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The Inspector General: Collector's Edition DVD Review



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#1 of 23 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 16 2011 - 05:11 AM

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.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/

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

Year: 1949

Rated: NR

Film Length: 102 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 4:3


Subtitles: None


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.  

Packaging

The disc is enclosed in a standard sized clear DVD case with a reversible cover allowing the viewer to choose from art derived from two different vintage theatrical posters.

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 23 OFFLINE   Dave B Ferris

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Posted September 16 2011 - 08:23 AM

Thanks for the review. I pre-ordered this for in-store pickup at my local Barnes & Noble. I had never owned any of the Public Domain releases, so I'm glad my first experience with the film will be with the best available release.

#3 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted September 17 2011 - 04:42 AM

can't wait to get mine
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#4 of 23 OFFLINE   Bob Koster

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Posted September 19 2011 - 03:30 AM

Those home movies were lifted from a collection about 9 1/2 hours long, beginning in 1934 in Budapest and ending in the early 1960s. Dad was a compulsive picture taker who wanted to record his career on film as much as possible. We are currently working on making a 1 12 or 2 hour digest of the best of this but it will take time. The choices are not easy. I'll be working with an archivist/editor. We hope to be finished in a year or two. Oh, by the way, there are also about 12 photo albums, all carefully annotated, and a longish audio memoir. Maybe a multi-media book is in the future. Any comments out there? Anyone interested? Bob Koster

#5 of 23 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 19 2011 - 05:21 AM


Originally Posted by Bob Koster 

Those home movies were lifted from a collection about 9 1/2 hours long, beginning in 1934 in Budapest and ending in the early 1960s. Dad was a compulsive picture taker who wanted to record his career on film as much as possible. We are currently working on making a 1 12 or 2 hour digest of the best of this but it will take time. The choices are not easy. I'll be working with an archivist/editor. We hope to be finished in a year or two. Oh, by the way, there are also about 12 photo albums, all carefully annotated, and a longish audio memoir. Maybe a multi-media book is in the future. Any comments out there? Anyone interested? Bob Koster


I would certainly be interested in any of those options.  I admit that I was unimpressed when I saw the extra listed as "home movie footage" and a little taken aback that I would have to sit through seventeen and a half minutes of it for my review.  My preconceived notions were proven 100% incorrect by the selection and quality of the footage as well as the informative and entertaining commentary.  Any chances of incorporating appropriate excerpts from this material in future video releases of Henry Koster films would also be welcome, but I understand that the behind the scenes work to make this happen can be complicated.


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#6 of 23 OFFLINE   Bob Koster

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Posted September 20 2011 - 05:49 AM

Complicated, yes, but worth it in the long run. Thank goodness for Final Cut and its ilk! I can't imagine sitting with 9 1/2 hours of 8mm film, not even Super 8, and editing it down to manageable length. I'd go blind!

#7 of 23 OFFLINE   Dave B Ferris

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Posted September 20 2011 - 09:50 AM

Bob, from my vantage point, I think your Dad's best-remembered film is 'Harvey'. If you could find a lot of interesting material about 'Harvey', I can say I would "double-dip" on another DVD (or Blu-Ray) release, if your material could be included as bonus content.

#8 of 23 OFFLINE   Bob Koster

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Posted September 21 2011 - 02:35 AM

That's possible, Dave. Nobody has approached yet about a special edition of HARVEY much as it deserves that treatment. Universal is quite adamant about protecting its interests. INSPECTOR GENERAL was in PD ergo easy to release. If Universal decides to re-release HARVEY and they approach me I will gladly cooperate. I don't expect it in the near future however. I have had extensive dealings with its archive department and they are not as open to suggestions as those of other studios. It's a shame. Many fine movies under wraps. Witness what happened with SPRING PARADE.

#9 of 23 OFFLINE   Mark B

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Posted September 21 2011 - 09:06 AM

Received my copy today and am pleased with what I've seen thus far. The behind the scenes footage is wonderful, and the quality of the transfer for the main feature is better than I anticipated. It's nice to hear a bit of hiss on the sound track. I'm a bit tired of over-processed audio.

#10 of 23 OFFLINE   MrsMac

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Posted September 27 2011 - 06:41 AM

Hubby and I are interested in this DVD as we own one of the wretched public domain releases and it's not even viewable. :( Anyhow, what we'd like to know: is closed-captioning available on this DVD? From all I've read it appears not, but no one (including Shout! Factory) has been able to tell me yes or no.

#11 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted September 27 2011 - 07:09 AM

^ when mine comes in the mail I'll be glad to check for you. Hopefully I'll have it by the weekend.
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#12 of 23 OFFLINE   MrsMac

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Posted September 27 2011 - 12:13 PM

Thanks, Radioman970!

