Jazz Age Noir

A violent, torrid ripped-from-the-headlines look at our tumultuous past, 1958’s vastly underrated PARTY GIRL, directed by Nicholas Ray, blasts its way onto 1080p Blu-Ray, thanks to the gang at The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. It’s a suitable end of the year review, as the last act plays out between Christmas and New Year’s.

Ray had never tackled a gangster flick before, but he HAD given us some splendid doses of film noir; thus, his retelling of a nasty American fairy tale is loaded with mean street grammar and dark (sic) sintax. Being in color, PARTY GIRL likewise becomes a prime entry in a favorite sub-genre of mine: the contradictory wonderful world of color-noir. It’s additionally brilliantly framed in CinemaScope (a Ray artistic specialty), so, for me, it’s win/win/win all the way.

The narrative, as fashioned by George Wells (from a story by Leo Katcher), is based on real-life characters: infamous Chicago baddie and St. Valentine’s Day practitioner Al Capone (going under the moniker of Rico Angelo), and noted mob mouthpiece Bill Falcon (christened Tommy Farrell for this outing). Indeed, while even casual movie-goers are familiar with Capone’s cinematic exploits
(even here Rico does a rendition of Al’s notorious baseball bat head smashing dinner ceremony, subsequently made famous in 1987’s The Untouchables), viewers might be surprised to learn that the Falcon/Farrell character, too, has been given the Hollywood treatment at least four times prior to this entry (Penthouse, The Mouthpiece, The Man Who Talked Too Much, and Illegal).

The title character, aka smart, savvy, and sassy Vicki Gaye, works the grind shifts at the otherwise fairly upscale Golden Rooster, a 1920’s mob-owned nitery that conversely functions as their select-a-whore meat market and legitimate show biz enterprise. Partying kingpins and out-of-town talent choose their women from the chorus line, who, in turn, are paid $100 for their participation in an after hours gathering at Angelo’s posh apartment. Hard, mercenary and gorgeous Gaye attends these events for the cash, rationalizing that most of the thugs are too drunk or otherwise high to try anything.

At a recent bash, she meets equally hard, mercenary and cynical Farrell – as repulsed by the surrounding scum as she is. But, it’s a living (and a good one). Farrell has a Jack the Ripper black bag of lawyer tricks that he uses to work over simpleton juries, and it’s made him rich – and populated the underworld with monstrous psychos, rapists, and hopheads. At first, antagonistic opposing forces Farrell and Gaye engage in verbal combat – attempting to figure out which one of them is the biggest whore. It’s a draw, and they both fall in love. Farrell, however, carries some legal and physical baggage: a marriage to an estranged beauteous harpy and his crippled, mangled lower torso, injured when, as a teen on a dare, he got chewed up in the mechanical gears of a hydraulic bridge. How they overcome these traumas (if they can) make up the remainder of the piece, balanced by brutal screen savagery and genuinely stunningly-framed musical numbers, showcasing female lead Cyd Charisse, admittedly more 1950’s Vegas than 1920’s Chicago. Ray, it should be noted, was well aware of this, and opted for authentic period dance sequences, but Metro, Charisse and choreographer Robert Sidney won out. Ray composed the scope images and had input on the imaginative color palette, but let the dance director and his star do the rest; he later referred to the dances as crap sequences.

Nick, while unhappy with the musical portions, nevertheless still delivered the goods. And he had a wonderful cast to help. Stars Robert Taylor (as Farrell) and Cyd Charisse aside, it was like a rogue’s gallery jackpot for the director, with heinous Rico portrayed by Lee J. Cobb at his most vicious…and loudest (the same year he played another memorable psychotic in Ray’s pal Tony Mann’s superb Man of the West); also on-board are John Ireland, Kent Smith, Claire Kelly, Lewis Charles, David Opatoshu, Barbara Lang, Dick Cherney, Barrie Chase, Jack Lambert, Stuart Holmes, Sam McDaniel, Benny Rubin, Vito Scotti, Vaughn Taylor, Herb Vigran, and Carmen Phillips. Most memorably are brief appearances by Myrna Hansen (her best role) as Vicki’s doomed, impregnated roommate and Rebel with a Cause‘s Corey Allen as a maniac killer (it’s the first time I had ever seen classic era gunsels portrayed as the teen juvenile delinquents that they obviously were).

