Danny Kaye, a comedian who was often more frantic than funny, had a middling-to-subpar showcase in Knock on Wood, despite the encouraging premise that casts him as a Europe-touring ventriloquist who badmouths every girlfriend he acquires through his dummy onstage. From the get-go, a narrator clues us in that Kaye is due to become obliviously enmeshed in a battle between two international spy rings for possession of blueprints for a super-weapon; aside from a scene where the star appears in analyst office with his little wooden doppelganger (and when he later uses vocal tricks to escape some baddies), the ventriloquism motif is largely dropped in favor of lax espionage parody, with dollops of London location shooting as Kaye romances his personal traveling therapist (Swedish actress Mai Zetterling, making her Hollywood debut and palpably on autopilot).
Joint writer-directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama were accomplished comedy pros, credited with scripts for some of Bob Hope’s funnier vehicles, but here big laughs are scarce: They stage some distastefully coy business of Kaye innocently wandering into both bed and shower next to Zetterling, then fail to even put him in zany cloak-and-dagger situations until the last third of this overlong farce. Kaye fitfully tries to recapture the kinetic wackiness he displayed in ‘40s hits like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, doing accented sketches as a British car salesman (with Oxbridge vowels), an Irish pub crawler, and a Russian ballet principal, but it’s all quite labored, and a few songs by his wife Sylvia Fine are forgettably frothy. Kaye’s career stretched from vaudeville to a guest appearance on The Cosby Show, but in Knock on Wood he coasts with a minimum of his lauded charm and energy.
The Technicolor tones are rich eye candy, but marred by some vestigial damage and intermittent blotches that appear for several frames. Mono sound is clear and unextraordinary.
Needed less Psychology for Dummies, more wooden dummies.