Merry Andrew (1958): Danny Kaye Musical Comedy, Helmed by Choreographer Michael Kidd in his Directing Debut

Michael Kidd, better known as a choreographer, made a so-so directing debut with the musical comedy Merry Andrew, starring Danny Kaye at the peak of his popularity.

The screenplay by Isobel Lennart and I.A.L. Diamond is based on the short story “The Romance of Henry Menafee” by Paul Gallico.

Saul Chaplin composed the music and Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for the film’s score.

Kaye plays Andrew Larabee, a teacher at a school run by his headmaster father Matthew, a traditional man who disapproves of his son’s unconventional methods despite his popularity with the students.

Andrew’s special interest is archaeology, and he hopes to earn his father’s respect through this field of study.

During the school holidays, Andrew bicycles to ancient ruins in Sussex where he believes statue of Pan (which had been left behind by a Roman legion) can be found. Such a discovery would enable him to publish and subsequently wed Letitia Fairchild, his fiancée of five years, who insists he earn a promotion before she marries him.

At the site he encounters the Gallini family traveling circus, which has been ordered to pack up and leave by the local police since the land is now property of dairy farmer Lord Elmwood. The five Gallini brothers and their cousin Selena mistake Andrew for a contractor, and when he tells them he doesn’t mind if they remain, the Gallinis halt their “pulling up stakes”.

Lord Elmwood threatens to remove both Andrew and the circus, but Andrew realizes he’s former fellow Oxford University student with a checkered romantic past. Chastened by Andrew’s threat of blackmail, Lord Elmwood agrees to give Andrew and the Gallinis a week before he starts construction.

Andrew discovers a tunnel on the site and burrows through its ceiling and directly into the middle of the lion act during a performance. His amusingly masterful way with the animals impresses Selena, who tells him he is a born entertainer, and she teaches him to juggle.

When ringmaster Antonio suffers from laryngitis, Andrew is coaxed into replacing him at the matinee. Unfortunately, Letitia and Andrew’s brother Dudley decide to attend the circus, so Andrew is disguised as Antonio.

Needing padding to fit into Antonio’s clothes, Andrew is given a RAF safety life jacket with a whistle, smoke and emergency flares — all of which cause havoc in mid-speech and marking Andrew as natural clown.

After the performance, Selena is jealousy at the sight of Andrew and Letitia together, and later follows Andrew into the tunnel. While digging, Andrew inadvertently causing a cave-in which traps both of them overnight.

Angelina the chimpanzee, who is tied to a stake by a rope, attempts to get a banana which has been thrown to her out of her reach. As Angelina pulls on the rope, the stake moves, causing the earth around it to collapse and revealing Andrew and Selena.

Antonio and his sons accuse Andrew of improper behavior with Selena and, to save family honor, insist the two wed.

Angelina the chimpanzee then finds the Pan statue and conceals it in her cage. Andrew convinces Selena his obligations at school override their wedding plans and returns home. He discovers his father has promoted him and Letitia is ready to accept him as her husband — with their marriage having also been set to take place on the following Saturday. The night before the ceremony, Selena brings Andrew the statue of Pan which Angelina had given to her.

Andrew’s class has performed well in their last test, and the Headmaster promises them a treat. However, when the boys choose the Gallini Circus, Andrew refuses to take them there.

The boys disappear on the day of the wedding, and Andrew tracks them back to the circus. His father and brothers discover the statue of Pan.

Accompanied by Letitia and her father, Andrew’s father and brothers follow him to the circus where they find Andrew chased by the Gallini brothers. Confronted by the upset families, he admits that he loves Selena.

Dudley and Letitia drive away on their honeymoon, Matthew blesses to Andrew for carrying a fine family tradition (their ancestor Thomas Larabee had been jester in the court of King James the First).

A happy Andrew then leaves with his bride-to-be Selena and members of the Gallini family.

The film had its premiere in Singapore on February 20, 1958, thus becoming the first Hollywood premiere of a major film in southeast Asia.

The critics complained about the vehicle’s lack of original or inventive ideas, noting the obvious and narrowly confined comical contrivance for a genial performer like Kaye to command. Others singled out the fact that C. Siegel MGM production did not maintain its own high comedy values, and the lack of experience of novice director Kidd, especially in matters of pacing.

The movie failed at the box-office, earning $1,180,000 in the US and $2,350,000 elsewhere, recording a loss of $837,000.

Cast
Danny Kaye as Andrew Larabee
Pier Angeli as Selena Gallini
Salvatore Baccaloni as Antonio Gallini
Patricia Cutts as Letitia Fairchild
Noel Purcell as Matthew Larabee
Robert Coote as Dudley Larabee
Rex Evans as Gregory Larabee
Tommy Rall as Ugo Gallini
Walter Kingsford as Mr. Fairchild
Rhys Williams as Police constable