Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Paleface (1948)

The Paleface (1948) ★ 1/5

With no
question this is the worst movie I have seen in my journey through 1001 movies you must see before you die. I almost couldn't bear to finish it. The Paleface stars Jane Russell as Calamity Jane and Bob Hope as Painless Potter. Potter is a completely dimwitted, moronic dentist who gets caught up with Calamity Jane in a Western adventure turned comedy.

While I always held high regard for Bob Hope for his musicals with Bing Crosby, his USO work and his unparallelled gigs as the host of the Academy Awards, his performance in The Paleface was a complete let down. If you took Jack Black and threw him into a 1940's movie, it would be no different then Bob Hope's performance in The Paleface. The comedy was forced, over the top, and in no way funny at all, although you can tell Hope thought he was hysterical. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of this film was ad-libbed and everyone working on the set laughed out of obligation and they kept it in the film. It was so ridiculous. You can even tell just by looking at the poster for the film.

Jane Russell on the other hand was brilliant in the film. She plays Calamity Jane, or a very loose adaptation of her. She is strong, confident and independent. Her character and performance breaks the genre's stereotype of the women being either victims or weepy, lovesick romantics. The film opens with a jailbreak. Jane is the one being broken out. It turns out the jailbreak is orchestrated by the Governor who requests Jane's assistance in preventing the sale of firearms to Indians in exchange for a pardon from a 10 years sentence.

Jane is smarty, savy and cunning agent. She works to figure out the plan to smuggle the arms to the Indians, and to fight them off. In all of her conquests, Potter comes out looking like a hero with growing confidence that only increases the unnecessary one liners.

If it was not for Hope this would have been a great movie. I just couldn't get past the stupidity of his character and the humor which was not funny in any way whatsoever. Interestingly enough, the film spawned Hope the biggest musical hit of his career. "Buttons and Bows" was not only a huge hit for him, but it also ended up winning the Academy Award for best song. The musical numbers in the film are sparse and done so in a way that they fit. Singing and dancing segments do not just pop up at inappropriate places. Hope sings "Buttons and Bows" while they ride along on a wagon trail. So it is not like they just break out into song and dance which would be somewhat unfitting for a Western. On another positive note, I will say that the use of Technicolor in this film makes it easy on the eyes. the colors of the sets and costumes work well in the film.

This is a movie that does not need to be on the list. The only reason to see it is to become better acquainted with Jane Russell. Of course there will be more to come from her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) - which incidentally does belong on the list.

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