The Five Pennies (1959) Poster

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Can be appreciated on two levels
neal-5718 September 2001
This little gem can be appreciated on two levels. Non-jazz fans who have never heard of Red Nichols will find a fine little "family movie," which despite its 192O's-speakeasy milieu offers up nothing seamier than the observation by Red's wife, Bobbi (Barbara Bel Geddes in a performance of remarkable warmth) that their daughter has come to believe that "breakfast is a cup of coffee and an aspirin." The story of the daughter's attack of polio and her fight to walk again is unflinching and the first-time viewer should pack sufficient Kleenex. Fans of Danny Kaye will find plenty of examples of his trademark clowning, but they'll also find moments of wonderful dramatic and introspective acting.

The most remarkable scene in the movie: a guilty Nichols/Kaye, feeling that his daughter's polio is the direct result of his neglect of her in favor of jazz, promises God that if she survives, he will give up music and devote himself to her care. Sound hokey? Could have been. But the scene where Kaye throws his cornet into the river is absolutely spine-chilling. He stops, tenderly caressing the cornet keys, allowing the happy memories to pass wistfully over his features...then coldly, abruptly, tosses the instrument into the waters below. When Kaye straightens up, he seems to have aged twenty years and gained fifty pounds...a remarkable scene.

The second level on which the film can be appreciated: an introduction to a wonderful musician. Like "The Glenn Miller Story" and "The Benny Goodman Story," "The Five Pennies" makes little attempt to give an accurate portrayal of its subject. Ernest Loring Nichols, from all accounts, was a cool, calculating businessman, nothing like the madcap, freewheeling character played by Danny Kaye. As a cornetist he stood willingly in the shadow of his idol Bix Beiderbecke, whose playing style he strove (with some success) to duplicate. Despite the fact that Bix was the major personal and professional influence on Red, he is mentioned only once, toward the end of the film: "(in those early days) there was Louis (Armstrong), Bix and me--and that was it!"

Biographical inaccuracies aside, the pure tone of the real Nichols' cornet shines through brilliantly, and reaches out to grab the ear of the traditional jazz fan--at least it did mine. When I first saw the film in '81, I was a Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman fan, and knew Nichols only as a bandleader they had played with early on. The movie was a springboard, leading me to search out the albums, and the real biographical details, of the very real Red Nichols.

Incidentally, the film benefited the by-then largely forgotten Nichols greatly: just as the late-5O's dixieland-revival was gathering steam, he landed a Columbia contract, and recorded some wonderful stereo albums of his past hits--and of the music specially written for the film by Silvia Fine (Mrs. Danny Kaye). Though he died in '65 (while in Vegas to play a gig), his music lives on through these wonderful albums --and through the soundtrack on Decca, featuring not only Nichols but Louis Armstrong. Their duets, through placed in fictionalized scenes, stand as a legitimate audio document of two of the earliest and most influential cornetist/trumpeters in history playing together--in glorious, analog stereo. I'll join the others who've commented on this film in wishing that this wonderful soundtrack would be released on CD. (Not outside the realm of possibility: the soundtrack of "Pete Kelly's Blues, from the same time period, has just appeared on who knows?)