As for Taylor and Charisse, they’re both excellent in their roles. Ray told me a fascinating story about PARTY GIRL when, while working as his assistant sound editor (on We Can’t Go Home Again), I mentioned how much I enjoyed this movie (there was lots of down time; often we spent all night holed up in a lower East Side editing room). After calling me an idiot (for liking this movie), Ray admitted he was, at the outset, a bit apprehensive about working with Taylor and Charisse. “MGM had undergone a new regime, and they wanted all the old-time, glossy names out. This was a work-off-their-contract picture. I thought they might be trouble. I couldn’t have been more wrong, or surprised. Charisse, although often as cold as the role she played, and Taylor both did professional jobs, didn’t look down at the project and, I guess, gave it their all. Most amazing was Taylor’s dedication to the project. I had taken him to see my osteologist for research, and later remember arriving early one morning on the set, and seeing Bob poring over a portfolio of medical charts and drawings. He had become borderline obsessed about how an injury such as his character’s had would cause him to limp. He wanted to get that walk right. Also, after he goes to Europe for a 1920’s hip replacement, how would he walk then? How would he gradually improve? Shows you can’t judge a book by its cover. Robert Fucking Taylor! Old school MGM Hollywood acting more Method than a truckload of Dean and Brando wannabes!”

Truth be told, PARTY GIRL was a direct-to-the-nabe picture, produced by Joe Pasternak (who, at the time, handled much of the Metro second tier product, albeit with panache). While Taylor had, in recent years, starred in blockbusters like Ivanhoe and Knights of the Round Table and Charisse had costarred opposite Kelly and Astaire (the last pairing being as late as the previous year’s Silk Stockings), these types of movies were no longer on the studio’s stock-in-trade roster. From what I gather, PARTY GIRL, was a generally pleasant shoot – almost a family gathering, with Charisse’s husband Tony Martin singing the boisterous title tune, and Ray’s new bride, Betty Utey, appearing as one of Charisse’s coworkers (a knockout blonde, dubbed Cindy Consuelo).

I mentioned to Ray that I had never seen a decent print of PARTY GIRL, every version either being an atrociously panned-and-scanned TV edition or a MetroColor-faded beet red scope revival/collector’s copy (the latter pissing him off, as he had worked very carefully on the color scheme). I think Nick would be flabbergasted at this new Warner Archive restoration. Crystal clear CinemaScope with beautiful popping colors (kudos to d.p. Robert Bronner, a favorite cameraman of Charisse’s) accompanied by a truly fine score credited to Jeff Alexander, but actually composed by Andre Previn. The only carp is that the Blu-Ray quality reveals the one sloppy aspect of the production: the WTF rear-screen projection. While costumes, set design and vintage cars are A-1, the backgrounds display cringe-worthy Fifties sedans cruising behind and alongside the era’s primo flivvers (plus one big scripted historical inaccuracy: Cobb’s Angelo is fixated upon Jean Harlow, who wouldn’t become a star for nearly another decade; shame on you, Metro). Oh, well.

PARTY GIRL. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. CAT # B09HMYQXBL. SRP: $21.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

Christian Mingle

A grotesque, morbidly obese psychopathic ruler who causes harm to his own nation (in part, for spite) married to a skanky, unfaithful trollop who despises him.  Yep, you guessed right.  This is a movie about Nero, Poppaea and Rome in turmoil, aka Cecil B. DeMille’s 1932 opus SIGN OF THE CROSS – now UNCUT in a new 1080p Blu-Ray restoration (courtesy of Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios in concert with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the DeMille estate).

