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Danny Kaye's unique singing, dancing and mugging talents get quite a workout in The Inspector General (1949), a musical-comedy farce based on the much-filmed Nikolai Gogol play Revizor. The story, set in an Eastern European village during the 19th century, has Kaye as Georgi, an illiterate medicine-show huckster who is mistaken for the Emperor's "Inspector General." Because this officer is charged with exposing corruption and has powers to punish and reform, half the villagers grovel over Georgi while the others panic at the thought of what his "inspection" may reveal. Schemers who have been pocketing tax money attempt to assassinate him.
In Gogol's original, the fake inspector capitalizes on the villagers' error by living it up and seducing local maidens; in the film, however, Kaye remains pure of heart and really just wants to worm his way out of the situation. Walter Slezak shines in support as Georgi's treacherous old boss Yakov (purveyor of a fake remedy called "Yakov's Golden Elixir"), who tries to blackmail the local officials before the real Inspector General arrives on the scene. Adding to the fun are Barbara Bates as Kaye's true love, Gene Lockhart as the town mayor and Elsa Lanchester as the mayor's wife, who falls in love with Georgi.
The film's focus, though, is on Kaye and his antics, which include a funny acrobatic sequence set in a military training school where Georgi wrestles with a dummy. Kaye (1913-1987) was an extraordinary entertainer of great vocal and physical dexterity, known for his rapid-fire double-talk and seemingly able to twist his face and body into any shape. Many Kaye aficionados consider The Inspector General, along with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and The Court Jester (1956), among his finest film work.
Sylvia Fine, Kaye's wife from 1940, served as co-producer and contributed original music to the film, including the Kaye numbers "Happy Times" and "The Gypsy Drinking Song." Johnny Mercer co-wrote the latter song, and Johnny Green won a Golden Globe for his musical score.
Producer: Jerry Wald, Sylvia Fine (associate producer)
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz, Philip Rapp, Ben Hecht (uncredited), from play Revizor by Nikolai Gogol
Cinematography: Elwood Bredell
Original Music: Sylvia Fine, Johnny Green, Johnny Mercer
Editing: Rudi Fehr
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Costume Design: Travilla
Cast: Danny Kaye (Georgi), Walter Slezak (Yakov Goury), Barbara Bates (Leza), Elsa Lanchester (Maria), Gene Lockhart (The Mayor), Alan Hale (Kovatch), Walter Catlett (Col. Castine), Rhys Williams (Inspector General).
by Roger Fristoe