DVD review: “The Inspector General” (Collector’s Edition)
In his heyday Danny Kaye was a hugely popular, multi-threat performer – actor, singer, dancer, lithe mime, rubber-faced clown, limber-tongued monologist and charming raconteur.
As a performer from his early teens, he rose from the Borscht Belt vaudeville of Jewish resorts in the Catskills to international stardom and made his mark as a movie star in mild but enduring classics such as 1947’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” 1954’s “White Christmas” (opposite Bing Crosby) and 1956’s “The Court Jester.”
“The Inspector General,” a loose-limbed 1949 musical farce casually adapted from a play by Nikolai Gogol, is indicative of the best and worst of Kaye’s surprisingly slender big-screen resume. Directed by the versatile Henry Koster (“Harvey,” “The Bishop’s Wife”), it’s a film tailor-made for Kaye’s unique, wide-ranging and ingratiating gifts, but at its heart it’s essentially a silly bit of fluff without a hint of narrative or thematic heft.
“The Inspector General” features the red-haired dynamo Kaye as Georgi, an illiterate gypsy stooge who wonders into a quaint, unspecified European village and is quickly mistaken by corrupt local officials for the crime-busting Inspector General. Despite his clownish, bumbling ways, Georgi is thought to be in cunning, undercover mode, and the oily mayor (Gene Lockhart) and his buffoonish police henchman (Alan Hale, father of “Gilligan’s Island’s” beloved Skipper) plot devious ways to thwart Georgi, including several botched assassination attempts.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s wife (a comically ardent Elsa Lanchester of “The Bride of Frankenstein” fame) is smitten by the charmingly clueless Georgi, and the gentle townsfolk, overburdened by the mayor’s onerous taxes, rally to the supposed Inspector General’s aid.
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