Sammy Davis and the Wonderful World of Children (1965)

TV Special
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Cast

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Dino, Desi & Billy
Dino Desi & Billy ...
Themselves
Billy Hinsche ...
Dino, Desi & Billy
...
(Dino, Desi & Billy)
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25 November 1965 (USA)  »

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The Candy Man can't.
26 December 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

Sammy Davis Jnr was a dynamically talented performer, whom I always enjoy watching. His talents were at their peak in the mid-1960s, during the period in which this variety special was made. Unfortunately, it's very poor stuff. This musical special tries to make some 'serious' observations about childhood, but it utterly trips over its own earnestness. Sammy Davis was a talented dramatic actor, but he needed good material: here, he's let down by some inept scripting.

If somebody had decided to film 30 minutes of Sammy Davis singing and dancing in front of a wall, it would have made for fascinating viewing. Here, Davis is required to act cuddly with a bunch of child actors, and the results are dire. Davis demonstrates absolutely no rapport with children. And the children here are doing nothing interesting in their own right; we want them to go away so that Sammy can unleash his incredible talents.

The best scene (which isn't very good) occurs right after the beginning. We see some arch and artificial child 'actors' engaged in some heavily scripted 'playing'. Sammy comes along and wants to join them, apparently unaware of the overtones in his behaviour. The children aren't having any, because this game is for kids only, and Sammy isn't a kid. (Smart thinking, kids!) Sammy insists that he should qualify as a kid because he still remembers all the 'rules' of being a kid. To prove it, he reels off a list of rules such as 'cleanliness is next to nothing'. Nobody seems to notice the irony of creating a set of rules to define childhood.

Anyway, this dialogue scene is pretty bad, but it sets up the one good musical number on offer here, performed by Sammy and the kids, called 'Walk Down the Road'. They start off walking down a (studio-bound) 'road', then they gradually start travelling by faster and faster means (all of these acted out in body movements), culminating in a rocketship. This number more than somewhat succeeds in evoking the magic of childhood, in which kids can 'become' a rocketship just by pointing their arms overhead and making a whooshing sound.

Despite the weak material, some of the child performers here show real talent and presence. Special mention should go to Michael Favata, a boy singer featured prominently here, who worked again later with Sammy Davis Jnr in better material.

After 'Walk Down the Road', this show goes downhill rapidly. The back-up music by Dino, Desi & Billy is nothing much: this act had its brief success on the novelty value of its bloodlines: Dino (Dean Paul Martin) was a son of Dean Martin, and Desi was the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Which reminds me: a brilliant book about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was authored by Arthur Marx, a veteran scriptwriter who was also the son of Groucho Marx. He researched this book by interviewing several members of Martin's and Lewis's families. When Dino learnt about his interviewer's background, he excitedly asked him how it felt to be the son of such a famous man. 'You should know,' said Arthur Marx. 'Your father is Dean Martin.' 'Yeah,' replied Dino, 'but YOUR father is GROUCHO MARX!' I wish there was one line of dialogue as funny as that in 'Sammy Davis and the Wonderful World of Children'. I'll rate this very poor special only one point out of 10. You did much better elsewhere, Sammy.


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