blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

On the Riviera (1951, Walter Lang)

On the Riviera ends abruptly. The film promises an amping-up of its mistaken identity, only to immediately chuck it and do another musical number. It’s a solid musical number, but the film was on the rise with the comedy. It was about to get really good. The ending features a double scene for star Danny Kaye—he plays two parts, an entertainer and a maverick pilot—there ought to be some pay-off. Instead, it’s just over. And not ambitiously over; director Lang and Kaye have been giving Riviera a lot; I was expecting some kind of set piece meeting for the two Kayes.


Thank the Hayes Code.

At least the final number’s good. Most of Kaye’s numbers in the film are good, though the “Popo the Puppet” number (which went on to be one of Kaye’s career hits, written by his wife, Sylvia Fine) is very strange. Riviera is about stage performer Kaye trying to make it… on the Riviera. He’s American, he does impressions, he sings and dances, but boss Sig Roman just plain doesn’t like his act. Kaye works with girlfriend Corinne Calvet (though I don’t think she’s ever actually in one of the routines). Kaye’s career plot is about this act he creates during the film, and it causes a sensation, which leads to television work.

Because the movie’s about making it on TV.

In France. But Hollywood France, where everyone speaks English.

Lang directs the handful of TV sequences a little too well. They’re framed for TV (there’s TV boxing even), and the numbers are reasonably budgeted and TV-appropriate, but they’re just a little too competent. They’re a little too professional. It’s great for some of the other numbers, but “Popo” is Kaye as a life-size puppet being flung around while he sings about being capable only if someone else controls him. While dressed in a powder blue Napoleon outfit.

It’s just weird. And it’s long. And it’s unclear why the French public watching the broadcast would want to see it.

But then, I wouldn’t have thought it’d go on to be a big hit.

The other songs—also written by Fine—are, well, fine. I mean, the title song’s a bit bland given the eventual plot, but the first act of Riviera is about showcasing all the location photography Fox had available for the Riviera. Once the actors show up—occasionally with some great rear projection composites—they’re in studio. Even for the exteriors, which sometimes leads to unfortunate backdrops.

The film’s first act, with Calvet and Kaye having money troubles—then more troubles with Ruman’s threat of firing—is slow. They watch the news about pilot Kaye successfully flying around the world, which entertainer Kaye turns into a show number. It’s an incredible number, and there’s no way Kaye should be having trouble getting gigs.

The number’s all about pilot Kaye being a hit with the ladies, all around the world, which pilot Kaye thinks is a hoot, though his wife, played by Gene Tierney, does not. Unfortunately, the success of the performance comes with bad news for pilot Kaye—investor Jean Murat is going to try to bankrupt Kaye, Marcel Dalio, and Henri Letondal for their IP instead of paying for it. Unbeknownst to pilot Kaye, Tierney invites Murat to a party. Unbeknownst to entertainer Kaye, pilot Kaye invites Calvet to the same party. Pilot Kaye’s extramarital pursuits are just part of the package; there’s no hiding, which would be difficult, say, if entertainer Kaye found himself impersonating pilot Kaye and didn’t know all the women throwing themselves at him.

Pilot Kaye has to secure other funding, thinking they can cancel the party; except when Dalio and Letondal find out Tierney has invited Murat, they have to pretend Kaye’s still in town. Enter entertainer Kaye, who’s ready to try his stage act in real-life, leading to an engaging, often very funny comedy of mistaken identity errors. Dalio and Letondal take over most of the second act and are great. Tierney’s playing the straight woman part, but she gets some material eventually. Kaye’s better as the French pilot than the American entertainer, which is good for the movie (and Tierney) but not great for Calvet. Calvet’s apparently just around because she’s actually French.

It’s a good comedy with an excellent pace. The third act crashes, but it’s not the movie’s fault. It’s a bummer because they were finally at a spot where Kaye would have to act opposite himself, with entertainer Kaye getting some character development. Potentially. Also, he and Tierney getting to do a comedy scene together. It’d have been nice for Tierney to have a hijinks scene.

Anyway, pretty good—oh, and gorgeous color photography from Leon Shamroy.

This post is part of the Danny Kaye Blogathon hosted by Erica of Poppity Talks Classic Film.

3 responses to “On the Riviera (1951, Walter Lang)”

  1. Thank you for your honesty in regards to the plot and the film as a whole, Andrew. It’s always a downer when you are disappointed by a picture, especially when it is – by and large – wholely unforgiveable.
    ON THE RIVIERA is one of the few Danny Kaye films that I have not seen. It comes as no surprise to hear that he takes on a dual role (he does in my film choice as well!) or that his musical interludes are a tad wonky. That definitely seemed to be his style. Some trends in Hollywood were harder to understand than others. For me, I still to this day don’t understand the appeal of organist Ethel Smith.
    I will let you know when I get a chance to see this film. Having lived in France for nearly 20 years, I am quite used to the French image being misconstrued. It is surprising that it was to such a degree considering that they filmed on-location in both Cannes and Paris. What a shame.
    I very much appreciate you participating in the blogathon! 😀

    1. I think they had a bunch of Riviera stock footage and wanted to use it in something. It’s a short movie and about 8 full minutes are the stock footage 😆

  2. I laughed out loud at this: “But Hollywood France, where everyone speaks English.”

    I’ve not heard of this film, and it sounds like it has a good premise…until the third act. Welp, I’ll keep an eye out for it, but won’t go in with big expectations. Thanks for putting this on my radar, though.

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