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The Paleface (1948) is one of those classic comedies that I feel I have seen in bits and pieces on TV for most of my life (as well as snippets of the Don Knotts remake from 1968, The Shakiest Gun in the West). It was a big hit for star Bob Hope, and it spawned a sequel, the already-on-Blu-ray Son of Paleface from 1952. Both films include the Oscar-winning song "Buttons and Bows," although the tune originated right here.
Watching The Paleface in full now, it's a pretty charming comic take on the western. However, I found myself frequently looking for the flick to be sharper and funnier. Bob Hope is at the peak of his powers, but the script (credited to Edmund Hartmann and comedy all-star Frank Tashlin) is a bit too predictable for its own good.
Hope plays East Coast dentist "Painless" Peter Potter, so named because of his use of laughing gas on his customers. Considering how bad he is at his job, the gas surely comes in handy. Painless is about to hang up his pliers and head back east when he is duped by Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) into getting married and joining a wagon train heading west. (If Jane Russell wanted to marry me, I wouldn't be able to say no either.) Unfortunately for Painless, Jane is actually working with the law to track down some men traveling in the wagon train who are selling guns and dynamite to the natives -- and she just needs Painless as a patsy.
When the wagon train is ambushed, the cowardly Painless hides in a barrel and starts shooting. When he gets out, there are 11 dead Indians. Everyone -- including him -- assumes he must be a dead shot; of course, Jane actually made those kills but she lets Painless take the credit to keep the gunrunners off her scent. Painless is more than pleased to take on the mantel of a Western hero, which makes him mighty popular -- and makes him a big fat target too.
Hope is fast with the zingers and adept at dopey physical comedy. His finest hour might arrive when Painless is caught flirting with a tough guy's girl and he instantaneously turns into a tough guy himself. He amps up his bravado, tells the tough guy to get out of town, and orders "four fingers of Red Eye" from the bartender. As the drink is poured, Painless grabs the bottle and fills the glass to the top: "The thumb too!"
Jane Russell is a helluva good looker, but her performance is oddly flat and subdued here. The film's conceit is that tough gal Jane gradually softens to Painless and eventually falls for the goof, but Russell never really lets her toughness drop. She comes off as annoyed and bored even after her character has supposedly been won over.
As with most western films of the era, the treatment of Native Americans is purely stereotypical hokum, but nothing else really smacks of verisimilitude anyway. This is a movie whose entire concept of Old West life is based on other movies -- which is kinda sorta part of the joke.
There are dozens -- probably hundreds -- of reviews out there that will place The Paleface as one of Bob Hope's best films. Or just flat out the best. As I mentioned above, I found it charming and fun. And that's about it. Some of the Bob and Bing Road pictures, as well as The Lemon Drop Kid, would rank higher in my personal estimation. In his DVD Talk review, Stuart Galbraith IV opines that Son of Paleface is a superior sequel. I might have to give that one a try.
The AVC-encoded 1080p 1.33:1 presentation is stable and fairly clean, with some splotches and specks that are not too distracting in motion. The Technicolor cinematography is consistent and vivid throughout. Although the bitrate is not as high as Kino's Never Give a Sucker an Even Break disc, the picture never looks poorly encoded or obviously compressed.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is perfectly fine, with no significant surface noise or damage. Music and effects are well supported and dialogue is easy to make out. An optional English subtitles track is provided.
- Film writer Mims is a big Bob Hope fan, and his commentary mixes researched history with a fan's appreciation of the film's comedy.
The western comedy The Paleface has a long reputation as one of Bob Hope's best movies. I had fun watching it, but I've enjoyed other Hope films (like The Lemon Drop Kid) more. If you already love this flick, you'll find it easy to appreciate the solid HD upgrade and the few fun bonuses. Either way, this disc comes Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new holiday single, Oh Hanukkah / Last Night of Hanukkah, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.