The Paleface (1948)
Genre: Western Comedy
Starring: Bob Hope (My Favorite Brunette; Road To Utopia), Jane Russell (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; The Tall Men)
Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod (It's A Gift; Monkey Business)
Overview: Calamity Jane is offered a pardon if she discovers who's selling arms to the Injuns. When her cover of a husband is killed, she hooks up with a bumbling dentist instead. The arms dealers aren't fooled however, convinced as they are that the dentist is the Federal Agent on their trail.
Acting: From what's I've seen so far, the directorial skill of Norman Z. McLeod is such that everything he touches becomes completely mediocre. To think that Norman was ever a 'top director' is a laugh. It's almost like the actors had to fend for themselves in spite of this mediocre man. Either way he pumped out so many films for Paramount Pictures in his career that you just know he's a permanent set piece in the studio, and not really an artist with integrity concerned with any vision. Luckily, Bob Hope and Jane Russell need no direction, and the supporting cast meagerly eke their way through this travesty.
Cinematography: There's something creepy about watching a scene where the evil Indians attack only to be shot into a nice, orderly pile, especially when every single scene is without any doubt a studio set. There is something to be said about a controlled environment, with light in all the right places, always just the perfect weather and cabins and towns that look just like you want them. That thing that is to be said is: it's not real. It's obvious how unreal it is. It's detrimental how fake such a film becomes, no matter how perfectly professional.
Script: This is the first Bob Hope film I've ever seen. Wow, what lame one-liners. I remember growing up and knowing that there were big American names of the heyday like Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney and George Burns who would just be names that I'd know as 'celebrities out of context', because I'd never seen (and probably never WOULD see) the old films they were in. The occasional interview or bio about the olden days made me realize they were film stars, but also that the USO days were long over. I realize that that 'out of context' feeling is leaving now, as I'm studying all these masters of their era, but sometimes it's better to remember someone for their greatness imagined, rather than the truth delivered.
Plot: As semi-romantic Comedy Westerns go, we have a few elements worthy of mention: a strong female lead, some funny stunts and a climactic ending (regardless of all the suspension of disbelief). On the other hand we have a film that provides more entertainment as a cultural yardstick of culpability than entertainment as 'something fun'. A film shot in over-vivid hyper-colour filled with two-dimensional weak aggressors who die comically as a vehicle for plot challenges is about as entertaining as watching a Negro Watermelon Eating Contest film from 1896. Trust me, it's entertaining, but not because it's 'fun'.
Mood: Simply because a film is a comedy, does it make is any less worthy of being made with the intent to immerse the audience in a world of funny mistakes and skin-of-the-teeth close calls? Apparently so. The fake studio look aside, we also have virtually no attempt made to hide the dummies or the stuntmen. The pang of racism also leaves an interesting bitterness. How dare a people defend their land, ha ha, look at them die. Well, actually, maybe that's far more realistic than I'd care to believe...
Overall Rating: 54% (Wouldn't Be Better With Blackface)
Aftertaste: When you take a female lead who plays the strong character to deliver the bad guys to the law, does it make waves for the empowerment of womankind? To this I say yes. However, if we take the same woman but give her a historic name, oh Calamity Jane for example, does it have the same effect, or does it diminish the empowerment of women by saying "this person is a historic figure, a RARE example of the 'rough ladies' of the day, and not just another woman with a strong will"? Perhaps a little. Then again, it's probably just laziness. Isn't it easier to have a role that people know already, rather than having to actually DEVELOP a character? My, my what tiring work!