Wonder Man (Goldwyn-RKO Radio) is a temperate enough description of Danny Kaye in his second full-length movie. Barring Kaye, and the pretty hoof-&-mouthing of the flea-sized, dainty screen newcomer Vera-Ellen, and some sure laughs furnished by S. Z. Sakall as a delicatessen storekeeper, the picture is about as short on drive, sparkle and resourcefulness as a Sam Goldwyn production can be. But fortunately, there is no such thing as barring Danny Kaye. He is a one-man show and, at his frequent best, a howling good one.
Besides being a brilliant comic entertainer, Kaye has considerable talent as a straight actor. Here he gets his first good chance to display this talent, playing two deep-metropolitan types. One is Buzzy Bellew, hard-glazed headliner at the Pelican Club, half insane with self-appreciation; the other is Buzzy's super-identical twin brother Edwin, a meek, bleak, gentle tome-prowler who spends most of his time at the Public Library, and adequately maps out his sensual life When he tells a pretty librarian (Virginia Mayo): "I love the smell of leather bindings."
One night Edwin hears strange music and is irresistibly drawn to a certain bridge in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. There, his brother's white-tied ghost rises from the water, and jazzily explains to the learned goof that Buzzy, star witness in a gangster murder, has been bumped off. The scholar, his double, must replace him at the Pelican, play upon the superstitious sensibilities of his killers, avenge his death by placing his fatal information in the hands of the D.A. (Otto Kruger). Just to help out in hard places, such as impersonating a great floorshow star when you know nothing in words of less than nine syllables, Buzzy's ghost demonstrates that he can enter and take charge of Edwin, body & soul. Complications develop, thanks to Miss Mayo, who has begun to interest Edwin even more than the smell of bindings, and to Pelican-partner Vera-Ellen who, he learns, expects to marry himas Buzzynext afternoon. To make matters worse Buzzy's ghost, floored by a hangover, defaults during a crucial interview with the D.A. At last, hounded by gunmen and police alike, the frantic Edwin contrives to costume and beard himself and squall his information to the Law from the bewildered vortex of an opera stage.
Granted what he is given to work with a first-rate idea developed in second gear Danny Kaye does a beautiful job. As the scholar he merely sketches charmingly, without perfecting, the humor, pathos and odd dignity the role might have ; but as the nightclub star he is magnificent. At the straight comic setpieces the dancing and delivery of the bangtwanging Bali Boogie; the impersonation of a Russian baritone in Laocoonic struggle between his hay fever and Otchi Tchorniya; a glistening little telephonic imitation of a pet shop in full cry, including goldfish; and the hilarious opera climax Kaye is a great but still growing virtuoso.