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On the Double(1961)
American GI Ernie Williams, admittedly weak-kneed, has an uncanny resemblance to British Colonel MacKenzie. Williams, also a master of imitation and disguise, is asked to impersonate the Colonel, ostensibly to allow the Colonel to make a secret trip East. What Williams is not told is that the Colonel has recently been a target of assassins. After the Colonel's plane goes down, the plan changes and Williams maintains the disguise to confuse the Nazis about D-Day.
For more about On the Double and the On the Double Blu-ray release, see On the Double Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Danny Kaye, Dana Wynter, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Director: Melville Shavelson
» See full cast & crew
On the Double Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 19, 2013
By 1961, the film careers of Danny Kaye and Bob Hope had begun to wane, in Hope's case in quality if not in quantity, but in Kaye's case, both. Hope continued to churn out around one film a year through the sixties, plus a few isolated cameo roles, but few if any of his films from this period were huge hits, and certainly none would be at the top of any list of classic Hope comedies. Kaye on the other hand only made two films after 1961's On the Double, 1963's The Man from the Diner's Club and the rather unusual 1969 adaptation of Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot. (Rather interestingly, this same property appeared on Broadway that same year, musicalized by Jerry Herman and starring Angela Lansbury. It was a fairly big flop, though Lansbury still took home the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.) Kaye instead spent a few years in the sixties hosting his own CBS variety show, a show which premiered the same year as the ill-fated Judy Garland Show on the same network. Kaye's show wasn't expected to last, while Garland's was touted as the show to finally beat reigning champ Bonanza, Quite the opposite happened, and Kaye's show, while never a blockbuster, lasted for three relatively well rated seasons. During this period the comedian also continued his humanitarian work for UNICEF, and soon enough Kaye himself would be back on Broadway in a musical, Richard Rodgers' Two by Two, a musicalization of Clifford Odets' The Flowering Peach, about Noah and that big boat he built.
So in some ways, part of this decline in film fare was only natural for both comics, as the probably easier climes of television called, and neither no longer needed the money. But on another level, the faltering quality of these actors' efforts during this period was indicative of a couple of facts. The films they appeared in became more and more cookie cutter enterprises, and the very personae the two had created over the course of rather long careers had perhaps reached the end of their shelf life. One of the interesting things about this is that in some ways at least some of both Hope and Kaye's work during the fifties and sixties was largely interchangeable, especially with regard to the comedies the two made at Paramount. Take On the Double, for example. Replace a couple of plot elements and locales, and the film is in fact itself a none too subtle double of Hope's My Favorite Spy . In both films, the hero is a mild mannered guy who gets swept up in international intrigue and is forced to impersonate a suave "insider" whom he happens to resemble. On another level, though, Kaye by this time was actually ripping off himself, with a number of elements inserted into this outing that had proven to be popular in previous Kaye outings. These of course included songs by his wife Sylvia Fine (a Kaye trademark), as well as a forced cross dressing episode that sees Kaye attempting to pass as a foreign chanteuse (much like in Knock on Wood). Kaye had even previously appeared in a dual-role comedy, another "on" film, 1951's On the Riviera, and so if at least some of On the Double seems like a retread (cynics might go so far as to say a Xerox copy), the reasons why are obvious.
The always delicious Wilfrid Hyde-White is the film's narrator, as well as portraying English Colonel Somerset. The film takes a gimmick from the old Fred Allen comedy It's In the Bag, having Hyde-White speak through the credits, sometimes offering acerbic little barbs as the names waft by (though none of them are as funny as Allen's "who are these people?" in the earlier film). Hyde- White also alerts us to the fact that espionage shenanigans are on the rise in wartime Britain as the Allies prepare for D- Day. That sets up the introduction of PFC Ernie Williams (Danny Kaye), a sad sack grunt who thought he was about to be furloughed back to the United States along with his buddy Cpl. Praeger (future lonely Maytag repairman Jesse White), only to be held captive more or less at a base in England due to a curfew ordered by imperious commander, General Sir Lawrence MacKenzie-Smith (also Kaye).
