Paleface, The (1948)

“There’s a million Indians out here against one coward!”

Synopsis:
Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) is offered a pardon if she can discover who’s selling guns to Native Americans, and hoodwinks a cowardly dentist (Bob Hope) into marrying her as part of her disguise.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this top-grossing Bob Hope comedy (scripted by Frank Tashlin and directed by Norman Z. McLeod) as “engaging”, noting that while it has “an unfortunate lack of visual wit”, Hope’s “non-stop wisecracking is most often on target”. He calls out a few of the “top comedy sequences”, and notes that, for him, the “picture’s highlight has Hope singing ‘Buttons and Bows’ to Russell”. While I’m basically in agreement with Peary’s positive but not overly enthusiastic review, I’ll admit I simply didn’t find it all that funny this time around (I remember enjoying it quite a bit more when I first saw it years ago). Perhaps I’ve simply watched too many Bob Hope films recently, but I didn’t find his performance in this one to be particularly memorable or side-splitting. With that said, it’s always refreshing to see a strong female character like Calamity Jane on-screen (Russell is fine in the role), and I did enjoy the bawdy comedic tension generated by Hope’s perpetually unconsummated marriage to the bodacious Russell.

Note: Interestingly, this title is included in the notoriously snooty 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, though the reviewer is frustratingly elusive as to exactly why it should be considered “must-see”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hope singing the pleasantly hummable Oscar-winning song “Buttons and Bows”

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its historical popularity.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Paleface, The (1948)”

  1. A once-must: for Tashlin’s obvious contribution to the script (which seems to have been doctored by some others uncredited), Russell’s engaging performance, and for what is most likely Hope’s best role.

    Seeing this again after many years, I wasn’t getting the impression that the effect (of the film or Hope) was intended to be “side-splitting” (necessarily). If the script is not hilariously funny, it nevertheless has undeniable charm. You’re likely to be smiling if not guffawing throughout. Hope unfortunately made so many films of a forced and painfully unfunny nature that it’s a nice treat to come across one that is simply a pleasant change. Interestingly, in a lot of Hope’s films that were made after he split from Bing Crosby, it’s Hope (of course) that runs the engine. Here, that’s not the case; Russell is the dominant force (note how many times Hope says “Yes, ma’am” to her; she is clearly in charge).

    Unlike other Hope films as well, which are designed as comedies first and foremost, ‘The Paleface’ has quite a few plot-driven scenes that play with a more dramatic tone; so there’s a bit of reprieve from Hope’s character. Thus, he’s easier to take in smaller doses. I don’t mean to imply that Hope is a terrible entertainer – it’s just that too much of the material he usually had to work with did not (in my opinion) put him in league with the best comics. (Not that that hurt his career; his was quite successful. It’s just that most of his films have not held up well.)

    Russell is striking; she has real screen presence here and is a pack of fun in this role.

    I’m also making this a must-see because I’m always on the lookout to add a comedy to the must-sees when at all possible. A list of must-sees will always be dominated by a mixture of genres other than comedies. That’s because there aren’t nearly as many good comedies that continue to stand the test of time. FFs also need a break from heaviness, seriousness, what have you. And ‘The Paleface’ works well enough to make the comedy list.

    Note: In one scene, Hope is challenged to a pistol duel. As he’s walking on his way to face it, various men stop Hope one by one to give him instructions on how to conduct himself. It’s the kind of routine that would appear years later in ‘The Court Jester’ as the one regarding “the pellet with the poison”. It seems to have been a somewhat popular kind of bit in this era of comedy. I seem to recall it showing up somewhere else as well, but I’m not exactly an expert on the history of popular comic routines (and who influenced who in that regard).

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