The pic was a smash when released in limited runs during December, 1932 (and then wide throughout 1933), further propelling DeMille to the title of Bible Man of the Movies.  He wisely had long ago learned that scripture debauchery was A-OK with the powerful church groups (as long as redemption of some sort followed); best of all, the Bible was public domain, so…

SIGN OF THE CROSS, however, was a bit more ambitious.  It hailed from a play by Wilson Barrett (who, in turn, hijacked themes glommed from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s 1895 novel Quo Vadis?). It’s also firmly entrenched in Lloyd Douglas Robe territory, showing the how a Roman playa is converted to the “fanaticism” of Christianity, albeit not from faith but for the lust of a gorgeous hottie practitioner (hey, what ever gets you there, right?).

SIGN wastes no time getting started, opening in 64 A.D. on the third night of Rome’s burning (started and enjoyed by Nero who’s looking to blame the Christians).  A purge is to follow.  But psycho Nero isn’t acting alone; he has an evil Iago at kissing his sandaled feet – one Tigellinus, who will prompt the load toward more violence and terror to achieve his own nefarious means.

If Christianity didn’t exist, DeMille could have invented it – as the religion and its overcoming of detractors (aka rapists, murderers, plunderers, pornographers) is not only the stuff (cinematic) dreams are made of, but, more importantly, box-office.

For a DeMille movie, the script is fairly literate, thanks to writers Waldemar Young and Sidney Buchman.  Still, the characters’ names are pure C.B. (even if they were lifted from the play), for instance, Marcus Superbus as the male protagonist and Mercia as the female object of his affection.  And the dialog does have the prerequisite “playing for the lowest common denominator” display of the obvious.  “Oh, look, it’s a cross!,” states one mastermind when the camera cuts to a…cross.  But, hey, it’s what makes DeMille DeMille.

Relevantly, the cast is probably the most thesp-notable that Cec ever assembled.  Recent Oscar winner Fredric March (1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) is quite good as Marcus; his ending declaration of succumbing to the powers of the Christ is genuinely moving and believable, but, then again, he gets to go to paradise with beauteous Elissa Landi, so there’s that.  Landi is suitably stunning as the Christian maiden, but the two champs (and subsequent Oscar recipients for The Private Life of Henry VIII and It Happened One Night, respectively) are the board-trodders essaying the supporting roles of Nero and Poppaea.  Charles Laughton, recently a Paramount acquisition, is terrific as the sociopathic dictator, right down to his prosthetic Roman nose, and Claudette Colbert is slimily alluring as his trampy wife.  The massive cast of thousands backing them up is equally impressive, and includes Ian Keith, Arthur Hohl, Harry Beresford, Vivian Tobin, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Tommy Conlon, William V. Mong, Nat Pendleton, Richard Alexander, Charles Middleton, Mischa Auer, Lionel Belmore, Henry Brandon, John Carradine (in multiple roles), Wynne Gibson, Wilfred Lucas, Dave O’Brien, Sally Rand, and Kent Taylor.

The chancy task of doing a multi-million dollar epic in the midst of the Great Depression was, to put it mildly, risky.  But DeMille (and probably ONLY DeMille) had the chops to convince Paramount, about to go under (and already planning to descend into receivership with the Publix Corporation), to reach for the brass ring.  You know, you wanna make money, SPEND money.  It paid off handsomely; SIGN OF THE CROSS and, ironically, Mae West’s I’m No Angel (also 1932), saved the studio from total bankruptcy.

During a time when most pictures ran 75-80 minutes, SIGN unspooled at 126 minutes (with an Intermission, included on this disc).  The first half develops the characters and moves the scenario; the second half gives the people what they really want:  the orgies and morally repulsive behavior of ancient Rome.  DeMille, as usual, literally transposes every aspect of the notorious clichés to the screen.  You wanna see Christians fed to the lions – look no further, they’re here!

