Cast & Crew
In the 1800s, a desert town in the West is ruled by the tyrannical Seaweedhead Greaser, whose constipated grimace is a reflection of the chronic condition of his bowels. At his ornate saloon, The Palace, Seaweedhead's daughter Cholera is painfully warbling an off-key tune to a rapt audience when a man dressed in a ghost's sheet approaches Cholera's brother Lamy and burns him with a lit cigar. Worried that the effeminate Lamy "may be a homo," Seaweedhead orders his son to leave town. As Lamy tentatively ambles down the road, Seaweedhead motions him to come back, then pulls out two long-barreled guns he has concealed in his boots and shoots him in the chest. Meanwhile, as a family in a covered wagon makes its way through the prairie, Jessy, a man dressed in a striped zoot suit and broad-brimmed hat, parachutes into a pasture. Back in town, as Seaweedhead is collecting taxes from the town's citizenry, he suddenly departs and runs to the outhouse on the roof of The Palace. At a signal, a mariachi band begins to serenade him in hopes of rousing his moribund bowels, but their efforts fail. That night, the family makes camp, and when the mother awakens the following morning, she discovers that the throats of her husband and son have been slit. After burying her husband and son, the woman continues on, but when she stops along a river bank, someone shoots her. Later, the "ghost" delivers Lamy's body to Jessy, who places his hands on Lamy's back and intones "If you feel; you heal." After Lamy miraculously comes back to life, Jessy explains that he is "on his way to Jerusalem to be an actor-singer" and that "it is written that the agent Morris awaits me." Soon after, Seaweedhead's lackeys announce that "Lamy Homo" is back in town. When Lamy rides into town on the back of a mule with Jessy, Seaweedhead pulls him down and stabs him, after which Jessy once again brings him back to life. Amazed, the townsfolk follow Jessy as he leads them to a river. After performing a somersault, Jessy dives into the water and surfaces on land, cementing his reputation as the Messiah. One of the townsfolk, a man dressed as a nun, becomes so overwrought that he tries to molest Jessy, but is stopped by the scandalized Padre. As news of Jessy's powers spread, the sick and infirm congregate to be healed by him. Back at The Palace, Lamy calls out Seaweedhead, who orders him jailed and tortured by having the mariachis blast their horns into his ears. Although badly wounded, the woman determinedly crawls through the desert sands. Jessy rides back to town just as the saloon bell tolls to announce that it is time for Cholera's performance. The townsfolk come running, and after a spirited dance, Cholera climaxes her act by stripping her clothes off in front of the audience. Jessy then requests permission from Seaweedhead to take the stage. Jessy's rousing boogie woogie rendition is met by silence from the audience until he raises his hands to reveal his stigmata similar to the wounds on Christ's hands. When the audience reacts with wild abandon, Cholera sulks because she has been upstaged by a "man with holes in his hands." Disagreeing with popular taste, Jessy's agent Morris declares the act "the worst thing he's ever seen." Later, Lamy and Seaweedhead reconcile after Lamy states that he no longer wants to die and offers to buy his father a drink, prompting Seaweedhead to proclaim that Lamy is "not a homo." After dancing a slow waltz with Lamy, Seaweedhead walks out of the saloon and withdraws to the outhouse. As Seaweedhead finally moves his bowels, The Palace erupts in a dazzling explosion. On the outskirts of town, meanwhile, Jessy has wild, passionate sex with Cholera, then accepts a ride from a cowboy who drops him off next to the "ghost." Jessy is protesting that he does not want to leave when a man in a white beard rides up and announces that "it is time." When Jessy refuses, arguing that he no longer trusts the man, the man orders him to "get moving." Reluctantly, Jessy walks into the desert, where he finds the dying woman and revives her. Now fully recovered, the woman nails Jessy to a cross. While Jessy dies, the woman's son and husband return to life, and as the three joyously embrace, the sun sets in a golden glow.
John Paul Hudson
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert L. Harman
Jean-guy Jacques St. Sis
The Gist (Greaser's Palace) - THE GIST
Greaser's Palace may have been Downey's most ambitious and costly production to date - it cost a whopping $1,000,000 dollars - but the barely released Pound had already helped kill any momentum his career might have had after Putney Swope and this new picture was not popular with his fans or most critics who had championed his former work. Kevin Thomas of The Los Angeles Times wrote "...the film is so utterly devoid of wit and imagination that the unremitting gross behavior and language it wallows in is quickly revolting," while Kathleen Carroll of the New York Daily News wondered "Does this weird concoction of Harvard Lampoon parody, half-serious symbolism and silly slapstick really work?" And Thomas Meehan of the Saturday Review said "Robert Downey seems to have absolutely everything it takes to be a successful movie director except talent," and then deemed Greaser's Palace "even worse than his earlier pictures an absurdist, incomprehensible Western that mixes in scatology, William Morris agents and the second coming of Christ." Still, there were some ardent admirers such as critic Jay Cocks of Time magazine who called it "his funniest, most accomplished and most audacious film yet," adding that it was "the most adventurous American movie so far this year."
A comic religious allegory set in the old West, Greaser's Palace follows the adventures of Jessy (Allan Arbus), a Christ-figure in a zoot suit who drops from the sky via a parachute and becomes involved with the residents of a frontier town while passing through on his way to Jerusalem to become an actor-singer. Among the eccentric characters he encounters there are Seaweedhead Greaser (Albert Henderson), a greedy land baron with severe constipation, and his children, Cholera (Luana Anders), the star entertainer at the town's sole saloon, and Lamy (Michael Sullivan), a despised son who is repeatedly killed and revived; the Holy Ghost (someone dressed in a white sheet looking like a KKK member); a topless Indian scout (Toni Basil); a ravenous dwarf (Herve Villechaize) and his transvestite wife; The Man Who Could Crawl and other weirdos. With something to offend everyone, Greaser's Palace plays like a more lighthearted version of the cult film El Topo (1970) though with less extreme violence but just as much religious blasphemy and taboo smashing.
