Service With A Smile


Well, hello, Mr. Kaye…

It’s no secret that during the Second World War the public were to never quite forget the current situation, and movies that promoted everyone getting in on the fight were especially welcome by the Office of War Information, but I have to wonder how prepared they were for 1944’s Up In Arms.


The movie opens on an island in the South Pacific with Danny Weems (Danny Kaye) being carried down the beach on the shoulders of his fellow soldiers because he’s apparently a hero.

Only Danny wasn’t cut out to be a hero. He’s an elevator operator and a hypochondriac who doesn’t just scare himself but other people. He’s also got the idea that he’s going to marry Mary (Constance Dowling), one of the nurses at the hospital where he works. Meanwhile, Mary’s fellow nurse, Virginia (Dinah Shore) patiently waits in the wings for Danny to get a clue.


Danny, Virginia, Mary, and Danny’s roommate, Joe (Dana Andrews) go out to dinner and a movie, with Danny hoping to propose to Mary at just the right moment. First, though, comes the movie, right? But no. Danny proceeds to tell us about Every Musical Evar in the unavoidably hilarious and satirical “Theater Lobby Number.” This thing defies description so I will let Mr. Kaye speak for himself. You’re welcome. 🙂

Naturally, Danny’s idea of proposing gets derailed and he hopes he can redeem himself later, but that night, much to his chagrin, Danny finds out he’s been drafted into the Army. Joe has as well, and so the two of them head off to basic training together.


The Army does have its compensations. Danny and Joe meet up with Virginia and Mary, who have both joined the WACs as nurses, and the four of them have a great time down at the docks, where Joe and Mary make shadow puppets on an upturned dinghy. They also make a record at a recording truck, where Danny tries to get romantic and still fails. Joe and Mary are pretty firmly in love by this time, but they can’t figure out how to tell Danny. Virginia, meanwhile, still waits.

Danny and Joe’s company is about to shove off, and Virginia is among the nurses assigned to the ship. Mary also inadvertantly stows away when the Army truck she’s hidden in is winched aboard the destroyer. Virginia, Joe, and Danny spend the entire voyage trying to hide Mary from the commanding officer, who’s radiating disapproval, but of course they’re caught and Danny gets put in the brig.


Even when the company reaches their South Sea island destination Danny is still in the brig, but then gets taken prisoner by some Japanese soldiers. Danny being Danny, though, he manages to talk his way out and even trap the Japanese in a pit someone dug on the island because reasons (One yells like Goofy on his way down). It’s not much of a spoiler to say that it all ends happily.

So. Yeah. This movie.


Producer Samuel Goldwyn had taken a chance, not only spending two million dollars of his own money on the film but shooting it in Technicolor, which was in short supply because of the war. He had good reason to be confident, though, because Danny Kaye had already made a name for himself as a nightclub perfromer that, in the words of the famously hard-to-please Bosley Crowther:

{Danny Kaye} has been blowing the roofs off night clubs and Broadway theatres for the past couple of years. Well, now that he has perfected his explosive humor to such a degree that people begin to disintegrate the moment he walks upon a stage, Samuel Goldwyn has arranged a conjunction of Mr. Kaye and the screen. It stands to reason that millions of persons are immediately imperiled thereby.


Goldwyn’s risk paid off handsomely and Up In Arms was a huge hit, earning $3.3 million at the box office, or around five billion today (Incidentally, it was also the debut of Virginia Mayo, who had a teeny uncredited role in the chorus, but that’s obviously another story). Variety said, “Kaye has great sense of timing in putting over his comedy for maximum effect.”

Speaking of maximum effect, Kaye would get a lot of mileage out of the film’s music. For one thing, Kaye performed the “Theater Lobby” number for the Command Performance VE special the next year; the studio audience actually cheered and squealed when it was announced.


Watching the film today, I enjoyed seeing all the fun the performers were having and hearing songs that had a life outside the film. The only thing about it is the plot is merely a delivery system for all the schtick and the ending is a bit weak.

Not to mention the Army aspect hugely unrealistic. It’s amazing that Mary was able to sail all the way across the Pacific and no one in her company was looking for her? Really? She should have been AWOL the minute she was missed. I also wish Dana Andrews had gotten a chance to sing; who knows why he didn’t. And i wish Danny’s heroism had been made more of, but as it is it’s just a footnote, although an enjoyable one.


Then again, musicals aren’t supposed to be realistic. Up In Arms is a roller coaster ride; rolling with the punches seems to be the key to enjoying it, and that’s completely fine. Danny Kaye is a treasure.

For more of the wonderful Danny Kaye, please see Erica at Poppity Talks Classic FilmThanks for hosting, this, Erica–it was great! As always, thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you on Monday for the Ninth Buster Keaton Blogathon…

Up In Arms is free to stream for Prime customers.

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If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.

4 thoughts on “Service With A Smile

  1. The Theatre Lobby Number is one of my all time favourites from any Danny Kaye movie. I’ve always thought Up in Arms was pretty flimsy, but the songs and shtick more than make up for it!


  2. Hi Rebecca! Please excuse my lateness in commenting on your article.
    UP IN ARMS is one of the few Danny films that I have yet to see. It seems to be quite a hoot and also a bit flashy when it comes to the plot/Danny’s performance. I think that Goldwyn really wanted Danny’s talent to *explode* on-screen so that moviegoers would be struck by this introduction. Plus, he spent so much money signing Danny that he certainly wanted some payback on that investment!
    I haven’t seen Dinah much in feature films so this would indeed be a discovery. Being a big Dana Andrews fan, it’s perhaps surprising to hear that I’m not really drawn to his non-drama/Noir films. It was positively shocking to see him in STATE FAIR, even though he had trained in opera.
    Thank you so very much for your terrific contribution to the blogathon. 😀


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