Friday, April 23, 2010

Greaser's Palace (Robert Downey Sr., 1972)

Describing a scene where a mustachioed stranger in a zoot suit revives the life force of a man recently shot to death in order help him ride a donkey into a town run by a murderous tyrant isn't the wisest course of action when it comes to writing words about Greaser's Palace, an absurd mishmash of top drawer poppycock from director Robert Downey Sr. (Hugo Pool), but that's the best I can come up with. You see, the film doesn't yield an inch in terms of being weird. In fact, it's one the most relentlessly strange films I have ever seen. Of course, I still haven't decided whether or not if this uncompromising nature is a good or bad thing. On the one hand, you want the film to be able to freely express its inner mental patient. On the other hand, it'd be nice if it made a glimmer of sense every now and then–you know, for the sake of my sanity. Either way, there's plenty of cult-based meshugaas spread throughout this film to satisfy the voracious appetites of underground cinema fans. Just as long as you're willing to wade through a lot of bewildering nonsense.

Reminding me of one of those pop-locking dancers during the finale of Xanadu and the guy who kept doing back flips on the revamped version of the Sammy Maudlin Show called "Maudlin o' the Night," Jessy (Alan Arbus) wanders across the arid landscape of this unnamed universe looking to for away to get to Jerusalem (the only geographical reference in the entire film). Since his attire is more akin to that of Cab Calloway than your average gunslinger, the 1890s-era folks he meets on his journey look at him with a fair amount of confusion. The town he ends up in is controlled by a dictatorial madman named Greaser (Albert Henderson), a violent individual who keeps his mother locked behind bars and likes to defecate in an enclosed place.

Wearing white gloves, Jessy heals the sick and reanimates the dead with a simple touch; the latter of which is done to a little fella named Lamy (Michael Sullivan) not once, but three times. (Did I mention Mr. Greaser is a violent man?) The fact that we know the zoot suited stranger can mend wounds through molestation causes one to feel much anguish every time this seemingly random woman (Elsie Downey) appears on screen. Writhing and lurching over the parched earth like a maimed sloth, the bullet and arrow ridden adult female struggles to make her way through this cruel world. Instead of assisting this exceedingly hurt woman out, Jessy seems more interested in getting his acting and singing career off the ground.

Now, I may be misreading the film here, but I think Jessy is supposed to represent some sort of spiritual entity. The water walking, the stigmata (crucifixion wounds), the predilection towards healing, they all add up to him being some sort of saviour. Except, instead of answering to a god named God, Jessy was down with someone/something named Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary Indiana. While not as intimidating as the classic, more traditional deity, Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary Indiana was still able to affect the masses merely by casually uttering his or her unwieldy name.

Remember when I said Jerusalem was the only geographic reference in Greaser's Palace? Well, if you look closely at the name, Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary Indiana, you'll notice Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft And You'll Be Gary Indiana has the name of a city in the middle west section of the United States of America in its tail section. Anyway, as you'd expect, the amount geography-related egg on my face at the moment is astronomical.

Speaking of eggs, I mean, the U.S.A., the location of the film is probably the western part of that country. However, since non-native religions are inoperable in North America, the fact that a Christ-like figure would show up in a land founded by the faith and culture of the First Nations people baffled the living fudge out of my puny Canadian brain.

If all this talk of indigenous peoples and theological functionality is causing your crotch to itch (and not in a good way), don't worry, there's plenty of comedy sprinkled throughout the film to keep your mind sufficiently frazzled. I mean, if the sight of Hervé Villechaize (Forbidden Zone) aggressively hitting on Jessy doesn't cause you to loose interest in sex for at least six days, then you ain't hooked up right. Actually, the funniest moment comes when Jessy heals a man using a makeshift crutch to help himself walk. The sound of him declaring, "I can crawl again," over and over again was definitely tickle worthy.

In terms of traditional trouser titillation, I'd have to say the scene where always fabulous Toni Basil (Rockula) runs around topless was the best example of this all-important cinematic attribute. I also liked the acute symmetry of Luana Anders' face. (You might remember her as one of the commune Hippies from Easy Rider.)

 (pictures via


  1. I like eggs. And I'm half First Nations. (Seriously.)

    This week's South Park is brilliant. Oh, we are still weeks behind in Jeopardy! episodes.

  2. Eggs are fine and dandy.

    Let me get this straight, you're a half First Nations Anglophile from Rochester who likes China Crisis?

    Another piece of the puzzle is in place. *muted maniacal laugh* ;)

    You mean the Muhammad in a bear suit one? If so, then, yeah, I heard about that one. :D

    I got a Final Jeopardy! clue correct the other day that no one else got (I love when that happens). And to think, it was all thanks to Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

  3. All I wish to state here is that GREASER'S PALACE just so happens to remain one of the most stunningly beautiful, direct and eloquent of surrealist love stories (and love poems to the one of the truly Great ones, Jesus Christ, in Heaven) and abstract motion pictures in the entire canon of film history. SHAME ON YOU for not `getting it' the same way you get so many other (and lesser) efforts which you go on about endlessly here (in your element, I might suggest!) Shame on you!

    1. In my defense, 2010 was a long time ago. I'm sure if I watched Greaser's Palace today, I would go on about it endlessly in a manner more to your liking.