But that’s kid stuff compared to the overall degeneracy of SIGN OF THE CROSS.  Understandably, Christians get the brunt of most of the vile villainy.  Children get tortured so badly that even the grinning sadists have to turn their heads.  Marcus, at one point, even hires the talents of the infamous Ancaria (the infamous Joyzelle) to seduce Mercia in a lesbian twosome at one of his soirees (it doesn’t work, but there’s plenty of breast rubbing, ear nibbling, and crotch writhing).

  Naked white Christian virgins are even left as pole-bound mating material for horny gorillas (not mere thugs, but actual simians).

And there’s plenty more.

The arena games are rife with limb and head chopping, bull goring, elephants stepping on human craniums, and, in one of the most amazing scenes in any movie – a battle between raging African pygmies (definitely the prototype for that little dude who chased Karen Black around her apartment) and half-dressed Amazons, resulting in one happy woman warrior brandishing a dead speared tiny guy on her formidable sword. 

And DeMille himself couldn’t eschew his standard fetishisms.  The man who first filmed women in bathtubs excelled with a scene of nude Poppaea bathing in a swimming pool-sized tub filled with the milk of braying asses (“Take off your clothes and get in,” she coos to her gossipy BFF).  Natch, there’s a plethora of barefoot nymphs prancing and dancing in the background throughout – one of the director’s biggest turn-ons.

Of course, this all got by because it’s pre-Code.  Another couple of years and none of this could be possible.

Which brings us to the sad fate of SIGN OF THE CROSS.  DeMille movies always had great re-issue/replay power.  But not in this case.  At least, not this version.  Some true editorial butchery would be needed post-Code.  In 1944, with World War II finally turning toward allied victory, Paramount decided to cut all the offending footage out, and replace it with a Dudley Nichols-penned prologue of American Air Force bombers about to do their stuff over Italy.  The parable was obvious; Hitler was Nero, and Christians were Americans.  The new footage featured Arthur Shields, Tom Tully, Joel Allen, William Forrest, James Millican, Stanley Ridges, Oliver Thorndike, and John James.  For decades, this was the only version available.  Until now.  While occasionally grainy, this is the restored, unexpurgated edition of SIGN OF THE CROSS – the version that shocked and delighted 1932 audiences.

The disc, aside from the aforementioned slight grain issues is a pip, showcasing the lavish cinematography of Oscar-nominated Karl Struss (the genius who shot Murneau’s Sunrise). The music, also quite moving and played over the Intermission, still hailed from a time when such credits weren’t given over the main titles.  In SIGN OF THE CROSS, the score was compiled from the toils of four composers, Jay Chernis, Rudolph G. Kopp, Paul Marquand, and Milan Roder.  They need to be mentioned.  Extras include two audio commentaries, one by DeMille biographer Mark Vieira and another by David Del Valle.

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS. Black and white.  Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition. 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K24932. SRP: $24.95.

The Colors Out of Space

A nostalgic sci-fi bonbon, 1951’s FLIGHT TO MARS comes to Blu-Ray in an eye-popping new restoration, thanks to the crew at The Film Detective/Wade Williams, in association with the Paramount Pictures Archive.

Taking it’s lead from the astounding success of 1950’s Destination Moon, MARS took flight almost immediately, utilizing many of the former’s sets, costumes and design schemes (they also were able to score spaceship interior leftovers from Rocketship X-M, also released the previous year). The thing is Destination Moon was an indy George Pal production, with a decent budget, and, basically, a display showcase for (then) state of the art special effects (it would allow Pal to go back to his home studio, Paramount, and eschew his short subject work for the groundbreaking features like When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds).

And thereby is the rub.

Monogram was not UA and director Lesley Selander was not even Irving Pichel (Moon‘s director). Certainly, upstart producer Walter Mirisch wasn’t in the same league as Pal (at least, not yet); that he would eclipse him in the 1960s would be a future chapter in cinema history.

