Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

“That’s the nice thing about the world, my friend: people.”

Hans Christian Andersen Poster

Synopsis:
A storytelling cobbler named Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye) falls in love with a ballerina (Jeanmarie) he believes is being abused by her domineering husband (Farley Granger).

Genres:

Review:
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this popular Danny Kaye vehicle — one of three titles (along with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Court Jester) he’s most closely associated with today — has retained much of its charm. Kaye is remarkably convincing playing the famed “pied piper” of storytelling, a dream-filled cobbler with the ability to lure children and adults alike (including us) into his fantasy realm. He brings just the right level of childlike whimsy and romantic yearning to the proceedings — which, we’re immediately informed, are “not the story of [Andersen’s] life, but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales.” Indeed, the first half hour of the film is its most magical, as we witness (courtesy of Moss Hart’s clever screenplay) Andersen’s incomparable gift with turning the merest morsel of an idea into a touching fable — with music, no less! To that end, Frank Loesser’s score is delightful, full of many catchy tunes. My favorite is probably “The King’s New Clothes” (a tongue-twisting marvel which Kaye handles with his typical finesse), but “Thumbelina”, “Inchworm”, and “Ugly Duckling” are equally memorable — and I challenge you not to find yourself humming “I’m Hans Christian Andersen” before the film is through.

Unfortunately, the film becomes somewhat notoriously bogged down by its central subplot, in which Andersen — presumably a romantic neophyte — develops an obsessive crush on a beautiful ballerina (Jeanmarie) who he believes is being sorely mistreated by her ruthless manager/husband (played by Farley Granger, who apparently hated being forced to do this role). The key scene Andersen witnesses — in which Granger mercilessly chastises Jeanmarie’s performance, and the two actually exchange physical blows — smacks weirdly of sado-masochism, given that the two clearly have an “understanding” with one another, and are still just as much in love as ever after their “encounter” (something Andersen fails to learn until much later on, naturally). With that said, it makes sense that Andersen would fall for a fairy-tale version of a woman rather than the complex adult herself — so perhaps this subplot isn’t quite as egregious as many critics have claimed.

P.S. It’s distressing and a bit of a let-down to know that Kaye himself was very un-Andersen-like on the set of the film. According to TCM’s article, he was “repeatedly frustrated” with Jeanmarie’s “struggling grasp of English”, ran hot and cold in his friendliness towards Granger, and “became so petulant about the costumes that he wailed to Granger, ‘How come you get to wear all these beautiful clothes and I have to wear rags?'”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen
    Hans Christian Kaye
  • Many delightful songs
    Hans Christian Songs
  • Fine sets and costumes
    Hans Christian Sets
  • Moss Hart’s often-clever screenplay: “You’d be surprised how many kings are only a queen with a mustache.”

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended, and certainly must-see for Kaye fans.

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One Response to “Hans Christian Andersen (1952)”

  1. A must for younger ffs – as for those over 20 or so, you may want to take note if musicals are your thing, esp. impressive dance sequences (which this has – esp. ‘The Little Mermaid’ ballet, which naturally brings to mind the Andersen-based centerpiece in ‘The Red Shoes’).

    Otherwise, I’ve not a whole lot to add re: the movie itself. It’s a rare biopic, which tells us upfront that it’s done in the spirit of Andersen the storyteller and is not meant to be the story of his life. As such, it’s charming. And you get to see Danny Kaye TONED DOWN and actually playing more of a solid, dramatic character. Loesser’s songs are indeed a treat (again, esp. for a younger crowd). And I don’t really feel the movie bogs down – esp. in terms of the bickering couple. I’ve certainly known couples like that (and we’ve seen similar couples in other films directed by Charles Vidor) – where the relationship passes understanding to outsiders. I think this particular one is taken a little to an extreme. But I do esp. like the sequence near the end, with Kaye and Jeanmarie – in which he finally reveals his love for her, yet we know she a) genuinely loves Granger and b) is genuinely touched and moved by Kaye’s sentiment. That’s a unique development to watch.

    As for the backstage drama of the film (what’s written at TCM about it): it is quite often “distressing and a bit of a let-down” when we find out that actors are, indeed, actors (translation: notoriously ‘fragile’ as a group). When we are charmed or moved by a film experience (in particular), it’s a cold slap of reality if/when we discover truth in the cliche that an artist’s ego is/was out of control. As audiences, we reap the benefit when elements of a film merge to become a memorable experience. Years ago, it was always harder to learn what was going on during a filming. We probably weren’t even all that interested to know. Nowadays, such facts come out by hardly even looking for them. We’re probably better off simply separating and holding fast to the film’s vision.

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