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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

THE PALEFACE (1948)

Wildly popular Bob Hope comedy Western has aged oddly. Bob’s in particularly good form as traveling dentist and stooge bridegroom to Jane Russell’s Calamity Jane. (She’s in good form, too!) Bob doesn’t know she’s using him as part of a plan to stop a gang of renegade gunrunners from selling arms to the Indians. And while the Politically Incorrect Levels run dangerously high, that’s less of a problem then the over-stuffed, rich TechniColored production* which lolls under Norman Z. McLeod’s laisser-faire direction. Co-scripter Frank Tashlin wrote fistfuls of his signature cartoonish visual gags (and must have included staging & camera angles to make sure they’d work under McLeod), but no one bothered to connect the dots between the film’s best bits. (Unhappy with the results, Tashlin wangled directing reins for SON OF PALEFACE/’52.) Still, the pieces are plenty fun, and the film was a career saver for Russell (she’s even better in the SON OF . . sequel), otherwise held hostage and kept all but inactive by her contract to creepy Howard Hughes.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *One of the original TechniColor specialists, the lensing of this film’s Ray Rennahan got progressively less interesting as the tricky three-strip process grew easier to control. In the ‘30s, nearly every shot was something of an experiment; by the ‘40s, a standardized, pudding-rich saturation was consistently achievable. Artistry diminished thru technical advance.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Other than Eddie Cantor, did any comedian introduce more American Songbook standards than Bob Hope?  Here, he charms the dickens out of the Oscar® winning ‘Buttons and Bows.'

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