So, how come FLIGHT TO MARS plays as well as Moon? Well, for one thing – the writing. For all the jazzy futuristic mishegas, Moon‘s failing was the routine and occasionally downright dumb scripting (cliched characters, comic book technology and even cartoon intervention – Woody Woodpecker convincing 1% backers to invest in the rocket).

MARS‘ writing is more ambitious, albeit still hefty with standard uninformed scribbling. The travelers selected comprise a couple of geezers, who probably couldn’t survive a Six Flags excursion, plus a lead – the almost prerequisite newspaper reporter who thinks this might be a good story; only two astronauts pass the real muster – a dedicated egghead and the beauteous nuclear physicist.

So, when the crew finally hits Mars (and that’s the best word to describe it), the story threatens to go from B to B-minus, even to the extent of the humanoid Martians, dressed like Teletubbies and seemingly more at home in a backlot western (where most of them hailed from); the Earthlings are decked out in leather jackets and 1930s aviation head gear. It’s at this point, author Arthur Strawn chucked whatever the narrative he envisioned, and decided to conclude the events by ripping off…ummm, sorry, “paying homage” to Aleksei Tolstoy’s 1923 novel, Aelita, Queen of Mars. Wise move.

Here we must reiterate that Monogram’s MARS budget couldn’t begin to match UA’s Moon allotment, so, again, why does it all work?

First of all, the cast – even for a non-Monogram “B,” the thesps are impressive. Leads Cameron Mitchell and Marguerite Chapman are a perfect one-way-up/one-way-down balance. They are ably supported by Arthur Franz, John Litel, Richard Gaines, Morris Ankrum, Robert Barrat, Trevor Bardette, Stanley Blystone, Tris Coffin, Russ Conway, and most, notably, Virginia Huston, who, is, as they say, drop dead gorgeous.

Despite the nifty game performers, for me, the real star of the show is the unfairly maligned process, CineColor.

SIDEBAR: Unlike the more expensive Technicolor, CineColor, in operation since 1932, was a throwback to the two-strip process, and, while, like Technicolor, boasting to never deteriorate pigmentation-wise, the company’s product had other fallbacks. CineColor was an all-base process; what this means is that there was no emulsion. Physical print splices would have to be made via very visible tape cuts – no scraping into the 35MM frame line. All-base also meant that unless carefully lit and shot, the results would be blurred (indeed, the process was mostly used for B-Westerns and occasional action-pics, most famously 1948’s dino-epic Unknown Island). During the war, with Technicolor in high demand, Warner Bros. filmed a slew of Looney Tunes in CineColor without apparent notice of differentiation; Paramount shot a couple of feature pics in CineColor post-WWII. The process would undergo one more important change the year following MARS when Super CineColor debuted. Super meant three-strip, and, indeed, two Abbott & Costello pics, Jack and the Beanstalk and A &C Meet Captain Kidd, looked really fine. By 1955, CineColor finally tanked when all the other studios made the big majority schedule switch to color – often using their own, faster or cheaper Eastmancolor processes. End of history lesson.

The pleasing results of CineColor on FLIGHT TO MARS are the weird-looking visuals, perfect for a sci-fi pic. And the low budget doesn’t show that much – in fact, a meteor storm looks very cool, even startling.

The entrance of Aelita is another perk. Although she doesn’t arrive on the scene until more than halfway through the 72-minute-running time, the stunning galactic goddess makes her moments count (Chapman was still enough of a name to be top-billed). This brings us the final revelation of FLIGHT TO MARS. Usually in these period pieces, the beautiful women on-board/planetary inhabitants are there to be ogled and not taken seriously. Here, once more, FLIGHT TO MARS excels. While many of the leggy citizens still are decked out in Martian togs that apparently were lifted from nightclub cocktail hostess wardrobes, the ladies ain’t screwing around. They’re A-1 brains, who are ultimately responsible for the mission’s success (nowhere throughout the duration of the flick are they asked to make coffee or engage in any other degrading activity). A good thing, yes? Oh, and another positive point: one of the Teletubbie Martians is a person of color!

