Today was another day I thought I just might miss my movie of the day. I’ve had a particularly nasty cold, and spent the day in bed moaning and groaning. I wasn’t sure I would even have the energy to sit up in bed and watch a movie. But then I remembered Norman Cousins’ book Anatomy of an Illness, and his success with treating health problems much more serious than mine with comedy films, and I decided to dig up a funny movie.
I don’t know whose idea it was to star Danny Kaye in an adaptation of a 1836 play by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, but it was a stroke of genius. Kaye had just starred in the very contemporary and very American The Kid From Brooklyn and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and so sending him to 19th century Eastern Europe must have seemed like a gamble. But watching Kaye alternatively fret for his life and charm the locals raises a laugh more than once. Kaye play an illiterate and penniless member of a traveling sideshow who is mistaken for a feared government inspector by the corrupt leaders of a small town who shower him with bribes. But the plot is really just a vehicle to showcase Kaye’s talents as a singer, dancer and master of broad, physical humor, which are all quite entertaining.