Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen

* Published specifically for The Danny Kaye Blogathon. *


The key to my father was that if he was interested, he’d learn it and be good at it. So all I can say is that whatever he didn’t do, he wasn’t interested in.  – Dena Kaye

Danny Kaye was one of those people who was able to do it all. He made everything that he did look so effortless and spur-of-the-moment. This reminds me of another great, Mr. Fred Astaire, who had the same effect on the dance floor. Fred looked like he was walking on air and never once did you see a drop of sweat or any sign of fatigue when he danced. He had two secret weapons: sheer talent and hours upon hours of training. In fact, Fred never went in front of the camera until his numbers were perfectly flawless. I can very much see Danny in the same light. He was dedicated to his craft and probably practised a heck of a lot to make his routines go so smoothly.

While Danny’s act was refined and well-rehearsed, his manner had a very experimental feel. He seemed to be constantly pulling rabbits out of his hat to test the waters as his characters became increasingly layered and his tongue twisters more complex. There were even times when he played two characters simultaneously as if it were second nature. In fact, he undertook double roles in at least four films and one made-for-television movie.  The first one of those films was our featured picture, Wonder Man.

Wonder Couple: Sylvia Fine & Danny Kaye

Based on an original story by Arthur Sheekman, the husband of actress Gloria Stuart, Wonder Man started filming in mid-1944. Despite some initial reservations about his talents, Samuel Goldwyn looked to be as won over by Danny as audiences had been. It was only his second starring role but it appeared that the film had been tailored just for him. Danny’s wife Sylvia Fine wrote a number of the lyrics and songs in Wonder Man as she had done for Up in Arms (1944). Their partnership was a long and successful one in both real life and in show business.

So, here is how the story goes:

Buzzy Bellew (Kaye) is a popular entertainer who lives life by the seat of his pants. He is chronically late for his nightclub act at the Pelican Club and does not follow through with the plans he makes. Luckily for Buzzy, his girlfriend and performing partner Midge Mallon (Vera-Ellen) sticks by his side through thick and thin. After many years together, he finally proposes to her properly and promises that he will go through with the wedding. Midge happily accepts and they go on to perform a lively, exotic dance sequence.

In the audience is the notorious mobster Ten Grand Jackson (Steve Cochran) who is out on bail for murder charges. His presence makes Buzzy nervous since he was a witness to Jackson’s crime and is scheduled to testify against him in court. Things are calm during the show but afterwards when Buzzy is alone in his dressing room, he is abruptly shot and killed by two of Jackson’s men. They take Buzzy’s body to Brooklyn where they dump it over the side of a bridge.

The next day, we are introduced to his Buzzy’s “super identical” twin brother, Edwin Dingle (Kaye). An intellectual with a lot of time on his hands, Edwin spends every day from 9am to 6pm at the library. His interest there in not just about books; it also has to do with the beautiful librarian Ellen Shanley (Virginia Mayo). He musters up the courage to ask her out and they end up making plans to eat at her place that very evening.

“Mr. Dingle is not peculiar, Madame. He’s very brilliant. He has a photographic mind. He knows everything.”

However, something very odd keeps happening to Edwin during the day that will change the course of things. A haunting music starts ringing in his ears and the name ‘Buzzy’ keeps going through his mind. He has the urge to go to Prospect Park in Brooklyn without any explanation. You can only imagine the chaos that will begin once Edwin starts putting the pieces together.


“After 10 years you haven’t changed a bit. You look just like me!”

Perhaps the first question on your mind is why Danny’s characters have two different last names if they are brothers. Although it is not explained in detail, it is assumed that Bellew is Buzzy’s stage name. Since Edwin and Buzzy had been estranged from one another, they were oblivious to certain aspect sabout each other’s lives. (Also, temporarily forget about the fact that Edwin is supposed to know everything.) It does not seem like the twins had any sort of falling out. Instead, I would say that Buzzy’s ambition drove him away from his family. (At the time of his death, Buzzy was making an astounding $2000/week at the Pelican Club, which is equivalent to nearly $34,000/week in today’s money.) Was it not for Midge’s unfaltering dedication, it is sure that Buzzy would be quite alone save for his professional entourage.

The plot of the film is good and keeps your attention. The Mob element is quite dark, especially when Buzzy is so callously murdered and his body tossed away. Both the story and Buzzy redeem themselves with a light-hearted approach to the after-life à la Blithe Spirit (1945). It does strike me as odd that Buzzy holds no ill-will towards being unduly knocked off in the prime of life and two days before his wedding. Alas, some terrific pranks and body-swap moments help sway your opinion.

Our Danny gives two splendid performances as twin brothers. His comedic side shines through both characters although it is much more subdued with Edwin. Buzzy is the typical over-the-top Danny incarnation while Edwin is sweet and clumsy. Edwin’s portrayal is further proof that Samuel Goldwyn was completely wrong when he suggested that Danny had no sex appeal. How wrong could he be? Danny was one charming, handsome fella. I love the scene in Ellen’s kitchen when she runs her fingers through Edwin’s hair. That thick, curly red mane became as symbolic as Groucho Marx’s moustache. Do I sound impartial? 😊

The ensemble cast was nicely put together. Virginia Mayo had appeared uncredited in Up in Arms but would go on to star opposite Danny in three additional films: The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song is Born (1948). They are one of my favourite classic film couples! Wonder Man was Goldwyn player Steve Cochran’s first film. He would also appear in The Kid from Brooklyn and A Song is Born with Danny and Virginia. Not only that, he was one of Virginia’s love interests in The Best Years of Our Lives, undoubtedly Goldwyn’s finest work and one of cinema’s greatest films of all time. Last but not least is the adorable S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall who never failed to leave his mark no matter how small or big the role.



Wonder Man marked Vera-Ellen’s film debut. A trained dancer since young childhood, Vera started performing on Broadway in 1939. It was during this time that she was noticed by Samuel Goldwyn and offered a contract. It was not a very lucrative offer but it was enough to bring her to Hollywood.

Vera and Danny would go on to co-star in two other films: The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) and White Christmas (1954). Even though Danny was mostly romantically paired with the equally gorgeous and talented Virginia Mayo in the movies, he and Vera made a fitting couple.

Her acting role in Wonder Man is unfortunately limited although she does have some impressive numbers. This unnamed number from the film is simply spectacular and is amongst the best of her routines captured on film.