Is There Anything Finer?

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“Gay Guffaws Galore!”  The recent DVD release of four of Danny’s Kaye’s 1940s Goldwyn films serves as a reminder of a lovely pairing that occurred in the first film, UP IN ARMS. I don’t mean the partnership of Danny Kaye with Samuel Goldwyn, but the  collaboration of Dinah Shore and Harold Arlen.

This 1944 Technicolor extravaganza was Danny’s feature film debut and Goldwyn outfitted the comedian with enough padding to fill a three-ring circus.  Elaborate sets, dozens of nubile Goldwyn Girls, outlandish costumes, Daliesque dream sequences and Danny set in the middle of it all like a gleaming diamond in a platinum setting.  Kaye is provided with several trademark patter numbers, written by wife Sylvia Fine, that gave Warner Brothers cartoons enough material for Daffy Duck to parody for years.

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In the middle of the frenzy stands Dinah Shore. In this, her second feature film, she radiates warmth and a cool brunette sexiness, quite a difference from her later blond extrovert TV personality.

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Dinah’s jazz chops have always been overlooked. She had strong Dixie roots from her Southern upbringing and years spent on the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street radio series.  Her choice to go the pop, rather than jazz route, has worked against her in the view of music historians, who liken her more to Kate Smith than Anita O’Day.

Dinah had a big hit with Harold Arlen’s “Blues in the Night” a few years earlier, so he was a natural choice to craft her two numbers for the movie.  With his old Cotton Club lyricist Ted Koehler, Arlen created two winners – a sinuous ballad, “Now I Know,” and a swing tune, “Tess’s Torch Song.”  Dinah’s performances are definitive and she is, thankfully, given full charge of the screen for both of them.  These song sequences are the only relief from wall-to-wall Danny and they are most welcome.

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Due to the onerous 1942-44 musicians’ record ban, neither song got much public attention. Dinah did manage to record them both – “Now I Know” for RCA, in an a capella rendition backed solely by a doo-wah chorus; and “Tess’s Torch Song” for Columbia in 1947, by which time the song had been totally forgotten. A later Dinah LP recording of “Now I Know,” while most welcome, didn’t raise the song’s profile.

Any contemporary singer interested in obscure Harold Arlen would do well to check them out!

Here’s Dinah in the film:

and Johnny Desmond with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in a gorgeous Norman Leyden arrangement, sung in German for a wartime propaganda broadcast:

One thought on “Is There Anything Finer?

  1. I agree about Shore. When I was younger she bored me; now I realize how young and dumb I was. I was not aware she had cut a commercial recording of “Now I Know.” I always thought otherwise, like Dick Powell never making a commercial recording of “I Only Have Eyes for You.” So now I need to go and find a copy! Many thanks!

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