Finally, the triumph of this 1080p High Definition Blu-Ray is the platter itself. While many surviving CineColor prints tend to lean toward green with soft focus, they’ve really gone to town with this restoration. Looking like an excellent two-strip Technicolor extravaganza, FLIGHT TO MARS, utilizing pristine 35MM elements, is razor sharp with praiseworthy use of the limited color scheme. Remarkably, Mitchell once stated that the entire pic was shot in five days! If so, this is a genuinely ambitious project for Monogram, a studio then striving to go upscale – and soon to be re-christened as Allied Artists. At less than an hour and a half, none of the silliness gets to the “oy vey!” stage.

Aside from looking and sounding terrific (kudos to house talent, d.p. Harry Neumann and composer, Marlin Skiles), FLIGHT TO MARS has some nice extras, including a mini-documentary on producer Mirisch (From Bomba to Body Snatchers) and another on outer space movies (Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema’s First Space Race). There’s also audio commentary by Justin Humphreys and a full-color illustrated booklet (Mars at the Movies).

Naivety was never so much fun!

FLIGHT TO MARS. Color. Full Frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition] 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Film Detective/Wade Williams. CAT # FB1011. SRP: $24.95.

Killer Driller

The uproarious saga of how an inept dentist became a feared fast gun in the Wild West, aka 1948’s THE PALEFACE, merrily moseys into Blu-Ray City, thanks to the dudes at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.

One of the gems in Bob Hope’s movie crown, PALEFACE wowed ’em big time in 1948, becoming one of the top box-office draws of the year. The song, “Buttons and Bows” (by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans) ruled the hit parade charts seemingly forever, ultimately becoming the second tune most associated with the comedian after “Thanks for the Memories.”

By 1948, Hope was so in control of his character, what worked and didn’t work in the movies, that it’s almost inconceivable that it took him this long to do the Western parody (a ripe fruit for any screen comic since the Biograph days). That said, once decided upon, Bob did it up right, literally in Technicolor, and with his ace crew feeding him one hilarious line after another. Although Edmund L. Hartmann gets coscreen credit, the lion’s share of the gags (especially the visual ones) come by courtesy of Frank Tashlin, who took the funnyman to cartoonish heights previously thought impossible. Beautifully appending Tash were the innumerable asides fed to Hope (uncredited) by his greatest verbal mentor Barney Dean (additional “official” dialog credit going to Jack Rose). LSS, audibly and physically, the laffs come at ya from fade-in to fade-out.

Hope plays Painless Potter, a lousy Eastern dentist wisely working out West, where no one knows of his past bicuspid endeavors. It’s likely that movie-fanatic Tashlin gave the character that moniker – the identical tag given to McTeague’s groomer in von Stroheim’s Greed (the idea that Hope’s Painless tutored the brute in the silent classic is concurrently hysterical and disturbing, and a perfect Tashlin touch).

We first find Potter working out of a Midwestern bathhouse (with tubs for ladies), administering excruciating extractions only salved by near-lethal doses of laughing gas. An early sequence with noted heavy Nestor Paiva is a pip. Painless keeps checking the manual as he tortures the outlaw. “When a tooth is no good, ya PULL it!,” Paiva ferociously growls to Potter, grabbing him by the lapels. Hope’s superbly-timed response is that it’s not etiquette for a patient to tell the doctor what to do, then rifling through pages of his dental guide before addressing himself out loud “What d’ya know, he’s right.” That floored me when I first saw this classic on TV in the mid-1960s; it still does now.

The crux of the plot involves the beauteous Calamity Jane, jail-breaked on purpose by the government, who, in return for a pardon, sends her undercover as a comely hausfrau to discover who’s selling firearms to riled Native Americans, and inciting them to war. When her “husband” is found murdered, she enlists Painless to take over – offering the promise of her body as an enticement. Promise is all Potter gets.

