william steig drawing

May 21, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen is a splendiferous technicolor wonder. Fairy tales, cute kids, ballet, bergermasters, and 19th century Copenhagen. I’m not sure you could ask for more.

You have already learned of my childhood switch to technicolor. It probably broke your heart. Here we have another staple in my musical roster. If it was safety and security I was after, Hans was the jackpot. The 1952 film is not a biography of Hans Christian Andersen, but rather a “fairytale about this great spinner of fairy tales.” In the film, Hans is a cobbler played by the angel voiced Danny Kaye. Stodgy grown ups have Hans banished from town for filling the children’s heads with joy and laughter, and he and his teen assistant Peter (Joseph Walsh) voyage to Copenhagen to begin anew. Once there, Hans is employed by the Royal Danish Ballet, falls in love with Doro the ballerina (Zizi Jeanmarie), hates the ballerina’s husband (Farley Granger), and is all around totally naive about adult relationships. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s wonderful.

It’s funny to think of this film as a film now. I first watched it as a child, and I watched it and watched it and watched it. Back then, it was just a thing, a wonderful thing, a creation floating out there on its own. Something I loved. It didn’t have a director, or actors, or producers or gaffers or script girls. It just was.
I brought it to school once for movie day*. I don’t recall that anyone else paid much attention. They were trading baseball cards secretly under their desks. What did they know about Danny Kaye’s ginger headed genius.
The film did have a director however. I discovered it was Charles Vidor. This is like finding out your best friend is secretly Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Impressive and amazing, but not too amazing.

The songs from Hans, written and composed by Frank Loesser**, must be sung everyday. You must air them out and let them breathe. If you do not, they will die and the world will lose a little piece of delightfulness. I know I find myself singing “Copenhagen” whenever it is very sunny out and early in the morning and I am in high spirits. I don’t know why, but the mood of the light reminds me of the song and the moment in the movie. Hans and Peter are sailing to Copenhagen. Perhaps it is about beginnings. I am starting a new day, and Hans is starting a new life.

Speaking of beginnings, Hans ushered in a Danny Kaye phase of my childhood (thanks to father’s good taste in movies). It continued with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, moved on to The Inspector General, and The Court Jester, and ended with The Five Pennies. I watched these movies, and I learned something important. Danny Kaye is everything a man should be: Funny, strong legged, and willing to guest star on the Cosby Show.

As an adult I now find myself with a peculiar mix of feelings for Kaye. I bring, from my childhood, a desire to curl up in his non threatening arms and hear wonderful stories about ugly ducks and red shoes. Now, I find myself admiring his broad shoulders whilst fantasizing about what an attentive lover he would be (Laurence Olivier dreamed about this too).

There has never been a more likable character than Danny as Hans. He is a gentle man fond of children and preserver of magic! I will admit something. I do not enjoy the entire film. I always stop the movie and rewind at the part where Hans sets up his shoe shop in Copenhagen. You see, this is where his sexuality rears its unfortunate head. As a child, I did not want to see my dearest Hans fall in love with a horrible brat of a ballerina. To lose all sense.

Oh Hans my darling couldn’t you see? Couldn’t you see that she was using you? Couldn’t you see she was and would always be in love with him? You fool!

No. I was not distracted by the glamor and elegance of the ballet. I was not softened by the frills and charming accent of the ballerina (I took ballet at the time too, that’s how strong my allegiance to Hans was).
No. I hated her. I remember lying on my stomach on the living room floor and thinking with scorn “Her bangs are too short”.

I am watching it now and I echo my youthful sentiments.
(though I will grudgingly admit that she’s at least a good dancer)

This was also my first introduction to Farley Granger and I have had a strong dislike for him ever since. How strong? I shall tell you. Visconti is my all time favorite director, but I have yet to see Senso, why? Because I can’t stand Farley Granger. It did not help that the next movie I saw him in was Strangers on a Train. His place in my heart was doomed.

…It seems that this movie inspired a rather large amount of aggression in me. I guess loyalty to Danny Kaye will do that. With great passion comes great rage.

*I also brought in White Christmas. I guess I has a strong unconscious urge to force my class to fall in love with Danny Kaye.

** Loesser also wrote the perpetually covered “Baby it’s cold outside”

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  1. [...] My reaction was very much about being a daughter and the mystery of my mother’s culture. Like Hans Christian Andersen, it is a film that exists in my childhood. It’s difficult to even think of it as a film. It [...]

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