Capsule/Summary ****Danny Kaye's entertaining, gently satirical musical farce The Inspector General is rescued from PD purgatory by this welcome Collector's Edition from Shout! Factory. Audio and video quality are not quite at the level of the best archival releases from the major studios, but they are substantially better than the previous DVD releases from the usual public domain suspects. The film is accompanied by two high quality extras: a montage of color on-set footage from the film with commentary by the director's son and a vintage two-reeler starring Kaye with an optional very informative commentary from film historian Bruce Lawton.
The Inspector General: Collector's Edition
Directed By: Henry Koster
Starring: Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates, Elsa Lanchester, Gene Lockhart, Alan Hale
| Studio: Shout! Factory |
Film Length: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Release Date: September 20, 2011
The Film ****The Inspector General adapts a popular 19th century satire from playwright Nikolai Gogol into a very entertaining vehicle for 20th century film and radio star Danny Kaye. Kaye plays Georgi, the illiterate second banana to traveling gypsy snake oil salesman Yakov (Slezak). When Yakov cuts Georgi loose after showing sympathy to a duped customer, he finds himself starving and penniless in a town run by a corrupt Mayor (Lockhart). The Mayor and city officials, almost all of whom are family members, are on high alert that an Inspector General representing Napoleon will be coming into their town incognito to audit their performance. When the transient Georgi appears, they assume he is Napoleon's disguised agent and roll out the red carpet for him. As he gradually figures out what is happening, Georgi attempts to sustain the charade, partly at the prompting of his old boss Yakov who has an eye on the town's coffers, and partly out of sympathy for townspeople such as Leza (Bates), who are anxious to end the corruption that is impoverishing all but the Mayor's cronies.
The Inspector General is easily one of the top films in Danny Kaye's filmography, and while it has not exactly been absent from home video in the DVD era, this film originally produced at Warner Bros. has been dawdling in "Public Domain Purgatory". To encapsulate all of the versions released to date in one sentence: there was a pretty decent release from Roan and absolutely terrible releases from everyone else. With the Roan release out of print and fetching ridiculous prices online, Shout! Factory have done movie fans in general and Danny Kaye fans in particular a great service by releasing The Inspector General in a collector's edition DVD.
Fans of Danny Kaye may as well stop reading this review and go out and purchase the film on disc right now. The entire film is tailored around his talents, and he is given a wide berth to indulge the nonsense songs, funny character voices, and inventive physical gags that made him famous. Those who find Kaye's schtick tiresome need not apply, but who wants to invite those ol' stick-in-the-muds to their party anyway?
Kaye's antics are aided and abetted by a terrific supporting cast who all drolly under-play to make each sequence work to appropriate comic effect. Director Henry Koster appears to have done a great job of insuring that everyone was on the same page as far as what made any particular scene work and/or be funny, and the ensemble, including such formidable character actors as Gene Lockhart, Walter Slezak, Alan Hale, and Elsa Lanchester, play off of each other to perfection.
On the technical side of things, the film also includes some nifty special effects inclusive of a memorable scene in which Kaye musically interacts with three superimposed manifestations of how he imagines he should behave as an Inspector General. The editing and performance aspects of this sequence are every bit as complex as the typically tongue-twisting wordplay inherent to the lyrics from Kaye's wife and long-time collaborator Sylvia Fine.
The Video ***The color 4:3 image accurately reflects the original aspect ratio of this Technicolor production. Color saturation is not particularly vivid, which is likely consistent with prints of the era, and there is a certain amount of softness with minor registration issues evident. Reel change markers show up throughout, and film-domain wear and tear is consistently present, although not excessive. It appears that some care was taken to transfer an element that had its share of problems, and subsequent clean-up in the digital domain was minimal. In any case, it is miles better than the public domain copies I have seen, although I do not currently have a copy of the Roan release with which to do an A/B comparison.
The Audio ***Audio is courtesy of a 192 kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track, which is serviceable if not spectacular. It appears to have been derived from a better than print source with some care taken in digital clean-up while avoiding over-processing. No alternate language audio tracks are included.
The Extras ***Home Movie Footage (17:30) is, as the description suggests, a montage of silent color home movie footage taken behind the scenes by/for Director Henry Koster during the production of the movie. The footage is accompanied by commentary from the director's son, Robert Koster, who offers up biographical information for just about everyone who appears on screen as well as several interesting behind the scenes bits of information. All indications from the footage are that Koster ran a fun set. There is one sequence showing the filming of a tracking shot that will give viewers a vivid glimpse into exactly how much of an engineering feat it was to put a massive three-strip Technicolor camera in motion.
Money on Your Life (18:26) is a vintage black and white two-reeler from 1938 starring Danny Kaye and Charles Kemper. Kaye plays Nikolai Nikolaevich a Russian immigrant being pursued by Bolshevik assassins. In the course of the pursuit, he stumbles across the office of insurance salesman Kemper who is smugly satisfied to sell him a life insurance policy until he becomes aware of the assassins. The frantically paced slapstick in this low budget production from the Educational Films studio plays like a live action cartoon. Audio video quality is very rough, with super-high contrast and lots of visible film damage. This short is also accompanied by an audio commentary from Film Historian and Archivist Bruce Lawton. Lawton provides informative behind the scenes information on the cast and filmmakers including details about Danny Kaye's early career. The commentary is dry and scholarly, which is occasionally amusing when Lawton offers a dry assessment of what makes certain broad gags funny.