1949 | Approved | 1h 42m | Comedy, Musical, Romance
Out of all of the genres I’ve enjoyed and immersed myself in over the years, musicals were never my favorite—with few exceptions. However, watching funnyman, singer, and dancer Danny Kaye in films such as 1946’s “The Kid from Brooklyn” and 1954’s “White Christmas” (with fellow standout Bing Crosby) made me his fan.
So, it was only a matter of time before I watched the rom-com musical “The Inspector General,” a 1949 Danny Kaye vehicle. Directed by Henry Koster (“The Bishop’s Wife,” 1947; “Harvey,” 1950), this zany romp is a briskly paced affair that showcases Kaye’s numerous talents. The film is based on a 19th-century Russian play by Nikolay Gogol.
The film opens with Gregor (Nestor Paiva) traversing some dusty and drab foothills, desperately pushing his horse to its limits. He gallops into a town called Brodny and, as he dismounts, is immediately accosted by guards. However, Gregor manages to barge through the guards, insisting that he talk to his cousin, the mayor of Brodny (Gene Lockhart). Gregor greets the mayor, a shady man who is holding court in the town council’s chambers, surrounded by other murky characters who are all related cousins and oversee various facets of the town.
Gregor has ridden in from a neighboring town and brings bad news: The emperor has sent forth an inspector general to purge the countryside of corruption. He tells his highly corrupt cousins that “wherever [the inspector] finds bribery and corruption, there the gallows and the firing squad go to work!”
Since Gregor explains that the inspector general is traveling incognito and no one knows what he looks like, the mayor orders all of his subordinates to begin cleaning up the town, or at least make it presentable as a place where corruption doesn’t exist.
Meanwhile, Yakov (Walter Slezak) has a traveling band of performers. He is performing with one of his actors, Georgi (Danny Kaye), a good-natured simpleton. While a gathering crowd looks on, Yakov insists that Georgi’s life has been extended for 2,000 years by ingesting “Yakov’s Golden Elixer,” which is actually furniture polish.
But when Georgi witnesses Yakov selling some of the fake medicine to a poor old lady whose husband is sick, he tells the lady the truth. Naturally, when the crowd overhears this deception, they turn into an angry mob that runs Yakov and Georgi off. Furious that Georgi revealed his scheme, Yakov tells his former actor to leave.
Yakov wanders into Brodny and is wrongly arrested as a horse thief. Shortly afterward, the mayor meets with all of his officials, and Kovatch (Alan Hale), his chief of police, reports that he’s had all of the roads leading to the village blocked off, thus preventing any surprise visits from the anticipated inspector.
But when Kovatch also mentions that he recently arrested a “common tramp,” the rest of the council assumes that their new prisoner, Georgi, is actually the inspector general in disguise. The council thus frees Georgi and tries to impress him—all the while plotting to murder him.
From there, over-the-top high jinks ensue, with Georgi at the center of several plot lines, including a romantic one with the outstanding Barbara Bates as local girl Leza.
This is one of the most outrageous of Kaye’s films I’ve seen—and I mean that in the best of possible ways. It packs a fantastic supporting cast that doesn’t disappear due to Kaye’s over-the-top physical antics but rather complements him.
Additionally, it features some great writing, with a story line that has many twists and turns, as well as some positive messages about being honest and forthright no matter how dire or confusing one’s circumstances are.
Some of its musical numbers are a bit long-winded (no pun intended) for my taste. However, fans of musicals will probably enjoy them.
In the end, “The Inspector General” is highly entertaining with some hilarious, often satirical dialogue that is elevated further by Danny Kaye’s infectious brand of physical humor. By the time the ending credits roll, its satisfying climax should cheer anybody’s mood—the perfect sort of film for these challenging times.
‘The Inspector General’
Director: Henry Koster
Starring: Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 31, 1949
Rated: 4 stars out of 5