When Ernie's knack for mimicry gives the always scheming Praeger the idea to have his buddy impersonate MacKenzie- Smith in order to facilitate the two getting the hell out of Dodge (and/or England), the plan of course backfires, and Ernie is soon facing a court martial, if not a firing squad. Somerset, an intelligence officer, gets involved, however, and recruits Ernie to impersonate the General in an operation called "Dead Pigeon". British Intelligence has become aware that there is a German plot to assassinate the General, including the fact that there are evidently several German agents already planted among the British forces. With Ernie's help, hopefully this plan can be uncovered and stopped. What Ernie isn't initially aware of is that there's no real risk involved for the British if Ernie's masquerade doesn't work and he's killed by the enemy. (In other words, Ernie might end up being the "dead pigeon" himself.)
There are a couple of interesting twists that On the Double introduces into what almost seemed like a cut and paste "genre" at Paramount, namely the mild mannered shmoe forced to take on the role of a lookalike. In this case, Ernie finds out that MacKenzie-Smith is actually something of a cad, one who regularly berates his elegant wife Lady Margaret (Dana Wynter) and who in fact is carrying on a torrid affair with a blonde bombshell, Sergeant Stanhope (Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, or as she's listed in the credits, Miss Diana Dors). Ernie doesn't pass impersonating muster with either Lady Margaret or the General's tipsy Scottish aunt, Lady Vivian (Margaret Rutherford in a hilarious cameo), but he does reasonably well with a number of other bystanders, despite the fact that Ernie is myopic in his right eye, while the General wears an eyepatch on his left eye, leading of course to occasional calamity.
On the Double actually picks up considerable comedic steam as it goes along, and there are some great throwaway gags scattered into the proceedings. When Ernie is being trotted out before MacKenzie-Smith, he doesn't launch into his mimicry fast enough, and MacKenzie Smith barks out, "Hurry up! Eisenhower's waiting!" A flummoxed Ernie replies, "Oh, well tell him not to, I don't do him". Once one an unexpected German agent is revealed and Ernie is spirited off to Berlin to undergo questioning, the film gets into a much more typically farcical ambience, with Ernie's desperate attempts to both not impart any information (which he doesn't have in any case) as well as to stay alive lead to a couple of great moments where Kaye's almost patented blend of physical humor and rapid fire wordplay are very well exploited. The film tries a bit too hard in its chase sequence, where Kaye once again as in so many of his other films has to assume a variety of aliases to escape capture.
Kaye is quite winning throughout much of the film, at least when he doesn't push too hard. His best moments are actually when he's dealing with his incipient health issues, which sometimes bring to mind Felix from The Odd Couple. Dana Wynter is lovely in a largely thankless role, that of an unhappy wife who magically transports her affections over to her despised husband's lookalike. While the film has an overall tired ambience, it has just enough comedic spark to propel it along with a fair amount of breeziness. Plus, you simply can't go too far wrong with the likes of Wilfrid Hyde-White and Margaret Rutherford filling out the supporting ranks.
On the Double Blu-ray, Video Quality
On the Double is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. While there is the requisite amount of expected age related wear and tear on the elements used for this transfer, probably the biggest overall issue here is somewhat faded color. Reds have drifted slightly toward the orange side of things, flesh tones can look a bit too yellow on occasion, and even the soldiers' crisp green uniforms look a bit pallid. That issue aside, things look fairly good here, with Olive's typically unadorned approach, leaving everything intact, for good and ill. The image is stable if not mind blowingly well detailed. The film relies on opticals more than the typical comedy, especially in the effects shots where Kaye appears with himself, and those are noticeably more ragged looking, much softer and with increased grain and worse color (all to be expected). The next to the last screenshot accompanying this review shows one of these effects shots, and the difference between it and the bulk of this presentation is quite notable.
On the Double Blu-ray, Audio Quality
On the Double's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix supports the film's fairly standard sounding track quite well. Dialogue is very well reproduced, though Hyde-White's narration has a slightly boxy sound. The film's music, including Kaye's singing, comes through quite will, with no clipping or other anomalies to report. Fidelity is very good, and dynamic range has a bit of a workout as things get more frenetic.
On the Double Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
On the Double Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
On the Double has a certain "déjà vu all over again" feeling, but it's actually a lot more enjoyable than you might initially think it could be. Kaye is in fine form (or forms, as the case may be), and the supporting cast is stellar. If the general set up is pretty old hat, at least its delivery has a lot to commend it. This Blu-ray has some slightly problematic video and decent audio and comes Recommended.
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