The Bottom Line
Ever seen a Danny Kaye movie you didn't like? The lovable actor stars as a lowly con artist mistaken for the "Inspector General" in a strange town. Unfortunately for him, the mayor and his compatriots are corrupt and want the Inspector dead!
The Rest of the Story
(WARNING: Contains spoilers. Go see it anyway.)
1949's The Inspector General, adapted from Nikolai Gogol's lamentable play "Revizor", instead reincarnates the con man with a heart of gold in song-and-dance man Danny Kaye. Playing Georgi, he and his partner Yakov (Walter Slezak) begin selling a secret elixir to a group of townspeople. When one woman confides in Georgi that she is buying the elixir to save her dying daughter, he has a change of heart and admits that the potion is really poison! Outraged, the townspeople chase them out of town, where they separate to better escape.
Georgi ends up in Brodny, a very small town. Through a serious of simple bad assumptions and overheard comments, the Mayor becomes convinced that Georgi is the Inspector General - a position under the Emperor to visit each town in turn and snuff out corruption. This doesn't bode well for the Mayor and his associates, so they plot to kill the "General." Meanwhile, they put up a good front of liking him, treating him to fine foods and a warm bed. Soon, even Kaye almost begins to believe in his power - with the help of three more of himself convincing him with the rousing number "Arrogant, Elegant, Smart." At the same time, he's also falling in love with Leza (Barbara Bates), a maid working for the Mayor, who slowly but surely is also falling in love with him.
Yakov appears in town and soon takes on a position as "advisor" to the Inspector General. He, not being as naive as Georgi, immediately demands a bribe from the town to hide the rather-evident corruption. The Mayor agrees and then becomes even more determined to kill the Inspector General, since he is obviously just as corrupt as them. He even pays Yakov extra to do the dirty deed. Traitorous!
Will Georgi escape Yakov's clutches and get the girl? Where is the real Inspector General anyway? Will the Mayor and his cronies (including the confusing twins Izzick and Gizzick) get away with their corruption? Is there room for one more outrageous musical sequence for Mr. Kaminski?
I first saw this movie late one night on A&E, and I was flabbergasted. I had always thought the consummate musical comedy performance was Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Here I got to see the original master at work. Kaye is sensational, start to finish. From the opening song where he sells snake oil to the locals and shows off its effects in acrobatic detail to his showstopping quartet with himself when considering his new position as the Inspector General, Kaye shines on the stage, the natural performer, and a forgotten breed. The movie's plot is straight enough to move itself along, silly enough to give all of the actors their shining moments, and simple enough that anything Kaye does, goes.
Walter Slezak plays his typical moustache-twirling self as Kaye's partner; Elsa Lanchester is divine as the mayor's daughter; and all of the Mayor's cronies show signs of life, a major detour from the common one-dimensional baddies of today. Go rent this movie today, watch it with your family, and then look on with lament at other "comedies" like Dude, Where's My Car? and BASEketball. They just don't make 'em like they used to ...
Rating: 8 out of 10, with an extra 10 out of 10 for Kaye, bless his soul.
Nikolai Gogol (play, "Revizor")
Danny Kaye as Georgi
Walter Slezak as Yakov
Barbara Bates as Leza
Elsa Lanchester as Maria
Gene Lockhart as The Mayor
Alan Hale as Kovatch
Walter Catlett as Colonel Castine
Rhys Williams as The Inspector General