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Hans Christian Andersen not quite, but very entertaining
on March 17, 2000
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) was an Ugly Duckling. He lived in the third largest town Odense, in Denmark. The son of a cobbler he was poverty ridden and a failure as an actor and it wasn't until he moved to Copenhagen and won the patronage of Frederick VI, through his poetry, that he wrote his fairy tales and developed into a swan. Like many artists he wasn't particularly happy, and never did marry, although he was very fond of Jenny Lind (1820-87) the Swedish Nightingale a soprano given the name by P.T. Barnum during her tour of the United States between 1850-52.) Charles Vidor's film does state at the beginning, This is not the story of Hans Christian Andersen but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales. The Danes objected to the way Hans Christian Andersen was portrayed even though Goldwyn had rejected 21 previous manuscripts, so the film company inserted this statement in the credits.
Danny Kaye with his chiselled features does resemble H.C.Andersen when looking at his profile, but apart from this facial feature that's where it stops. Kaye had dark hair but Hollywood soon changed that and he became a blonde, Andersen also had dark hair but he kept it that way.
Unlike some earlier musicals, this film does have a strong story line with loads of songs written by "Baby, It's Cold Outside", Frank Loessen, such as Thumbelina, Ugly Duckling, No Two People, and of course Wonderful Copenhagen. The scenery is very clever, the backgrounds look like illustrations from fairy tale books, but as the camera zooms in to the foreground the buildings and props become three dimensional similar to a pop-up-book.
There are four ballet scenes that I probably found boring back in `52, but revisiting them now, they are visually very interesting, technically I wouldn't know if they are good or mediocre but for a Hollywood musical film, four ballets must of taken an enormous amount of consideration seeing as the film is really for kids. Once again the backdrops for the ballets also resemble fairy tale illustrations and pop-up-books.
Instead of a soprano, Andersen falls in love with a ballet dancer and here's a musical that doesn't have a very happy ending because poor Hans gets mixed up with a married woman. The ballet dancer Doro, is played by Zizi Jeanmaire, and is married to Niels played by Farley Granger. During the last part of the film, the audience is taken behind the scenes of the ballet company playing at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, but this isn't a film of a show included in a show, similar to earlier musicals, but an uplifting musical film with lots of music with catchy tunes helped by a ton of children.
The last ballet scene takes 17 minutes, quite long for a popular movie. In the film Hans writes a story especially for his love Doro, unfortunately Niels locks him in a cupboard so Andersen never sees her perform but has to use his imagination.
The ballet takes place on land and under the ocean. The surface waves are pop-up so that the dancers can be seen dancing in between the swells, it's really very clever visually, and there's no trickery here. Under the sea filled with monsters and witches, the heroine is probably attached to a pulley so that she can be seen swimming for the surface. There are no blue screens in this film, all effects are up-front and work perfectly similar to a staged ballet. Once again the technicolor process is used and this enhances the fairy tale effect with vivid colors.
Hans Christian Andersen fairy stories are not violent when compared to the Grimm brothers, but the themes usually have a lesson, and in the story written for Doro's ballet, "The Little Mermaid," it is saying that aiming for the stars does not always bring happiness, but then of course Walt Disney hadn't yet arrived on the scene and he soon changed that philosophy.