Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

Many a Tale to Tell

Like so many movie reviews I will start this one with this simple fact; the 1952 movie "Hans Christian Andersen" is not a biopic but as it puts it "This is not the story of his life, but a fairytale about this great spinner of fairy tales". Yet if you know anything about Hans Christian Andersen the great spinner of fairy tales you will know that it contains themes relating to his life such as that of unrequited love. But even if you are unaware of Andersen's life other than being a great writer of fairy tales "Hans Christian Andersen" is still a stunning movie with brilliant songs, a stunning ballet sequence which impresses even a non ballet lover and of course Danny Kaye who is simply a joy as he sings Frank Loesser's brilliant songs based on Andersen's well known stories.

Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye - The Inspector General) is the cobbler of Odense although you wouldn't know it because he would rather be off down by the river telling his wonderful stories to children who should be in school whilst he leaves young Peter (Joseph Walsh) to mend shoes. But after the Odense schoolmaster grows tired of his children going to the river rather than school Peter persuades Hans to head with him to wonderful Copenhagen. It is there Hans become smitten by ballet dancer Doro (Zizi Jeanmaire) and whilst learning she is married believes that she is unhappy and secretly wants him leading to him writing "The Little Mermaid" for her.

Zizi Jeanmaire as Doro in Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

I remember watching "Hans Christian Andersen" as a child in the late 70s when it was shown on TV, I only saw it the once until recently when I was lucky to catch it again but it is a movie which never leaves you and brings back nostalgic joy when you watch it again. Why? Well in truth it is two things and the first of those is Danny Kaye who was such a brilliant entertainer that when you saw him once you never forgot him. And "Hans Christian Andersen" is the perfect vehicle for Kaye's talent which amongst many things was the snappy delivery of tongue twisting lyrics. But it is not just his brilliant performance of the music it is also his ability to tell stories in such a way that he connects with the audience as well as the children seated around him on screen. Trust me when I say that if "Hans Christian Andersen" had starred anyone other than Danny Kaye it wouldn't have worked.

The second of those things is Frank Loesser's brilliant songs which once heard are never forgotten be it "Wonderful Copenhagen", "No Two People" or "Thumbelina" which was nominated for an Academy Award. Of course Loesser had the wonderful writing of Andersen's fairy tales as a basis but the clever rhyming lyrics with catchy melodies makes them complete. Well complete thanks to Danny Kaye who delivers every song perfectly which lead to the songs and many more being released as a soundtrack.

But as I mentioned earlier "Hans Christian Andersen" also is symbolic of the writer's life which unless you are aware of Andersen's life you will not realise. The main storyline which focuses on Hans's unrequited love for Doro is symbolic of Andersen's own struggles with love often falling for unavailable women. Some people can read further into the stories and relationships in the movie such as his friendship with Peter but all I will say is you don't need to be a Hans Christian Andersen expert to appreciate how good this movie is. And the story of unrequited love gives us two things; Zizi Jeanmaire who as a dancer was also capable of acting and the stunning ballet sequence which even as someone who doesn't care for ballet was blown away by.

What this all boils down to is that "Hans Christian Andersen" is a pure joy to watch with great music, great singing, exceptional dancing and the always wonderful Danny Kaye who makes this movie so brilliant. The only negative and it is a minor moan is that at just short of two hours it is a touch too long for young children.