For both traditional jazz fans, and those who appreciate wholesomely uplifting (but NOT goody-goody) film, this movie is a treasure.
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Danny Kaye - neglected superstar needs re-discovering.
ianlouisiana6 November 2005
When I was growing up Danny Kaye was a huge figure.All over the radio,on records TV and the movies,you couldn't escape from his face or voice. He made successful tours of top rate theatrical venues in the uk,he could sing,dance,act,write comedy routines and song lyrics.His stage act was an explosion of energy and sheer talent.He was-in the ludicrously overused sense of the term-a superstar. In "The Five Pennies" we catch him at the height of his powers as an actor,singer and lyricist(to his wife Sylvia Fine's enchanting tunes) With a strong guest appearance by arguably the finest jazz musician who ever lived and some really clever songs(The Five Pennies,Lullaby in Ragtime and Goodnight all use the same chord sequence). It was a success de cash rather than a success d'estime like most of Kaye's movies,and perhaps that's why his work is largely neglected in critical circles today. As Gloria Swanson said in "Sunset Boulevard,"I'm still big,the movies got smaller"
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Danny Kaye at his best( was he ever anything else)
sdhalfon26 July 2004
my favorite bit of this film is at the end, I care not how factual it is. I find a lump in my throat every single time I see it and I am usually blubbing like a baby by the end credits. It is a wonderful story of a very talented man and of a great time in musical history, the scenes with 'Satchmo' Louis Armstrong are another particular favorite as he usually steals the scene. The little girl actress put s in a fine and mature performance as 'Red' Nicols's daughter. But as usual Danny Kaye is nothing short of majestic he is perfectly at home miming to Lorne 'Red' Nicols cornet playing. The story is beautiful as is the acting. Don't forget to pack your Kleenex when you watch it though. Excellent family entertainment twenty out of ten......
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A Powerful and Compelling Work of Art
PWNYCNY27 July 2005
Danny Kaye is known for his comic roles; for his laughter, his singing, his dancing, his light-hearted humor. But this movie presents a different Danny Kaye - serious, brooding, consumed with guilt, confronted by really serious problems - and here Danny Kaye shines. This movie is proof that if he had to, Danny Kaye could have been one of the greatest dramatic actors in the history of motion pictures. There is no question about that. In this movie, Kaye puts aside the clowning to play a subdued, moody and introspective character who nevertheless is still likable and worthy of attention. And it works! In the movie he wins over the audience, he wins over his family, he wins over his friends. And who can ever forget the scene with Louis Armstrong? Kaye's character overcomes all obstacles to triumph and to be loved. Only a highly skilled and sensitive actor could have done the job, and in this movie Danny Kaye proved that he had the requisite qualities to transform what could have been little more than a sudsy soap opera into a powerful statement about a man who, along with his family, not only survives but sets an example for others. For this reason, this movie is a powerful and compelling work of art.
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10 stars for the music burned in my head since the 60ies...
MarjaSofia6 February 2005
... but I could never see the movie yet. Still, it partly saved my life when I was dying of a very bad pneumonia and was floating in between the two worlds. I didn't yet understand English, but the soundtrack of The Five Pennies played on the vinyl record (don't ask me how my Finnish parents got to possess it) went through my conscience and kept me on the living side. I can still sing one voice of the lullaby hearing Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong singing the other voices in my head. I'm lucky to be able to hear them without any technical device.

Now, by a coincidence I fall on this movie I never saw - so important in my life - on VHS / NTSC in Amazon. I live in Europe... No way being able to see it. Do you really mean that there's no DVD of it yet ? I seem to be not the only one wishing for it.
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I liked this movie
jsoneal5 July 2002
This is an excellent musical in the old style where the songs either help progress the plot or fit in with the story line. All the music is well done. How can you lose with Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong singing your songs? Just heard that Susan Gordon (she played the daughter at 6) is on broadway in a play after 35 years away from the stage. Enjoy.
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Sentimental biography of Dixieland trumpeter Red Nichols
MikeB-926 February 1999
This is the sentimental biography of the life of Ernest Loring (Red) Nichols, a trumpeter/band leader during the 1930's. Danny Kaye does a great job playing Red and Barbara Belgeddes plays his wife, Bobbie. Tuesday Weld plays his daughter, Dorothy. The movie follows Red through his career as a great jazz trumpeter who gives up music for family. A must see for Danny Kaye and Big Band fans. Some of the members of Red's "Five Pennies", as his band was known, were Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey. Louis Armstrong puts on a stellar musical performance as himself. Red Nichols does the trumpet solos. Great music, good family viewing.
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This is what classics are made of...
Tweek30 January 2000
I'm 15 years old and when I saw this movie for the first time about a year ago, I feel in love with it. It is the perfect combo of comedy, romance, and drama. I am a writer and I always add a little of all of those emotions into my stories because it makes it more believeable and realistic as well as more touching. I am now a Danny Kaye fan. He is a wonderful actor and singer. Whenever I see him on while flipping the channels, I will stop and watch. I am also now a fan of classic films of the 1930s and beyond.
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Nice Sounds In This Classic Film
ccthemovieman-111 May 2006
The Five Pennies Danny Kaye plays Red Nichols, a famous coronet player of yesteryear. I found this story a notch better "fair" and nicely aided by the musical talent of Louis Armstrong. Kaye and Armstrong's duet on "When The Saints Go Marching In" is the highlight of the film.

