Judge Patrick Rogers doesn't like Danny Kaye. That's one thing he doesn't have in common with Laurence Olivier.
"But wait till that luscious little lovely finds out you're not the Inspector General!"
I have to admit I've never been the world's biggest Danny Kaye (White Christmas) fan. His onscreen personality always seemed forced, as if he was constantly trying too hard to ingratiate himself with an audience by using a scattershot approach to showmanship. His physical comedy is uninspired and lazy at times, to the point where I'd just as soon watch a Buster Keaton (The General) film instead. His character-fueled pantomimes always seemed like a pale imitation of Charlie Chaplin (Modern Times), so again, why not just watch a Chaplin film? And while Kaye's strongest characteristic was his ability to be a goofy yet lovable performer, I'd rather be predictable and watch Gene Kelly(Singin' in the Rain) or Fred Astaire (Flying Down to Rio) sing and dance. So the term "second rate" keeps popping up in my mind. I know that Kaye has many fans and he's regarded as one of those definitive showmen, so before I get hate mail, I do feel incredibly bad for saying that. For people looking to watch a Danny Kaye film for the first time, The General Inspector is one of his more generic outings, so you should probably seek out The Court Jester or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty instead.
Facts of the Case
Georgi (Danny Kaye) is kind of a buffoon. While traveling with a band of Gypsies, Georgi stupidly reveals to his customers that the "medicine" he's trying to peddle is a hoax. Finding himself kicked out of the group, Georgi wanders into a town run by a corrupt mayor (Gene Lockhart, Carousel) and his cronies. The mayor, hearing the Inspector General is in town, becomes frightened of being busted for his crimes. Seeing Georgi stumbling around like an idiot, the mayor confuses the moron for the Inspector General putting on an elaborate ruse and attempts to plot ways to have him killed. Hilarity ensues.
So what makes The Inspector General such a bland film? It's a film that doesn't take itself seriously at all. While this is true of virtually every Danny Kaye film in existence, there's a certain go-for-broke attitude at play here. Kaye throws in so many different absurd songs, sight gags, and bouts of physical comedy that he assumes something's bound to stick even though almost all the jokes and all the situations are the same. It ends up falling flat and feeling forced. When Kaye's at his best, he's a decent self-deprecating performer who imbues his characters with a relatively defined sense of neurosis and clownish lovability. At his worst, he's a bland dime-a-dozen performer mugging for applause.
The plot of the film—your usual case of mistaken identity—has been done a thousand times before in far better films. Chaplin's The Great Dictator is the first of many to come to mind, purely in the silent film era alone. It's a one note affair centered around people thinking Kaye's character is some sort of high class officer come for an inspection and that his buffoon-like nature is just a ruse. There are only so many times you can go over the same joke before it gets stale. The Inspector General should have a statement in there that makes apparent the dichotomy between social classes. Instead, we just get generic upper class villains to highlight the gluttony and selfishness of the rich juxtaposed against Kaye's illiterate yet lovable stand in for all aspects of poor society. It's nothing substantial or enlightening.
With this DVD release, Shout! Factory has given us an incredibly mediocre full frame video transfer. It almost looks no better than a subpar VHS tape, the way the print is marred with scratches and pocked with dirt. It's soft beyond belief and fuzzy when colors should be sharp, even for a film so old. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio is similarly muted. The dialogue is almost indecipherable at points because of how weak and spacy the sound is on this disc. In terms of special features, however, Shout! Factory slightly makes up for their weak release. What we get is 17 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage shot by director Henry Koster that includes a commentary by his son, Robert Koster. Also included is Danny Kaye's earlier short film Money on Your Life, complete with a very informative commentary track by film historian and archivist Bruce Lawton.
Inspector General is a film that probably would have fit right in somewhere between 1915 and 1930 but instead it was 19 years late. Maybe back in the heyday of Keaton, Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd (Safety Last!), Danny Kaye would have been enjoyable. Here he just seems like a man clinging onto an era that's since long past. The film is irrelevant and this DVD does not help matters.
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