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Case Number 20214: Small Claims Court

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Greaser's Palace

Scorpion Releasing // 1972 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // November 29th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker is a greasy commoner.

The Charge

If you feel, you heal.

The Case

I know Robert Downey (that's "Senior") is one of the big names of the late '60s/early '70s indie scene, but I can't say that I'm all that familiar with his work. I remember seeing Putney Swope on cable or VHS and being disappointed that the film didn't live up to the audacity of the poster (fun fact: his credit in Putney Swope lists him as "Robert Downey (a prince)"; years later, Paul Thomas Anderson aped this when crediting him in Boogie Nights as "Robert Downey Sr. (a prince)"). I know he directed the TV version of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones (1973), a program so controversial that CBS aired it without commercials since no company wanted to sponsor it, and many affiliate stations refused to show it at all. I know Downey directed a film about a dog pound called Pound that received an X rating and featured actors as dogs.

And I know Downey directed a religious allegory/western called Greaser's Palace. Like most Downey films, it's fairly obscure and fairly weird.

It's also not all that good.

Basically a collection of sight gags and jokes about Jesus in the Old West, Greaser's Palace stars Allan Arbus (Coffy) as Jessy, a zoot-suited entertainer who parachutes into a bleak western town one day on his way to Jerusalem (where, he comments, "It is written that the agent Morris waits for me"). There, our clueless Christ figure happens upon all manner of weirdness, including people who are violently and senselessly killed (all the better for him to resurrect), some sexual oddness (including a horny little person with a transvestite "wife"), a disgruntled "holy spirit" figure (a guy in white-sheet ghost get-up with a cowboy hat), folks in need of healing, and random musical numbers galore.

Unfortunately, there's also a lot of tedium in the occasionally wild west. People wander aimlessly, stare into space, crawl around, and toss off non-sequitors that are sometimes clever, sometimes pointless—which is actually a pretty good description for the whole enterprise. Greaser's Palace is one part entertaining but two parts dull, weird for weirdness sake, and nowhere near as provocative as it should be.

While I'm sure this was daring in its day—sort of a modestly blasphemous Godspell for cynical hipsters—it's pretty quaint through post-Millennial eyes, more kitsch than cutting edge, nostalgic in a lava-lamp-and-munchies way. Recognizable names dot the cast, though actual recognition mileage will vary: besides TV vet Arbus, there's Luana Anders (Easy Rider), Herve Villechaize (Fantasy Island), Toni Basil (one of the hitchhikers in Five Easy Pieces and singer of the annoying '70s hit "Hey Mickey") as a naked Native American, and Robert Downey Jr. as a little boy who dies for no apparent reason.

The disc is OK—reasonably clean widescreen transfer, acceptable audio, and an interview with Downey (Sr.) and Rudy Wurlitzer as a supplement.

The Verdict

As a curio, Greaser's Palace is not without interest, but as entertainment, it's at best an acquired taste. Worth a rental.

Not entirely guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Cult
• Religious and Spiritual
• Western

Distinguishing Marks

• Interview


• IMDb

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