The Paleface (1948) – Norman Z. McLeod

 

The family titles continue in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, following my screening of Way Out West.

This time around, Bob Hope stars as a cowardly dentist, ‘Painless’ Peter Potter, working in a frontier town, and consulting his book on dentistry to get through his patients ails. He doesn’t realize it when the lovely Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) rides into town, but he’s going to be conned into becoming her husband as she goes undercover to stop some gunrunners from arming the local Indians.

They join a wagon train, and she saves it one night, but gives the credit to Painless to make him a hero, and throw suspicion off of her, and onto him. Painless, however, starts to believe his own press, and gets all kitted out in his manner of a cowboy, and finds himself in even deeper trouble…

The film, itself, won the Oscar for Best Original Song, Buttons and Bows, sung by Hope on the wagon trail, it’s cute, charming, and plays to all of Hope’s strengths. And that is the best way to describe this undeniably fun film, it plays to both leads strengths, it lets Hope be funny and broad in his comedy, while Jane plays it completely straight, and looks amazing doing it.

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Let’s be clear, the portrayal of Native Americans in this film isn’t incredibly complimentary, but the film, is funny, and focuses more on Hope and Russell’s interactions, and some great comedic moments, including showdowns, a blossoming romance, baddies, a recurring horse gag, and some snappy dialogue.

Hope is great, he’s funny, and knows how to play the comedy from moment to moment, and Russell, gets to play a bit of the action hero, outshooting villains, and just being tough. They make a great team, sure they aren’t Crosby and Hope, but they have some fantastic chemistry together.

This was a film that I had only heard of in passing before, and honestly, wasn’t very sure if I was going to enjoy it, but as mentioned above, the two were a perfect balance providing comedy, and action beats (though the comedy far outweighed the action). Hope is just incredibly likable and charming in his role, while Russell brings some very obvious sex appeal.

And yet, it plays suitably for the entire family, there’s nothing troubling (bar the few and far between appearances of the stereotypical Native Americans, little more than cardboard cutout baddies).

So if you’re looking for something a little gentle, a little fun and goofy, that lets Hope be his incredibly funny and entertaining self, than take a look at this one.

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