can’t seem to control them anymore.

Knock on Wood Poster

Synopsis:
When a ventriloquist (Danny Kaye) subconsciously sabotages his most recent relationship via his dummy, he seeks treatment from a beautiful psychotherapist (Mai Zetterling) and falls in love with her; meanwhile, he’s pursued by members of competing spy rings seeking weapon blueprints hidden in his two newest dummies.

Genres:

Review:
In his review of Danny Kaye’s The Inspector General (1949), Peary acknowledges that “most Kaye vehicles [have] dated badly” — and this innocuous Cold War comedic thriller is no exception. Likely inspired by the “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” segment in Dead of Night (1946) (and/or Erich von Stroheim’s earlier The Great Gabbo, 1926), Knock on Wood capitalizes on the inherently creepy notion of a ventriloquist’s dummy “turning” on him; unfortunately, the opening sequence — in which Kaye’s dummy spews vitriolic statements about Kaye’s fiancee waiting in the wings — is so unpleasant and decidedly unfunny that is gets the film off to a rocky non-comedic start. From there, we’re subjected to two equally dull storylines, as Kaye romances his beautiful new psychotherapist (who has psychological hangups of her own, naturally) and rival spy rings go after high-profile blueprints located in the heads of Kaye’s new dummies. Fortunately, there are a few sequences in the second half of the film in which Kaye finally gets to strut his comedic chops, but they’re not nearly enough to recommend the film as a whole.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A few amusing sequences
    Knock on Wood Car Salesman
    Knock on Wood Table
    Knock on Wood Ballet

Must See?
No; this one is strictly for Danny Kaye fans

Links:

One Response to “Knock on Wood (1954)”

  1. Not a must ultimately, but not so bad~

    ~esp. if you’re a fan of Kaye’s ‘The Court Jester’, a much happier and cohesive blend, which came out a year later and was also written and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. (Oddly, if you look for info on Panama and Frank, either at IMDb or Wikipedia, you come up with next to nothing, other than their credits and the fact that they were school chums who later became a writing/directing team.)

    With ‘KOW’, its creators exhibit a firm grasp of farce. What they seem less sure of is tone – at least early on: that first dummy routine is shockingly cringe-worthy, and that’s followed by a too-dramatic turn by Kaye in which his character genuinely seems to be having a nervous breakdown. (This is a comedy???)

    From there, things do level out on the comic plane (even if murder and Freud are thrown in) but the script’s structure is patchwork, hinging vaguely on the bad guys wanting those blueprints, and Panama and Frank simply bounce Kaye around between whatever complications tickle them. (And some of them are very amusing. Unfortunately they also throw in something like a car with such a complicated dashboard that Kaye can’t find the ignition. Result: everything about the car, except the engine, somehow goes into frantic high-gear – this is the kind of humor well-suited for tiny tots; the kind of irritating gag which, in verbal/spastic form, makes Kaye annoying.)

    I’d not seen this before but, being a major ‘Court Jester’ fan, I can see where Panama and Frank – and even Kaye – would take what they learned from making this film and hone it to an integrated whole with their follow-up project.

    Particular delights here: Mai Zetterling (who worked with Ingmar Bergman) lends a subtle gravity which works for me; Torin Thatcher is a devilishly sexy villain; Sylvia Fine’s songs are…fine; Michael Kidd contributes very pleasant choreography; the climactic ballet sequence in which Kaye inappropiately finds himself is a marvelous example of the actor’s nightmare (in which you dream you are onstage but in the wrong play, not knowing how you got there or what you’re doing).

    Sidenote: ‘The Court Jester’ does have its own Facebook page – where you learn that it cost $4 mil to make, the highest amount at the time for a comedy, and only brought back a little over half that amount at the box office. Clearly a film before its time – or maybe just too smart for its own good.

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