For a classic movie, the stereo in here is amazing, especially on the songs. In one instance, there are three people singing and their voices all coming out separately on different speakers. Pretty good for just the tape. Now that a DVD has been released, I wonder what the sound on that is like?

The story starts to lag a bit near the end when Kaye starts to feel sorry for himself and this goes on and on as he retires from playing. However, there is a nice, sentimental upbeat ending.

Notes: Kaye and Barbara Bel Geddes, who plays Red's wife "Bobbie," never age in the film even though it spans 15 or more years! It's interesting to see Tuesday Weld as a teenager.
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Now available on DVD!
Eric Skeen3 January 2006
I first watched this movie as a youngster of about 10 years of age, and even at that tender age it filled me with great pleasure. I subsequently bought the LP and played it often enough - enough to start wearing out my favourite tracks. Every so often I used to browse various movie catalogues, and suddenly I froze: The movie would be released in DVD format mid-December 2005! I "pre-ordered" my copy, patiently waited for it to arrive, and then Viola! My movie arrived, I watched it, wiped away a tear or two, enjoyed some foot-stomping music and watched true human drama being enacted. This movie is a must, especially for fans of Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong. The cornet is played by the "real" Red Nichols, and is absolutely brilliant! This movie will be enjoyed by all ages and is good, clean wholesome fun, something which is so lacking in most of today's movies. Add it to your collection, you cannot afford to miss this one!
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loggie-128 January 2008
I was A teenager when I saw this movie i was so impressed and I was crying my eyes out when his little girl took ill. I do wish that more films like this will be made in the future, Danny Kaye was a wonderful actor Can you tell me if these sort of musical films will ever be screened on television in S A .I did once try to contact T C M but up to date I have Heard Nothing . Films on Turner Classic Movies keeps on showing the same films year in and year out ,seldom that you might see a new movie. Can you email me of more names of films That Danny Kaye acted in would also like to here of any other musical films like the daughter of Rosie O Grady
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Music From
gmo-424 February 2000
My favorite parts of this movie are when Danny Kaye sings the title song to the little girl(Susan Gordon) and then later she sings the song while Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong sing other songs. Does anyone know where or how to get the sheet music for the title song from this movie?
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One of the best music film of all times
ebiros215 November 2011
Very moving movie based on the life of Red Nichols.

If I may dare to say this, this is better music film than the venerable Benny Goodman Story. Performance, the music, and story is all first class. I know this movie influenced many people, one of them being my friend who picked up clarinet after seeing this movie. The movie is very inspirational in terms of family value. Despite his profession, Red is portrayed as a solid family man which probably wasn't too far from the fact. He was also known to be a consummate professional, and a hard worker.

In this movie we get to see the values of American people of 80 years ago. Back then polio was crippling many people, as it happened to Nichol's daughter. If it was today, I don't think the husband and wife would have stayed married if the husband was traveling around the country in his band.

