The Five Pennies Melville Shavelson

The Five Pennies is a must for jazz lovers but it's amusing enough that it won't frustrate haters. The picture-quality is striking for a low-budget 1959 effort. Concerned with the career of trumpet virtuoso Lorne Nichols (Danny Kaye) in New York City's prohibition-era jazz scene, it would make a great double bill with Woody Allen's underrated Emmet Ray biopic Sweet and Lowdown. The best scenes are the two involving Louis Armstrong. Armstrong and Kaye (actually recordings of Nichols) blast out rat-tat-tat renditions of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Armstrong's scenes burst with his angelic character, but as Satch yucks it up in speakeasies, sympathetic audiences might mourn the death of the jazz era. The uninitiated may reconsider their casual dismissal of a genre perhaps out of fashion yet alive with a mystical presence absent in today's popular music landscape. Armstrong's scenes are lit with a smoky rainbow of colours and a mirror-ball. The unintended psychedelic effect might fool channel-flippers into thinking they've stumbled onto some dream-like slice of genius. Most of the film is mired in '50s melodrama and doesn't live up to this standard. On DVD, however, you're free to skip to the few scenes certain to transcend expectations. Likely destined for the bargain bin, it would make a great gift for jazz lovers or collectors of the kookie. While not regarded as a cult classic, it's more deserving of the label Rogers Video and other familiarity-brokers slap on Evil Dead and equally popular flicks. (Paramount)