A remake of a remake, director Walter Lang’s On the Riviera (1951) is a third rate sexual farce crudely distilled into decidedly second rate musical-comedy. The story of a nightclub entertainer whose uncanny likeness to a wealthy businessman leads to all sorts of romantic conflicts when he is asked to sub in for the real McCoy had been a successful Broadway show, first tried in the movies with the marvelous and very naughty Maurice Chevalier in Marcel Achard’s glamorous and frothy Folies Bergère de Paris (1935 – and as yet to be released to home video except on VHS…for shame!!!). Chevalier, then the epitome of the continental lover/irreproachable cad is in full flourish in Folies Bergère de Paris, its Busby Berkeley-eque production values the pluperfect complement to Archard’s ultra-light touch in dealing with its salacious sexuality even under the stringencies of Hollywood’s newly instituted production code.
The property was later cleansed of most of its entendre and tricked out with the adroit Don Ameche and Fox’s ultra-garish/glossy Technicolor, rechristened as Irving Cummings’ That Night In Rio (1941); the compensations topped off by the very saucy appeal of Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda . On this third trip to the well, the hand-me-down goes to consummate comedian, Danny Kaye whose scene-stealing ham is best served by ‘Popo the Puppet’ – one of only four songs padding out Valentine Davies, Phoebe Ephron, and, Henry Ephron’s rather tepid screenplay. Regrettably Kaye, equally noted for his on-screen charm as he was for his behind-the-scenes demands, seems to have hit a brick wall on this outing; the material too dull for even his ebullient machinations to salvage. Worse, the artifice of the exercise is strained at best – the musical numbers mere inserts that mire the already turgid plot, this time rounded out by two very ineffectual performances from Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvert – neither making much of a splash, though each undeniably looking the part of the haughty glamor gal.
On the Riviera is a careworn chestnut at best, the cast merely going through the motions of its already weather-beaten warhorse of a plot. Almost from the first frame of film immediately following its opening credits the story runs out of steam, Lang’s direction so woefully laconic that even he wants to be rid of telling the tale thrice removed from its source material. If there remains anything at all to appreciate from this endeavor it is Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler’s production design and Leon Shamroy’s glowing usage of Technicolor. Shamroy was a master of his medium - a true visual artist - and he gives the movie its blistering splash of cartoony color that bodes well with the ‘Riviera’ setting but also serves to remind us just how colorless the performances are by direct comparison.
Kaye is Jack Martin, an American entertainer who bears a striking resemblance to international playboy and pilot, Henri Duran (Davies/Ephron’s thinly veiled attempt at a Howard Hughes knock-off). While Martin is headlining a fashionable hot spot on the Riviera, Duran has just completed a transcontinental journey by air in a prototype plane that is sure to land him lucrative contracts to build other commercial craft for passenger travel. Martin is dating the fiery Colette (Corinne Calvert) – a chorus girl with a very suspicious mind. Duran is married to – but seemingly disinterested in - Lili (the unbelievably stunning fashion plate known elsewhere as Gene Tierney).
On the surface it all looks so glam-bam perfect – the idle rich being idolized and ogled by their jet set and/or theatrical entourages. Unfortunately for Martin, he is about to be fired by his boss, Gapeux (Sig Ruman) even though his act is drawing patrons by the thousands. Meanwhile, Duran is going to lose a billion dollar deal to build aircraft if he doesn’t fly to London immediately for a conference. The problem – his departure will give rival financier Felix Periton (Jean Murat) a heads up and quite possibly allow the scoop of the century to take place. What to do? What to do? To help smooth out the wrinkles, Duran’s associates decide to hire Martin to impersonate him so that Duran can be in two places at once. Martin agrees to this fraud only if Lili knows nothing about the switch. Naturally, romantic confusions abound.
On The Riviera is, frankly, a snore. It lacks the über sophistication of Folies Bergère de Paris, or the splashy excitement of That Night in Rio. In its place, director Lang is heavily relying on the usually peerless Danny Kaye to keep the enterprise afloat. It might have worked, but doesn’t; chiefly because Kaye seems an awkward fit at best – the plot allowing him no moment to exercise his formidable bravado, but merely to occasionally suggest more while offering the audience less. The plot – such as it is – and robbed of its more flirtatious devices is wafer thin, made even more antiseptic by the production code’s excision of nearly all the double talk and entendre that might otherwise have made for a sinfully playful little détente and/or romantic farce. Kaye is as Kaye does; brilliant in his caricatures during the musical portions, though limited in his comic appeal and rather flat elsewhere – particularly in his romantic sparring with both Colette and Lili. Corinne Calvert has assumed the mantel from Carmen Miranda in the 1941 version and is a fresh face with a killer body but precious little else to offer.
Calvert makes the least of her appearance, as does Gene Tierney – wholly wasted as the spurned wife. The outstanding performance yet to be mentioned comes from unaccredited dancer Gwen Verdon whose sultry can-can in violet blue ostrich feathers breaks up the monotony during the latter act. It’s too little too late, however, and On The Riviera sinks like a stone under its own weighty bore of a plot. None of the three aforementioned incarnations is a masterpiece, but Folies Bergère de Paris is arguably the best because of Chevalier who could practically get away with reading the telephone book in his Gaelic accent and still sooth. Don Ameche is a credible second choice. And That Night in Rio has some very effective production numbers and, of course, the added extra of Carmen Miranda who is never anything less than magnetic when she is on the screen. On the Riviera has neither advantage and what’s left isn’t enough to sustain our interest. Why Fox should choose to release it before the aforementioned titles is, frankly, a mystery.
Fox Home Video’s Blu-ray improves on its DVD release from 2005 with a fairly sparkling 1080p transfer. Colors are rich, bold and exotically vibrant. There seems to be an issue with color fluctuation, however. Flesh tones can appear a tad pasty and/or overly pink and then ruddy brown – not just from scene to scene but cut to cut. Contrast levels are also problematic, several sequences looking much too dark. Whites are clean and bright; blacks, deep and velvety. Everything tightens up as it should. And yet, the image isn’t all that impressive on the whole, but looking rather average (to just a tad below) for a Technicolor feature. The audio is 1.0 DTS mono. Extras are all imports from Fox’s DVD and include a very brief ‘making of’: The Riviera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation, nearly a half hour bio on Danny Kaye that effectively covers both the actor’s career and contributions to UNICEF and a less than 10 min. tribute to choreographer Jack Cole.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)