This movie is the best of its kind, and will forever remain a classic.
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David Daniel Kaminsky.... Greatest Performer to Ever Live?
Will Dunn14 August 2011
This movie was made 36 years before I was born. Danny Kaye died 7 years before I was born. I am 17 now and first saw this movie about 3 years ago. Danny Kaye was decades before my time, yet he is one of the greatest inspirations/influences on my life. I am a trumpet player and this movie inspires me in ways you wouldn't imagine. I was a little 'misty-eyed' during the scene where Loring comes out from being sick in the toilets and Willa says "remember, it doesn't really matter that you'll never be the greatest cornet player in the world" to which he answers by playing one of the greatest cornet pieces I've ever heard. This movie to me is about a man who defies a world telling him that he'll never make it as a horn player. 'The Five Pennies' will be admired by me forever for producing a quote I have lived my life by since I first heard it. "someday you'll all be working for me..." ^^that quote alone is worth a perfect 10/10 for me
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the best among the best
joseyamuni13 May 2002
It's a brilliant, pure comedy and until frank. Also, it is very human and sensitive that allows to find noble and hopeful feelings. From the musical point of view it's excellent, and the medley (Good Night Sleep Tight - Lullaby in ragtime - Five little pennies) is a true and wonderful discovery. The performances are memorable. The grace of Danny Kaye is incomparable, and the charisma of Satchmo flows naturally.
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Great Musical History
musicman-931 October 1998
The story of Red Loring is great family entertainment, both for its presentation of the music of the pre-war era, and in showing the strength needed to fight the medical system and follow the methods of Sister Kenny. If you don't know who Sister Kenny is, then watch and learn. If you've ever tapped your feet to the sounds of Satchmo, then you'll love these little tear jerker.
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A good time was had by all! (spoiler)
CheeryToes1 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This was a Danny Kaye movie I'd never seen, I don't know how I missed it. It's so different from most of the movies of his I've seen. He's so so good at comedy, you don't realize how good he is at drama, too. He doesn't play the coronet in this film, the man he portrays (Red Nichols) does. I had to look Red up and read all about him and because I watched this movie on Amazon,I was able to switch screens and look things up as they happened (I'm curious that way). They do a good job mirroring his life, the movie drags a bit (SPOILER) when he leaves music for his daughter, and gets a bit maudlin, but other than that it's great music (I have the sound track now) great fun and another win for Danny Kaye. Danny and Sachmo together are worth the price of admission. Fantastic, the chemistry, the voices the musicality - loved it!
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A solid sender
bkoganbing25 February 2013
In his career Danny Kaye played two real life people in biographical films. One was Hans Christian Andersen, the second was Ernest Lorring 'Red' Nichols in The Five Pennies. Nichols was a redhead and with his flaming carrot top Danny Kaye was only one of two people that could have done the role, the other being Red Buttons.

The real Red Nichols was a jazz pioneer who played Dixieland with a lot of the great musicians of the time. The film sticks pretty close to the facts of his life. Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman all did play with his band and all became legends of their own. The part that Harry Guardino plays as Tony Valenti in real life was a gentleman named Miff Mole who was Nichols best friend and fellow organizer of his Dixieland group. According to the Wikipedia article on Nichols he never stuck with only five musicians, but always kept that band name while he led it.

Probably there was more of Danny Kaye than the real Red Nichols in The Five Pennies. But for those of us who are big fans of his that's all right too. Danny's wife and collaborator Sylvia Fine contributed a few songs for him and some jazz standards are interpolated.

It is absolutely true that Nichols did leave the music business for a while when his daughter contracted polio. The daughter is played by Susan Gordon and Tuesday Weld at various ages and Barbara Bel Geddes gives some good support as his loyal and faithful wife.

No film about Dixieland would have been complete without Louis Armstrong making an appearance. That impromptu jam session with Armstrong wailing out Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey is a solid sender with the real Red Nichols playing with Danny Kaye miming the effect. Just like Harry James did for Kirk Douglas in Young Man With A Horn.

Certainly with Red Nichols doing the trumpet for Kaye his seal of approval on the film is without saying. As they did say in Nichols line of work, this film is a solid sender.
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"The Five Pennies" Hits Most of the Right Notes; Enjoyable But a Bit Long
D_Burke30 May 2009
"The Five Pennies" is an easy movie to fall in love with. It's part musical, part comedy, part drama, and a biopic before the word was ever used. It's enjoyable on nearly every level, and probably one of Danny Kaye's best starring roles. Although the film is 50 years old, the DVD format is its saving grace because the sound and color have been properly restored, and it's a good thing, too.

Danny Kaye is perhaps the best thing about this movie. He remains one of the only comedians whose comedy remained 100% clean while still being funny. He truly shows his talent here for both being funny and musical, even though he faked playing the trumpet. Perhaps his best scenes were with Louis Armstrong, especially when he sings their rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In". That scene is a riot, and really shows how truly talented both performers were. There's no doubt that scene was improvised.

The movie told a really good story, even though it may be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a biopic. Judging from the fact that I had never heard of Red Nichols before seeing this movie and was still interested in knowing more about him after the movie was complete, this movie probably did it's job well about making the man worth knowing about. The DVD should have included some facts about the man and the legend, but you can't always get the special edition DVDs all the time.