Killing a bunch of renegades (in reality, Jane’s work), gives Hope a “print the legend” rep and he and Russell slapstick their way to the riotous conclusion, capped by a terrific climactic sight gag, and a perfect ending line (an earlier sequence, parodying the classic “high noon” showdown, is one of the most perfect riffs on the overused sagebrush cliché).

As you might surmise, I love this movie, and I wasn’t the only one. Until Blazing Saddles, a quarter of a century later, THE PALEFACE remained the highest-grossing Western comedy ever made (Hope later claimed that 1952’s Son of Paleface, also available through Kino-Lorber, was his biggest hit, but he may have been talking about pictures he personally produced, and not merely starred in). In 1968, Universal, who, in 1957, appropriated all the Paramount inventory pre-1949, remade the title as a Don Knotts vehicle (The Shakiest Gun in the West), so they saw the value in the property, too.

One curious sore thumb detractor of THE PALEFACE was cowriter Tashlin. He claimed that when he first saw director Norman Z. McLeod’s preview cut, he practically threw up. He thought the timing was way off and the best bits had been left on the cutting room floor. Tash insisted that the original project was an out-an-out spoof of the 1929 early talkie version of The Virginian. If that’s the case, indeed, some major butchery is in evidence. With maybe a couple of throwaway lines (one being a goof on “Smile when ya say that”), there really is nothing to connect the narratives; PALEFACE remains a broad spoof of the entire genre, and not of a specific sourcework. Certainly, director McCleod had the credentials (he helmed the Marx Bros.’ Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and W.C. Fields’ It’s a Gift); nevertheless, Tashlin said that McCleod’s PALEFACE effort absolutely made him decide to become a live-action director: “I could have killed that guy. And I realized then that I must direct my own stuff!” (it should be noted that other writers at Paramount, Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, acted on similar notions – their lame director despoiler of their work being Mitchell Leisen).

Hope definitely knew there was gold in them thar hills, and made Tash a close confidante, giving him a chance to reshoot sequences on The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, again, also available through Kino-Lorber), and then moving him to direct and write the aforementioned Son of Paleface (a genuine brilliant comedic masterpiece, and, yes, a rare sequel improvement on the original).

Paramount’s production pulled out all the stops to make THE PALEFACE the seasonal (Christmas) blockbuster it was. Backing up Hope and Jane Russell (as Calamity) were Robert Armstrong, Iris Adrian, Bobby Watson, Jack Searl, Clem Bevans, Jeff York, Tom Kennedy, Henry Brandon, Francis McDonald, Skelton Knaggs, Olin Howland, George Chandler, Dick Elliott, Harry Harvey, Arthur Space, and such authentic genre faces as Chief Yowlachie, Iron Eyes Cody, Trevor Bardette, Stanley Blystone, Al Bridge, Lane Chandler, Bob Kortman, Ted Mapes, and Kermit Maynard. Plus, there’s that gorgeous Ray Rennahan Technicolor photography, and a fun, spoofy score by Victor Young. And, of course, that song.

Speaking of “pale,” we must commend the new 1080p transfer that Kino-Lorber/Universal has bestowed upon us. Watching this pic on TV in the Sixties and Seventies was often a chore – the ebullient Technicolor looking washed-out and…well, perfectly aping the title – faded with the added attraction of a magenta rinse. Yep, those MCA-Paramount Eastmancolor 16MM prints were terrible. No more. This pristine 35MM transfer has restored all the spectacular colors and tones to their original luster. It’s a great-looking (and sounding) disc. Extras include audio commentary by Sergio Mims, Hope featurettes on entertaining the troops, and the theatrical trailer.

A guaranteed crowd-pleaser for comedy and Western fans, THE PALEFACE delivers the yuks without having to resort to laughing gas or any other artificial stimulants (although what ever floats your home theater boat is between you and your flatscreen).

THE PALEFACE. Color. Full Frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K24805. SRP: $24.98.