Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Paleface Review

The Paleface (1948)
Dir. Norman Z. McLeod
Starring: Bob Hope, Jane Russell

Bob Hope stars as “Painless” Peter Potter, a dentist that gets unwittingly used by Calamity Jane (Jane Russell), who is being used by the government to find some gun runners that have been selling weapons to some Indians.

This film is a staring vehicle for Bob Hope, it is a great example of a comedian knowing how to play towards his strengths. But Jane Russell is the best thing about the film. She plays Calamity Jane, and she is responsible for carrying the plot of the film, which she does well, and she has some great chemistry with Hope. This was the first real big hit for Jane Russell, and helped launch her to a bigger career after The Young Widow flopped and The Outlaw continued to have a troubled attempt at getting released. The film spawned a sequel, Son of Paleface that reteamed Hope and Russell. It is pretty much a remake, focusing on the son of Potter. And then there is the later Don Knotts film The Shakiest Gun in the West, which is another remake of the story*. One of the more interesting things about the movie is that thanks to the later film you can get a great opportunity to see how the same story could be told differently by two different people, thanks to each film having the jokes and some of the story beats be different due to the different styles of comedy that the leads have. While Don't Knots had more of an exasperated, cowardly and wacky side, Bob Hope was more dialogue and situation based, often riffing to himself while no one was around**.

The high point of the film is a scene in the middle of the film where Potter’s big talk gets him involved in a gunfight with a villain in town. The shots of the Potter and his opponent stalking the town looking for each other is a very well-crafted and suspenseful, and one of the high points of the film.

While not a bad movie, I think I prefer The Shakiest Gun in the West a bit better. That could be due to a personal preference towards Don Knotts, and I could see someone that likes Bob Hope better feeling the opposite way. But that’s not to say that this is a bad movie, it was one of the more successful movies from the year that it was released, and it won the Academy Award for Best Song for “Buttons and Bows” a song that has become successful on its own outside of the film.

* You can't really fault the films for being remakes or stealing plots. When stripped down to their cores, El Dorado, High Noon, and Rio Bravo all have the same plots, but no one would say that those three films aren't classic westerns.

** One scene where he was spouting out one liners to himself caused my 3 year old daughter some confusion, as she spent most of the scene asking who he was talking to.

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