That being said, there was about 20 minutes that could have been cut out of the movie. Especially in the later parts with Nichols' daughter, some of the movie dragged a little bit and felt a bit slow compared to what it was in the beginning. It could be because when Nichols went into semi-retirement, he became disgruntled because music wasn't a part of his life anymore. Seeing Kaye go from happy-go-lucky to irritable was a bit much. It's not to say that those parts shouldn't have belonged. It's just that the pacing could have been steadier, and made that part of the film more interesting.

Other than that, the movie was very good and a true testament both to the power of jazz music and to the immense talent of Danny Kaye. I actually want to see more of Kaye's films after seeing this one. For that reason, the movie is memorable, worth seeing, and I recommend it.
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Nichols and dimes musical
jc-osms24 March 2009
A film I have warm memories of seeing as a youngster, re-watching it recently through grown-up eyes showed up to me its faults to the slight but not complete detriment of my viewing pleasure. I will admit to surprise though that it attracted the attention of the Academy at Oscar time as it does seem undeserving of the highest accolades.

What to like in the first place; well of course the engaging Danny Kaye is always watchable but here, I think, he brings too much of his trick-bag to the table to the extent that you never really believe you're watching an accurate depiction of the real Red Nichols, who I can't imagine goofing off here and tongue-twisting there as Kaye always does. His best scenes, naturally given his history of family entertainment musicals and indeed future as a UNESCO ambassador, are with children, particularly his growing daughter, handicapped from an early age by polio. The scenes requiring acting depth, for example when his marriage is under strain or when he's depressed at having to work in the shipyards, outside of music, expose his range; you know he's happier giving "Ala Kazam Kazam" handshakes to his daughter. Barbara Bel Geddes is pleasant both of voice (assuming she wasn't dubbed by a real singer) and demeanour and gives good support.

As for the music, not really being a Dixieland jazz buff myself, I found it hard to warm to extended improvisations of "Old MacDonald" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and it seems ridiculous to try and dress up late 1950's Louis Armstrong as the young "Hot Band" prototype of 30 years previously. There's also some poor lip-sync-hing by Satchmo in his solo numbers which is too obviously noticeable. I also didn't get the day-glo, in-and-out-of-focus camera-work, which for me jarringly modernised and stylised the supposed recreations of 1920's and 30's jazz clubs.

The film goes for the big sentimental double-whammy climax of Nichols' daughter overcoming her disability just as he confronts his own demons by getting back on stage and blowing his horn, with the support, again naturally, of his stellar fellow-travellers like Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa et. al. who've all gone onto great success having got their start with Nichols. For me though, a lot of the stuff on view here seems apocryphal and just doesn't ring true, (most critiques I've read do state the film is only "loosely based" on Nichols' story). Of course this is an old Hollywood failing but for me the bowdlerisation was just too blatant.

All that said though, it's certainly a colourful and tuneful, if very old-fashioned and over sentimental entertainment.
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A man and his coronet
jotix10021 November 2009
Red Nichols arrived in New York, having been hired by Wil Paradise to play his trumpet with his band. Nichols, a talented man from Ogden, Utah, didn't care much for the music Paradise was playing at the time. New York in the 1920s was the place to be because of the music that was being created. Nichols had a bad effect on band leaders, as he tended to irritate them with his comments. He worked on radio, which was broadcast live, but he always managed to enrage the right people.

One good thing that came out of those experiences was meeting Willa Stutsman, whom he married. Nichols made a name for himself with the band he created. It toured the country extensively, until his daughter Dorothy was born. The young girl had to be given an education and a nurturing place in which to learn and develop. Unfortunately, the girl wanted to be with her parents. When she developed polio, Nichols' world came crashing down on him and his wife. They decided to move to California where the climate would be better for the girl and he ended up working on a ship yard during the days of WWII.

It was through some of the musicians that had played for Nichols, like Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and many others that Red made a somewhat successful, if small, come back doing the kind of music he liked. Red Nichols left behind a lot of pleasant songs that will be considered standards and will never die.

