We have several people here on Rogue Cinema who love classic movies. Every month we have Jason Lockard and Phil Smolen covering various classics, and my personal review site, B-Movie Central only has reviews of classics. I tend to take whatever classic screeners come along, because that’s my thing. Sometimes I’m just sent a classic randomly, and that’s what happened when I was sent The Inspector General from Shout Factory.
Now being someone who’s really into the classics, you’d think I’d be really familiar with Danny Kaye, who stars in this film. To be honest, I’ve never actually seen a film with Danny Kaye in it. At least, not that I can remember anyway. I was keenly aware of one thing though, and that didn’t lead me into this film with a positive view of its star. I have heard first hand accounts, anecdotal accounts and heard that various books have all confirmed the same thing. Danny Kaye was a jerk. He could be really cruel with people and was just generally unpleasant to work with. Some people say it was because he was a perfectionist, while others say he just had an artist’s temperament. Honestly, I don’t care what the deal was with him. Knowing that he was like that totally tainted my image of him, and I can’t watch a film with him in it without thinking about that constantly. You didn’t see people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and many of the greatest stars of the era being that way with people and garnering themselves a bad reputation.
So, that said, what about this film? Was his performance able to break through my image of him and win me over?
Well basically, in this one Danny Kaye plays Georgi, a kind hearted but illiterate fool who works as an assistant to a traveling gypsy snake oil salesman named Yakov (Walter Slezak). The Inspector General has been sent by Napoleon to rout out all the corruption in the country, and he’s going town to town punishing and executing corrupt officials. He often travels in disguise though while he’s investigating, which leads to the misunderstanding that is the very foundation of the plot in this film. Through a series of events, Georgi ends up in a town that’s as corrupt as any in the country, and after he’s arrested for suspicion of theft and is going to be executed, they get the mistaken notion that he’s the Inspector General, and in an attempt to cover up their corruption, they ply him with food, drink and bribes in an effort to get him out of town as quickly as possible, which Georgi is more than happy to do, as he really has very little idea of what’s going on, how to act like an Inspector General, or why they even got the idea he was the Inspector General in the first place. He’s just happy he’s not going to be executed. That’s when Yakov shows up in town and finds out what’s going on. He hatches a plan to use Georgi to soak the corrupt officials for bribes and then to throw him directly into the middle of their plot to have him killed. Will Georgi be able to survive this treachery and expose the corrpution to the real Inspector General? You’ll have to see the movie to find out.
So, what did I think of Danny Kaye in this film, seeing as how it’s my first experience with seeing him perform? To be honest, he was unbelievably annoying. It’s like, if you took Robin Williams from his Mork and Mindy days and melted him down with Jim Carey from his In Living Color days, mixed in a generous helping of crack and then sent the result back in time to become an actor. That’s Danny Kaye. Not only is he annoying, but the film is full of tediously long and unbelievably boring musical numbers, all of which feature, you guessed it, Danny Kaye.
Now just because he was annoying, doesn’t mean this was a bad film. It was actually a pretty good film, aside from the boring musical numbers. The rest of the cast did a great job of being "characters" in this corrupt town, and it really sort of brought the town to life, not so much in a genuine way, but in a classic movie sort of a way, if that makes any sense. In fact, I liked everyone in this film except for Danny Kaye. He did have moments that were somewhat charming, but they were far overshadowed by the exaggerated quirkiness and ignorance of his character, which very quickly became both irritating and tiresome.
As for the story, it was actually quite entertaining. I really enjoyed the whole aspect of the traveling gypsy snake oil salesman, and the fact that the corrupt officials in all the towns all seemed to be related to one another.
This new release of the film from Shout Factory says it’s newly remastered. However, there were two problems with the visuals in this film. First, there’s a bar at the bottom of the video that’s slanted off, like it was recorded from an old VHS tape that had the tracking slightly off at the bottom or something. Second, there are some white lines on the right side of the screen outside of the frame of the film itself that are solid and stay there throughout the entire film. Why these exist in a remastered copy of the film, I don’t know. It seems like a pretty glaring technical glitch to let pass through the mastering process. The only thing I can figure is that the source material was already like this, so there was no way to correct it. Still, neither issue is horrible or any reason to not get or watch the film. It is something that should be noted though.
For special features, the disc includes 17 minutes of rare color home movies taken by director Henry Koster on the set of the film, with commentary by the director’s son, Robert Koster. It also has a 1938 short film starring Danny Kaye called Money On Your Life, with commentary by film historian and archivist, Bruce Lawton. I actually liked Kaye’s performance more in this short than I did in The Inspector General. It was far less tweaky and annoying and had more of a Marx Brothers kind of a feel to it.
If you like Danny Kaye, or this film in particular, you’ll want to add this release to your collection. Even if you don’t care for him much, the story and the other characters in the film make it worth watching. Even Kaye can be endearing at times, I just wish he had toned down the quirks and focused more on the character.