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  Son of Paleface West Is Best
Year: 1952
Director: Frank Tashlin
Stars: Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Roy Rogers, Bill Williams, Lloyd Corrigan, Paul E. Burns, Douglas Dumbrille, Harry Von Zell, Iron Eyes Cody, William 'Wee Willie' Davis, Charles Cooley
Genre: Western, Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Junior Potter (Bob Hope) has just graduated after fourteen years at Harvard, but before he can marry his sweetheart she recommends that he go out West like his dentist father did before him, and become a hero. As it happens, Junior knows exactly the destination to head for, the town where a statue has been erected in his father's honour, but little does he know that there is trouble afoot there. So much that government agent Roy Barton (Roy Rogers) has been sent there to sort out an outlaw known only as The Torch - though nobody but her gang knows that she is a woman (Jane Russell).

Son of Paleface, as the title suggests, was a sequel to the 1948 smash hit The Paleface, which had also starred Hope and Russell, though singing King of the Cowboys Rogers was a novel addition to the fun this time around. There was some dispute among fans over which was the better comedy, with some preferring the original, which in its way is more traditional, while others championed the follow up, which saw Frank Tashlin graduate from writing duties to direction, a position reflected in the far more cartoonish nature of the gags. Tashlin allowed his imagination full rein in this one, working out as many spoofs of the Western as he could in ninety minutes.

Naturally, Hope was ideal for Tashlin's sense of humour, as he could take care of snappy delivery of the oneliners, while his director and co-writer could apply himself to the energetic physical slapstick and often near-surreal set ups. Neither took the genre seriously, which is probably why Son of Paleface still plays very well after all the upheaval Westerns went through subsequently, as here was a kidding variation on all those old clichés that became so passé for generations. Seeing Hope bluster and cringe and spoof his way through what should have by all rights been just as easily rendered as a straightforward plot for such things was the best reason for watching.

But that was not to say his co-stars simply stood back and allowed the star to steal the show, as all three had roles to fill. Russell was plainly enjoying herself as the saloon owner and singer who Junior lusts after, getting not only to dress up in finery, but also to strap on her six guns and don a fetching all-black outfit for her character's criminal activities to boot. And she got to sing, and prove herself if anything equally as capable in these surroundings as Rogers had been. As for Roy, he got to play straight man turned hero, but was wise to bring his horse Trigger along as Hope performed some ridiculous bits of business with the "World's Smartest Horse", as he was called in the opening credits - including sharing a bed (but not the covers).

Much of the pleasure of watching a Bob Hope movie came from the witty quips, and here he (and his writers) did not let his fans down - when he notices Rogers' guitar he asks "Aren't you glad you wrote that letter to Santa?" and even Rogers looks to be suppressing a laugh - yet as important was the action that Tashlin got him into. From throwaway items like drying his hands on elderly prospector Ebenezer's beard, to more elaborate setpieces such as the shootout and chase finale which incorporates all manner of impossibilities, Hope was in his element here. Actually, the storyline was, if anything, too basic as the three leads are offered their roles to play and it goes unwaveringly from A to B as far as any narrative innovation went, but that merely indicated Son of Paleface was chiefly concerned with the jokes above anything else, and enough of them were funny to make this well worth your while. Music by Lyn Murray.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Tashlin  (1913 - 1972)

American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.

 
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