The Inspector General (1949)

The Inspector General (1949)

“He has full power from the emperor himself. And wherever he finds bribery and corruption, there the gallows and the firing squad go to work!”

An illiterate peasant (Danny Kaye) working for a traveling medicine show man (Walter Slezak) is mistaken as the feared Inspector General by a corrupt mayor (Gene Lockhart) and his fellow town officials.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Hale Films
  • Comedy
  • Corruption
  • Danny Kaye Films
  • Elsa Lanchester Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Mistaken Identities
  • Musicals
  • Play Adaptation

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary provides some interesting social context in the opening lines of his review of this “badly dated” Danny Kaye farce: he reports that Kaye (“part owner of the Seattle Mariners”) was “roundly booed” at a “game [he] attended in Yankee Stadium” a few years earlier, and notes, “How his star has fallen…”. Indeed, reading Bosley Crowther’s original review for the New York Times — in which he writes that “at this late date, there’s no necessity to describe Mr. Kaye’s comic type–a charming combination of the meek, the meticulous and the mad–or his wonderful grace and dexterity in manipulating his face and form” — supports this assertion. At any rate, Peary laments that the premise of The Inspector General (very loosely based on a play by Nikolai Gogol) “becomes as tiresome as all [of] Kaye’s songs”, but argues that Kaye — who “does some good physical comedy” — “comes off better than the silly script and better than in some of his other roles”. This may be true, but it’s not enough to recommend the film to anyone other than Danny Kaye fans. All-purpose film fanatics should stick with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and The Court Jester (1956) as their two obligatory Kaye flicks.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Several amusing songs
  • Walter Slezak — effectively menacing as Yakov the “Medicine Man”
  • Elsa Lanchester in a too-brief performance as the mayor’s wife (who falls hard for the Inspector General)

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Danny Kaye fans.


One thought on “The Inspector General (1949)

  1. Not exactly my first viewing (but that is explained below). Not must-see but the second half (also as explained below) may be of interest to those who particularly enjoy farce. (As well, Peary once again seems to get the meaning of ‘dated’ wrong.) …As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Oh, I mustn’t be found here! Where will I hide?!”

    ‘The Inspector General’ (1949): Over the years, I tried every now and then to give this (now public domain) film a go… and each time I gave up soon into the viewing. But this time I was determined to ‘pull through’. Something interesting happened as a result. I very much enjoyed… the second half of it! I have no idea what Nikolai Gogol’s original play is like – or how its idea of a traveling medicine show goofball mistaken for an official town investigator plays out – but, in my first attempts, I always thought this musical version started out somewhat lethargically. It also seems to show Danny Kaye at his most… over-eager (i.e., doing the kind of thing Jim Carrey or Robin Williams might do when they think they have to be full-throttle, without considering that ‘less is more’). But, midway (and from there on)… thanks largely to the lively musical contributions by Johnny Green and Kaye’s wife Sylvia Fine (esp. her terrific lyrics for the centerpiece title song as well as the gypsy drinking song near the end)… and a script that suddenly re-invents itself very seriously as a madcap farce… ‘TIG’ becomes quite enjoyable. Sylvia Fine, of course, would (a few years later) be one of the main reasons that ‘The Court Jester’ remains an undisputed classic (and, in *that* film, Kaye is directed to ‘rein it in’ a bit more, to better effect). Bottom line: If you can proceed gently with the first half here, you may have more fun thereafter. There’s nice comic support from Elsa Lanchester, Walter Slezak and Alan Hale.

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