Me and the Colonel (1958)

“Strangely enough, we’re in the same business — the business of escaping.”

Me and the Colonel Poster

Synopsis:
During WWII, a resourceful Jewish refugee (Danny Kaye) travels with an anti-semitic Polish officer (Curt Jurgens), the officer’s right-hand man (Akim Tamiroff), and the officer’s girlfriend (Nicole Maurey), who begins to fall in love with Kaye.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a play by Franz Werfel, Me and the Colonel allowed Danny Kaye an opportunity to break (almost) completely from his characteristic cinematic persona as a hapless nebbish, and show off his dramatic chops. The story — much like Roberto Benigni’s award-winning Life is Beautiful (1997) — is meant to provide a gently comical slant on a devastating period in world history, tackling the sensitive topic of anti-semitism through humor and feel-good humanism. In this case, Kaye’s Jacobowsky (whose very name is repeated a bit too forcefully throughout the film, as though it offers inherent giggle-value) attempts to befriend (or at least not antagonize) the bigoted, bombastic Colonel Prokoszny (Curd Jurgens); the crux of the screenplay shows Jacobowsky repeatedly swallowing his pride in the name of pragmatism, as he utilizes his estimable survival skills to move his ad hoc group closer towards the border. It’s all a bit insufferably twee, and Jurgens’ performance is irritatingly abrasive, offering little to no nuance in this critically important role.

However, Kaye — who won a Golden Globe award as best actor — does a fine job, and surely must have been thrilled at this chance to tackle such an important cinematic topic. And Nicole Maurey is charming and believable in a challenging role as Jurgens’ fiancee, who finds herself drawn towards Kaye — but the central love triangle conflict that plays itself out during the middle of the film (culminating in a comedic duel) fails to leave any impact. While it’s difficult to understand why Maurey fell for the two-timing Jurgens in the first place, it’s eminently clear that her “attraction” to Kaye is simply admiration for his resourcefulness and gentle charm, and never poses a real threat to Jurgens. By the film’s inevitable climactic denouement at the border, we’re marginally invested in these characters’ survival, but can’t help wishing that the titular relationship offered more heft and realism.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Danny Kaye as Jacobowsky
    Me and the Colonel Kaye
  • Nicole Maurey as Suzanne
    Me and the Colonel Maurey

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see.

Links:

One Response to “Me and the Colonel (1958)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    “Insufferably twee” is right! ~as is the rest of the assessment, so – little to add.

    No doubt made with good intentions, this film has nevertheless worked against itself through its writing – which is not only too precious but leans towards being overly theatrical. (Its origin as a play is very evident.) The result holds little by way of dramatic development – it comes off more like a dog chasing its own tail: it has nowhere to go but the same place again and again.

    The concluding sequences do manage to break away from that, bringing a bit of viewer satisfaction, but not all that much.

    This film is not spoken of much these days. There’s a good reason for that: it’s rather forgettable.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.