On the Double (1961)
“You’ll double up laughing when you see Mr. Fun On The Run!”
Director: Melville Shavelson
Cast: Danny Kaye, Dana Wynter, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Synopsis: Cowardly GI Ernie Williams is asked to impersonate British Colonel MacKenzie, to whom he bears a close resemblance. However, what Ernie hasn’t been told is that MacKenzie is the target of assassins.
Danny Kaye’s movie career was all but over by the time Paramount released this ordinary comedy in 1961, with just a couple more screen credits to follow in the next decade. He’d had a trio of flops in the late 1950s, and yet after a couple of years break, he seemed to have learned nothing from their failure because not only does On the Double add nothing new to Kaye’s repertoire, it also saddles him with a dull plot which the comedy isn’t strong enough to bolster.
Kaye is lowly pfc Ernie Williams, an American soldier in the UK who has a flair for imitation and who is also the spitting image of British Colonel Mackenzie-Smith, a vain martinet whom, we’re informed by Wilfred Hyde-White’s intermittent narration, is nevertheless important enough for Hitler himself to issue an order to kill. He’s also important enough for the British army to ‘persuade’ Williams into posing as a decoy to divert German spies away from their real target, although they keep the matter of the death threat away from Williams. Naturally enough, he figures it out for himself when the bullets start flying, and it’s only the fragrant presence of the Colonel’s wife, Lady Margaret (Dana Wynter) that stops him going AWOL.
Colonel Somerset (Hyde-White), the army officer responsible for Williams standing in for the Colonel, promised him that he would be coached in every aspect of the Colonel’s life in order to ensure his deceit isn’t uncovered, but he does a lousy job of it. Not only is Williams caught off guard when his shapely chauffeur Sergeant Stanhope (Diana Dors) plants a wet and warm one on him the moment they’re alone together, he’s also unaware that Mackenzie-Smith’s mother died two years earlier. His ignorance of this fact convinces an already suspicious Lady Margaret that the man posing as her husband is an impostor, but her previously frosty attitude towards him – due to her husband’s heavy drinking and philandering – melts away once Williams comes clean and she realises just what a nice guy he is. And although Williams is hopeless at fooling Mackenzie-Smith’s nearest and dearest – tyrannical Aunt Vivian (Margaret Rutherford) also sees right through him – he’s good enough to fool the Nazi spies, who promptly abduct him and smuggle him to Germany for interrogation (even though Hitler told them to kill him).
Although Kaye enjoyed a long career on TV and stage, he was something of a one-trick pony on the screen, so it’s no wonder that his movie career didn’t last as long as it would be reasonable to expect. Like Bob Hope, Kaye essentially played the same character over and over again – a timid, nervous bumbler with low self-esteem – but as his star rose, Kaye’s directors seemed less inclined to rein in his excesses so that, in a movie like this, we’re subjected to endless mugging and face-pulling as Kaye indulges himself at the expense of his co-stars and the growing irritation of his audience. On the Double is nothing more than a showcase for Kaye’s all-too-familiar talents, with class acts like Rutherford and Hyde-White wasted in pointless supporting roles. Given the comic reputation Kaye still enjoys, it says a lot when the most memorable moment of this entire movie is the one in which Kaye as Mackenzie-Smith appears to slap Kaye as pfc Williams on the back…
(Reviewed 17th December 2013)