Melville Shavelson contributed to the screenplay and also directed this biopic that is seldom seen these days. The film offers a glimpse to the man that loved music and is defeated because of the love for his daughter. Danny Kaye made a valuable contribution in giving life to Red Nichols. Mr. Kaye was a man who always managed to be funny in a subtle kind of way, as he shows here. Best thing in the film is his duet with Louis Armstrong in a rendition of "When the Saints go Marching In". The star also shows he could blow a horn.

The supporting cast is excellent. Barbara Bel Geddes does a fine job with her "Bobbie", as Willa called herself professionally. Harry Guardino is impressive because of his fine take of Tony Valani, the man that saw Nichols' talent from the start. Tuesday Weld appears as the teenager Dorothy and Susan Gordon plays her as a young girl.

The film will not disappoint thanks to the great work of its star, Danny Kaye.
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The most disappointing movie of 1959!
JohnHowardReid21 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
According to producer Jack Rose, The Country Girl is all wrong. "No nice Jewish wife would allow her husband to go on drinking like that! She'd make him leave show business and get a nice steady job as a riveter instead!"

"That's right!" I agreed. "The problem is that the movie itself would then peter out!"

"That's easy!" replied Jack. "Remember that scene in Yankee Doodle Dandy where Jimmy Cagney is all retired on his farm and these teeny-boppers sling off at him because they've never heard of him. So the Cagney character sees the light and makes a comeback! The End!"

Alas, for all Jack's insights, The Five Pennies is an incredibly tedious, overly domesticated musical, a chore even for Danny Kaye's most rabid fans – although they might find his self-indulgent singing and mugging, corny lyrics and overblown verbal idiocies less embarrassing than the rest of us. In fact, everything is so weighted in Kaye's favor, he is hardly ever off-screen. Aside from Barbara Bel Geddes, who has a more than her fair share of domestic bickering, the rest of this movie's players are given extremely short shrift. Talented Bob Crosby, for instance, is mercilessly ridiculed by the egocentric Nichols, whilst Ray Anthony is reduced to little more than an extra.

To add insult to injury, the blink-and-you'll-miss-him guest appearance by Bob Hope has been removed from the TV print, even though Kaye still has his line, "Even Bob Hope is leaving!"

Tuesday Weld, making her entrance when the movie is virtually over, gamely struggles through her thankless role. But fortunately, nothing can put down the fabulous Louis Armstrong – not even the cornball new lyrics for "The Saints Are Marching In". And Mr. Nicholas still plays a mean cornet! Otherwise, the film is a drag, thanks to its tedious script, over-the-top "acting" by Kaye and – to a lesser extent – Barbara Bel Geddes plus Melville Shavelson's indifferent direction. The editing is snail-paced and – aside from Fapp's pleasing color photography – production values limited. And would you believe, all the musical orchestrations are modern. Here is a movie with no sense of period whatever!
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The washed-out Japanese print of The Five Pennies I saw on YouTube wasn't a deterrent for me enjoying it
tavm6 August 2012
Just watched a Japanese-dubbed version of this movie on YouTube though the songs are intact in the original English-dubbed versions. Good thing I found one of the scenes-the one where Danny Kaye is playing poker with pre-teen daughter Susan Gordon who's bluffing-in the actual American print so I understood that scene when I then watched the version I mentioned at the beginning of this review. I also read the synopsis of this on Wikipedia beforehand so that also helped me fill in the blanks as well. Anyway, with all that said, I really enjoyed this biopic of musician Red Nichols which I know is loosely based on his life and Kaye's performance as him. Yeah, I recognized some of Danny's trademark facial expressions and voice sounds whenever he did those to cheer up his daughter but he also did some good dramatic scenes like when he found out that daughter had polio. Barbara Bel Geddes was also pretty good as wife Willa Slutsman along with Ms. Gordon and Tuesday Weld as Dorothy Nichols when growing from child to teen. But the real highlights are some numbers by Kaye and Louis Armstrong who really pull out the stops in entertainment, with some nice help from Ms. Gordon there as well. By the way, this was the same Susan Gordon who appeared in some of her father Bert I. Gordon's movies. Oh, and while I know Ms. Bel Geddes' singing was dubbed by Eileen Wilson, her lip movements during some of her songs would've convinced me if I didn't know. Hope to one day see the actual American print of this movie. But despite the washed out video print I watched on YT, I enjoyed The Five Pennies just the same.
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