GREASER’S PALACE (director/writer: Robert Downey; cinematographer: Peter Powell; editor: Bud S. Smith; music: Jack Nitzsche; cast: Allan Arbus (Jessy), Albert Henderson (Seaweedhead Greaser), Michael Sullivan (Lamy ‘Homo’ Greaser), Luana Anders (Cholera), George Morgan (Coo Coo), Ronald Nealy (Card Man/Ghost), Larry Moyer (Captain Good), John Paul Hudson (Smiley), Jackson S. Haynes (Rope Man), Larry Wolf (French Padre), Alex Hitchcock (Nun), Pablo Ferro (Indian), Toni Basil (Indian Girl), Stan Gottlieb (Spitunia), Herve Villechaize (Mr. Spitunia), Don Smolen (Gip), Joe Madden (Man With Painting), Don Calfa (The Agent Morris), Woody Chambliss (Father), Elsie Downey (The Woman), Rex King (Turquoise Skies), James Antonio (Vernon); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cyma Rubin; Scorpion Releasing; 1972)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An unimaginative, unfunny, gross-out satirical parable on Jesus that’s set in the 1800s in the Old West, with the messiah a dandy with a Noo Yawk Jewish accent named Jessy (Allan Arbus), an aspiring vaudeville actor/singer/dancer in a pink brimmed hat and zoot-suit who is en route to Jerusalem. The irreverent offbeat slapstick comedy is so silly, witless and tiresome that the pic is unwatchable-an embarrassment. It’s written and directed by underground filmmaker Robert Downey (“Up The Academy“/”Chafed Elbows”/”No More Excuses“), best known as the father of Robert Downey Jr.(the seven-year-old appears as a mutilated pioneer child). Downey’s a NYC based experimental filmmaker whose career bottomed-out after his surprise success with Putney Swope.This is Downey’s most ambitious pic and his most costly, budgeted for $1,000,000 dollar. It turned out to be his biggest flop, turning off even his most ardent fans.
Jessy parachutes into the sagebrush desert on the American side of the Mexican border and wanders on foot in the wilderness of the Old West. The wanderer soon becomes involved with the eccentric residents of a frontier tumbleweed town run by the evil, brutal and greedy tyrant Seaweedhead Greaser (Albert Henderson), who is a land baron and owner of the dance-hall called Grease’s Palace that also acts as a church. Greaser is constipated and is always running to the bathroom, has a mariachi band and keeps his mother locked in a wooden cage. After Jessy brings Greaser’s despised son Lamy ‘Homo’ Greaser (Michael Sullivan) back to life by touching him and saying “If ya feel, ya heal” after the old man has killed him because he suspects he’s a “homo,” with this becoming an annoying running gag that has Greaser’s illegitimate son repeatedly getting killed by his rotten father and Jessy bringing the little guy back to life every time and the revived soul tells about his wonderful afterlife experience. The joke is that Jessy’s healing powers leads him on a strange trip he never planned, as he now has a gathering of loyal followers hoping for miracles. When Jessy gets a chance to perform at Greaser’s Palace his singing and dancing doesn’t excite the locals, but when the blood starts flowing from his palms they go wild and he wins the audience over. Later Jessy’s send out to the desert by the Holy Father (Woody Chambliss) and gets crucified by a dying woman he brings back to life (who is supposed to be his mother).
Some of the oddball characters include Greaser’s daughter Cholera (Luana Anders), the star singer/exotic dancer at the saloon; the Holy Ghost (Ronald Nealy) who is dressed in a sheet and a derby and pleasures himself by putting out his cigar on Lamy’s hairy chest; a topless Indian scout (Toni Basil) riding around town, that gives us gratuitous titty shots; the crippled weirdo Vernon (James Antonio) who is healed by Jessy and now crawls; and the interactions of a sexually aggressive dwarf (Herve Villechaize) and his bearded transvestite wife (Stan Gottlieb) are a few of the eccentrics who try to make funny with such juvenile material.
The slight plot is built around a collection of skits made to be shocking, violent and perverse, whose appeal might be to those who find such self-indulgent absurd antics irresistible despite their depravity. For me, though it’s beautifully filmed and the acting is fine, I couldn’t wait for this constipated piece of crap to end.
REVIEWED ON 5/20/2010 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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