Saturday, 4 April 2009

Movie Review - Paleface

Paleface is a harmless, reasonably funny spoof of Western films. Starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell, it’s a mixture of satire and just plain silliness, with a bit of romance and a few daft songs thrown in for good measure.

Russell plays Calamity Jane, a rough, tough, rootin’-tootin’ sort of gal, who has been freed from prison, apparently by bandits but really by the authorities, who want her to do a job for them. Someone’s been running guns to the Indians, and they need to find out who it is. Jane is to meet with another agent and they will travel to the suspected area of the next contraband handover disguised as a husband and wife just tagging along with the wagon train – nobody would be suspicious of them.

But, of course, all does not go according to plan. Jane reaches the office of the agent she is to meet and finds him with a knife in his back. She has to find another partner in order to disguise herself as a wife (duh), so she teams up with the unlikeliest of runaways – “Painless Potter” (Bob Hope) – a hopeless dentist who needs to get out of the city since his last customer was not too impressed by his ineptitude and will kill him once the laughing gas wears off. When Jane kisses him for the first time she cracks him over the head with the butt of her gun from behind – thus leading him to believe that she’s an amazing kisser…

And this is the sort of daft humour that continues throughout the movie. Potter inadvertently leads most of the wagon train into wilderness, and while he’s hiding outside in a barrel, Jane shoots attacking Indians that suddenly appear. Of course, everyone thinks it’s Potter who did it and that he lead the wagon train away to mislead the following Indians, proclaim him a hero, etc. Eventually, of course, Jane falls in love with him – but when this happens it seems a little late…

Hope’s gentle style of humour is on-off here – he is very funny at times but on other occasions his jokes fall very flat. Russell is a good foil for him and looks like she’s enjoying herself in her energetic role. Some of the best moments in the film come when the Native Indian Chiefs (played by 2 real-life Indian Chiefs) discuss the future of their captives and the resulting chaos. Potter impersonating a Witch Doctor is incredibly stupid but also quite funny. The special effects are pretty crummy even considering the time the film was made, but that really doesn’t matter. The film is hammy but it knows it’s hammy and doesn’t care. It’s not a particularly memorable film, and personally I found the sequel, Son of Paleface, to be better in pretty much every respect. Politically correct people may find the way the Native Indians are portrayed offensive, but if so then they should really grow up and learn what the word “comedy” means – and if the “Red Indians” are portrayed badly, there’re still not nearly as insultingly depicted as the “White Man”. (Okay, okay, putting away soap box now…)

Overall this is an inoffensive (unless you are overzealously PC) little film that certainly has its moments but overall is just a decent film. It’s quite funny throughout, very funny in a couple of instances, and the two stars, Russell and Hope, work together well. I think the main problem is that these two are expected to hold the film together too much – one of the things that makes Son of Paleface better is that there are two more main characters to share the load. The plot is your standard “Cowboys and Indians” hokum with a little comedy and romance thrown in on the side. And that’s really all there is to it – a film that you’ll enjoy seeing and then instantly forget. If you’re a particular fan of Hope or Russell, you might well feel that it’s a 4 or perhaps even 5-star film, but while I do like Hope, I feel that Paleface is far from his finest hour, and while I don’t mind Russell she doesn’t really do a lot for me.

If you’re looking for a film the whole family can watch as very light entertainment, you could do a lot worse than watch Paleface.

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