#13 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted September 29 2011 - 09:06 AM

No subs. :( I even tried closed captioning on my TV and nothing. A real loss since old folks with lesser hearing would sure enjoy this. And it would be easier to sing along! :) Not entirely happy with the image quality. I got a combing effect with my PC player. But on my TV I didn't notice it. I remember Roan being better. So I'll have to compare with the Roan release when I get a chance. I definitely need to visit with this film over the weekend after the week I've had. If they would only give us Lili soon. These are complete mood changers.
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#14 of 23 OFFLINE   Bob Koster

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Posted September 30 2011 - 06:26 AM

This was the best copy we could find. It came from a California collector who had it hidden for years. I suspect it was only played once or twice because there were very few scratches and blips on the print, and the color was the best I've seen in years. There is a wealth of material in those home movies, but Dad did not cover every film he made. He did extensively cover the films he made in Europe, pre- World War 2. The doc CONEMA'S EXILES on BS had some of that footage, a little bit, anyway. And UNERWUENSCHTES KINO (UNDESIRABLE CINEMA), a film made a few years ago by Filmarkiv Austria, had quite a but more, but there is much more not yet seen. I will be in discussion in a few weeks with a producer who approached me about making a feature length doc about Dad's life, and of course much of the home movie footage will be included, from both here and abroad. I will try to prevent as much as possible the inclusion of the hundreds of feet of film Dad took of me naked in the bad yard at age 6 months, etc. Trust me - you wouldn't be happy with that.

#15 of 23 OFFLINE   Bob Koster

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Posted September 30 2011 - 06:27 AM

Ooops - "CINEMA'S EXILES on PBS"...

#16 of 23 OFFLINE   MrsMac

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Posted September 30 2011 - 07:46 AM

No subs. :( I even tried closed captioning on my TV and nothing. A real loss since old folks with lesser hearing would sure enjoy this. And it would be easier to sing along! :)

:( Well, boo-hoo. Guess we won't be spending the $$. Drats, drats, drats. Thanks, Radioman, for sharing the news - even if it wasn't what I wanted to read.

#17 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted September 30 2011 - 01:10 PM

Hey, you're welcome MrsMac. You may be able to watch one of the lesser public domain versions you can find on the net with subtitles. "srt" is a subtitle file extension. You google for a avi and a srt of the film. Have them in the same directory with the same name, expect for the extension (files should be named something like inspectorgeneral.avi and inspectorgeneral.srt). Use VLC media player (it's free but get from it's official site). This sure won't look like the shout! or the Roan version but at least you could watch the film. (I know this from the very few unavailable foreign language films I've wanted to watch from files on the net) I didn't mean to say the Shout! version looked bad. The image does seem sharp, with good color for a film of it's age. I remember the Roan being cleaner. But I will definitely do a direct comparison when I get time.. And to add, I certainly think the extras are worth the price paid for this shout version. Even though I thought it was a 2 disc set for some reason. :P As soon as I can I'll be happy to post a few comparison screens and we can see.
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#18 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted October 01 2011 - 02:00 AM

Screenies! (won't even bother with some PD release from The Dollar Tree) (click the shots for slightly larger versions) Used VLC Player Print Screen button GIMP Photobucket WB Logo (:02, approx) 1. Roan, 2. Shout! http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ Kaye's head (7:37) 1. Roan, 2. Shout! http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ Kaye's tired (13:18) 1. Roan, 2. Shout! http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ Townspeople on the bridge (15:06, I think...timing wasn't exact) 1. Roan, 2. Shout! http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/ http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/
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#19 of 23 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted October 01 2011 - 02:04 AM

I'm so used to the darker/over colored version (since about 1980, when I discovered this film). I mean, Roan's looked just like my tape I had only a bit sharper. But I think the Shout! might actually be the better of the 2..but damn, I don't know.. Fun to have to make this choice! :banana:
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#20 of 23 OFFLINE   MrsMac

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Posted October 01 2011 - 12:31 PM

Love the screen shots. *jealous*

Hey, you're welcome MrsMac. You may be able to watch one of the lesser public domain versions you can find on the net with subtitles. "srt" is a subtitle file extension. You google for a avi and a srt of the film. Have them in the same directory with the same name, expect for the extension (files should be named something like inspectorgeneral.avi and inspectorgeneral.srt). Use VLC media player (it's free but get from it's official site).

Appreciate the info. Too bad I can't translate all this to work on our DVD player and TV set. :D We don't watch on our computers. Oh well, there are loads of movies out there, but I'm thankful we didn't spend our bucks on this.