Written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. in 1972, Greaser's Palace is definitely one of the more unusual retellings of the Christ tale. Like Jodorowsky's El Topo, a film that it has shares some similarities with, the picture is an Avant Garde/experimental take on a western story, but by blending in the Biblical references and what was clearly a sense of quirky humor on the part of Downey, the film carves out is own quirky niche.
Jessy (Allan Arbus) looks resplendent in his zoot suit after he quite literally arrives on Earth by parachuting out of Heaven. His mission? To travel to Jerusalem where he hopes to make it in the entertainment business as a singer/dancer. As he travels through the desert, he makes his way to a small town where he lands on the wrong side of Seaweedhead Greaser (Albert Henderson), the man who runs the local watering hole. Seaweedhead isn't too keen on Jessy at first, but once the new kid in town manages to resurrect Greaser's gay son Lamy (Michael Sullivan) from the dead, Jessy finds himself with a whole new batch of followers.
Jessy and the others continue further along towards Jerusalem where he's to meet up with a renowned talent agent named Morris (Don Calfa), who may or may not actually be the devil himself. As their travels continue, Jessy's flock are amazed at his abilities to heal those in poor health and to complete miracles that no mortal man could complete, such as walking on water. Eventually things come full circle as Jessy returns to Seaweedhead's tavern. After taking in a performance from a woman named Cholera (Luana Anders), who just so happens to be Seaweedhead's daughter. It's then that Jessy decides to hit the stage and do his own thing.
Performances seem in keeping with the vibe that Downey is going for here (at least that's our best guess… does anyone really know exactly what he was going for here?). Allan Arbus is an interesting choice for the lead. Some might recognize him from his supporting appearances in M*A*S*H and Coffy (not to mention countless TV appearances over the decades) but here he's the star, the movie most definitely revolves around him. He's not bad in the part. He's got charisma and screen presence and he more or less works out just fine in the part. Albert Henderson is quite entertaining as the oddly named Seaweedhead Greaser. He made a career out of playing heavies and he does so here quite well. Michael Sullivan plays Lamy ‘The Homo' Greaser as a cliché and a stereotype but Luana Anders is perfectly watchable as Cholera.
It's also worth noting that Robert Downey Jr. shows up in the movie briefly as a young boy in a wagon, and Tony Basil (of Mickey fame) is cast as a Native American girl. Oh, and Don Calfa, immortalized by his amazing turn in Return Of The Living Dead, also has a supporting part and check it out, the late, great Hervé Villechaize also pops up in the movie. If nothing else, Downey gets full points for assembling a patently bizarre cast to round out his picture with!
As to the story itself, it's a nonsensical take on Leone-inspired Spaghetti Western traits. The humor is out there, not always effective or even funny, but the movie has a bit of screwy style that works in its favor. As it is in a lot of harder westerns, the female characters don't always wind up in the nicest of situations and those upset by what many would consider to be blasphemy might not appreciate just what it is Downey has done here. Still, it's never so strong that it should upset most modern viewers, even if it would have been considered pretty strong stuff when it debuted. Some of the symbolism is just too heavy handed to take seriously, but as a time capsule of sorts and the type of movie that could only have been made in the seventies, Greaser's Palace is an interesting curio worth seeking out for those with a taste for the bizarre. And at least it's nicely shot.The Blu-ray:
Greaser's Palace looks really good on Blu-ray in this new transfer from Scorpion Releasing taken from the film's original 35mm negative. Detail is quite strong throughout and there's quite a bit of depth to the picture. Texture is impressive while skin tones look lifelike and natural. The image appears free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues and the disc is free of any obvious compression artifacts. Color reproduction is good here as well, and we also get solid black levels. For the most part the image is also quite clean. There's a bit of minor print damage here and there but nothing too serious or even distracting. Fans should be quite pleased with how nice this looks in high definition.Sound:
The DTS-HD Mono track on the disc is also quite good. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and you won't have any trouble understanding the performers. The levels are properly balanced and the track is free of any major hiss or distortion. Range is understandably limited in spots due to the source material but this sounds like a pretty accurate representation of how the movie should sound. No complaints.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is carried over from Scorpion Releasing's DVD release of the film and that's a thirteen-minute long interview with Robert Downey Sr. who speaks quite candidly and affectionately about the time he spent working on the film. He talks about the importance of basically having compete creative control over the picture and how that allowed him to make something a little different.
Aside from that we get menus and chapter selection and some liner notes extolling the virtues of the film written by the late Jonathan Demme.Final Thoughts:
Greaser's Palace is very much a product of its time. Sometimes that works in the movie's favor, sometimes it doesn't. flawed or not, however, it's an interesting movie, odd enough to hold our attention even as we realize it isn't completely successful at everything it attempts. Still, fans of oddball seventies cinematic oddities will appreciate this for trying something different, and the Blu-ray release from Scorpion Releasing offers a very nice way to do just that. Recommended.