The Inspector General (1949) starring Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates
I’m a longtime fan of Danny Kaye – one of the screen’s greatest clowns, he has room to truly strut his stuff in this wonderful film. The movie begins as Georgi (played by Danny Kaye) is working with his partner Yakov (played wonderfully by Walter Slezak), as a pair of traveling snake oil salesmen – Georgi of course feels quite bad about selling the bogus goods to innocent peasants, and nearly gets the pair hung. The stage is set with the two main characters – Georgi the nice, sweet, simple, illiterate, dumb-as-a-stump, lovable waif at large in the world, and Yakov, his only friend, who would gladly sell him down the river in a moment. Frankly, Yakov is the finest example of this type of character I’ve ever seen – he’s simultaneously likable and despicable, and a joy to watch.
The pair soon separates, and Georgi stumbles into a town, where he’s first imprisoned as a vagrant, then (incorrectly) assumed to be the corruption-overthrowing Inspector General, who’s supposedly traveling in disguise. The mistaken identity is played to the hilt by Yakov, who returns to take advantage of the situation, and to milk the town’s corrupt officials.
The corrupt officials make several attempts to kill Georgi, all of which fail – after all, how menacing can Alan Hale (the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island fame) be, after all – in humorous ways. The obligatory love interest is provided (upright young peasant girl, who knows that the Inspector General will set everything right). Eventually, the real Inspector General appears, and after a few moments of tense drama, all is set right.
In this film, Danny Kaye does it all, and does it all well. He sings & dances, inducing bouts of hysterical laughter along the way. He plays the lovable innocent, whom everybody roots for. He plays comic foil to Yakov and the corrupt townspeople. He plays the romantic. He does the right thing, knowing it will put his neck in the noose, time and again. In a nutshell, it’s one of the finest comedies I’ve ever seen, and I recommend it highly. Clowns are well advised to watch it twice – once for pure enjoyment, and the second time with a notebook, to learn how well character-derived comedy works.
I rate it 4 clowns on a 5-clown scale.
Editorial review of The Inspector General, starring Danny Kaye, courtesy of Amazon.com
This release is a must own for anyone who either wants to learn more about Kaye’s work, or just wants to be introduced to a canon that frankly, is under-looked. A perfect launching point for those looking to be introduced to Kaye’s filmography, the release is dense, entertaining, and visually striking. Simply put, this is a must own for fans or novices alike. —Criterion Cast, September 2011
Danny Kaye shines as Georgi in this 1949 satirical musical comedy about a lovable buffoon who wanders into a town where he is mistaken for the Inspector General by its corrupt mayor. Fearing exposure, the mayor and his equally crooked councilors make attempts to assassinate him, but the kindly townspeople are on Georgi’s side. Loosely based on the play by Nikolai Gogol, this Henry Koster gem ranks among Danny Kaye’s most celebrated movies. Newly Remastered!
Funny movie quotes from The Inspector General (1949), starring Danny Kaye
Kovatch (Alan Hale): Oh, I love my family, but I’d give my six kids to get rid of my wife.
Georgi (Danny Kaye): [singing] Drink to me only wi-ith thine eye-eyes / And I will drink with my nose!
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): Your Excellency – he took bribes, he drank all my wine, he-he-he yelled out the windows, he even made love to my wife! How could I doubt that he was an Inspector General?
Yakov (Walter Slezak): You’ll regret this, you fat-faced village idiot!
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): What! You … you … How dare you!
Yakov (Walter Slezak): Keep your dirty hands off me, you misbegotten peasants!
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): Tie him up!
Yakov (Walter Slezak): The Emperor will tear this stinking village down over your ears, you thieving lard-bucket! Heads will roll here like marbles – yours first, and then this flea-ridden sack of nothing you call the Inspector General!
Inspector General: Oh! Why, he’s insane! Take him away! Take him away!
Yakov (Walter Slezak): This isn’t the Inspector General! Don’t make me laugh! The great Emperor wouldn’t appoint a thing like this to a post of such importance! THIS is your Inspector General! Here! His carriage, his manner, his bearing. Gentlemen, take your choice.
Georgi (Danny Kaye): [singing to himself on how to pull off the scam] Be arrogant, be elegant, be smart!
Georgi (Danny Kaye): [making up code for ‘arrogance, elegance, and smarts‘] Give ‘em the fist, give ‘em the wrist, give ‘em the finger!
Gregor: The Inspector General. Yes, he has full power from the Emperor himself. And wherever he finds bribery and corruption, there the gallows and the firing squad go to work. More.
[the newly deposed Mayor of Klimenti is immediately given more wine to calm him]
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): What does he look like, this Inspector General?
Gregor: Who knows? A man of mystery. Five days he was in our midst and no one even suspected it. He went everywhere, saw everything, and uncovered such corruption that even I was shocked.
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): The hospital – have you cleaned it up?
Lazlo: Well, you could eat off the floors. We put sheets on the bed, and we got the goats out of surgery. I put charts on the foot of each patient’s bed indicating the nature of their illness.
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): Good. Now at least they’ll know what they died from.
The Mayor (Gene Lockhart): [hearing that a stranger’s been arrested who might be the Inspector General in disguise] You idiot. Did you search him? Question him?
Kovatch (Alan Hale): Well … it was so near lunchtime.
Turnkey: This is a nice jail. Really it is. We’ve had some wonderful hangings here.
Yakov (Walter Slezak): May I become a wandering gypsy if I’m not telling the truth.
Georgi (Danny Kaye): But you ARE a wandering gypsy.
Yakov (Walter Slezak): That proves I’m telling the truth.
Georgi (Danny Kaye): [nervously] Oh, I have no wife. None of my family had wives. My father didn’t like wives. I mean, my mother didn’t like my father’s wives.
Trivia for The Inspector General starring Danny Kaye
- Near the beginning of the movie Leza (Barbara Bates) is tightening the corset of Maria (Elsa Lanchester). Maria demands that Leza tighten the corset more and Leza explains that is already tight. After Maria leaves another character comments that Leza was correct and the corset was too tight – it makes her eyes bug out. - This was an inside joke since Elsa Lanchester’s eyes were somewhat protuberant.
- Nikolai Gogol’s play, The Inspector General opened in St. Petersburg, Russia. in April 1836.