There is some funny business derived from the sibling rivalry between Jessy and the Holy Ghost with the latter complaining to God, a stern-faced bearded man, "You never know what I can do because you never gave me a chance." Jessy, with his urban Jewish accent, fancy wardrobe and vaudeville routines, is also an amusing fish-out-of-water presence whether crossing the great plains or interacting with dirt-encrusted cowboys. He even walks on water in one scene and steals the spotlight from Cholera with his "hubba hubba" musical number that climaxes with stigmata, earning him a standing ovation. Cholera, outraged, complains to her father, "A man with holes in his hands gets greater applause than me and you talk of greatness?"
The commercial failure of Greaser's Palace may have simply been a matter of timing but movies that poke fun at religion have rarely been box office hits. Besides, Downey was never cut out for mainstream cinema, nor did he ever pretend to play the Hollywood game to get his films made at this stage of his career. That would come later with Up the Academy (1980), an unfortunate attempt by Mad Magazine to create their own Animal House (1978) -style comedy.
Seen today, Greaser's Palace is rather unique for its fusion of deadpan sick humor and infantile schoolboy jokes along with theatre-of-the-absurd sight gags and parodies of Western genre films; the visual tone of the film vacillates between a spaghetti western and a pastoral frontier drama and Downey even pokes fun at other movies such as Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970) with an ending shot of the town's main dwelling exploding in slow motion like the latter film's climax.
Equally interesting are the cast and crew which includes music composer Jack Nitzsche (an Oscar® nominee for An Officer and a Gentleman  and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ), Allan Arbus (the ex-husband of photographer Diane Arbus and a familiar face on television in shows such as M*A*S*H*, In the Heat of the Night, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Luana Anders (a graduate of such Roger Corman gems as Pit and the Pendulum  and The Young Racers ), future choreographer and singer Toni Basil (of "Mickey" music video fame), Don Calfa (the prolific character actor best known for his breakout comic performance in The Return of the Living Dead ), and Herve Villechaize (the 3' 11 inch actor appeared in various fringe films such as Seizure  and Malatesta's Carnival of Blood  before landing his iconic role as Tattoo on TV's Fantasy Island [1978-1983]). And, in a few brief scenes as the young son of an ill-fated pioneer couple is Downey's own son, Robert Downey, Jr., whose fame and fortune would far eclipse the director of Greaser's Palace.
Producer: Cyma Rubin
Director: Robert Downey, Sr.
Screenplay: Robert Downey, Sr.
Cinematography: Peter Powell
Art Direction: David Forman
Music: Jack Nitzsche
Film Editing: Bud S. Smith
Cast: Albert Henderson (Seaweedhead Greaser), Michael Sullivan (Lamy 'Homo' Greaser), Luana Anders (Cholera), George Morgan (Coo Coo), Ronald Nealy (Card Man/Ghost), Larry Moyer (Captain Good), John Paul Hudson (Smiley), Jackson S. Haynes (Rope Man), Larry Wolf (French Padre), Alex Hitchcock (Nun), Pablo Ferro (Indian), Toni Basil (Indian Girl), Stan Gottlieb (Spitunia), Herve Villechaize (Mr. Spitunia), Don Smolen (Gip), Joe Madden (Man With Painting), Don Calfa (Morris), Woody Chambliss (Father), Allan Arbus (Jessy), Elsie Downey (The Woman), Rex King (Turquoise Skies).
by Jeff Stafford
The Gist (Greaser's Palace) - THE GIST
If you feel, you heal.- Jessy
Dad, I was swimming in a rainbow with millions of babies... ...and they was naked... ...and then all of the sudden I turned into a perfect smile!- Lamy Homo Greaser
Put a rope around the son of a bitch!- Old guy
I'm on my way to Jerusalem to be an actor/singer. It is written that the Agent Morris awaits me.- Jessy
I can crawl again!- Inflicted Man
A man with holes in his hands gets a bigger applause than me and you talk of greatness?- Cholero Greaser
You're not a homo, you're a Greaser!- Seaweedhead Greaser
Robert Downey's onscreen credit reads "Writer-director." Ron Neal, who plays two different characters, is billed twice onscreen, once as "Card man" and once as "Ghost." Many of the other onscreen credits were illegible. According to Time Magazine, Mrs. Cyma Rubin, a fledgling Broadway producer who was the wife of the former owner of Fabergé, gave Downey $1,000,000 to produce Greaser's Palace. A December 1972 Variety news item added that the film was initially distributed independently in New York in the summer of 1972. It was then picked up for national distribution by Donald Rugoff's Cinema 5 company. Filmfacts noted that the picture was shot on location in New Mexico. Although a June 1971 Variety news item stated that Eddie Carmel was in the cast, his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. "Jessy's" agent "Morris" was an in-joke referring to the William Morris Agency.
The narrative consists of a series of rambling, picaresque sequences, several of which were not included in the summary above. Omitted sequences include: A scene dealing with the mother of "Seaweedhead Greaser," who, although being imprisoned by her son, reassures him that "he will always be her favorite," several scenes in which Jessy proves his healing powers to the Indians, as well as a sequence in which a dwarf named "Mr. Spitunia" flirts with Jessy while the dwarf's wife, a bearded man clothed in a dress, spews obscenities.
Elsie Downey, who played "The Woman," and Robert Downey, Jr., who played her "Son," were the director's wife and son. Allyson Downey was Downey's daughter and Stacy Sheehan was his niece.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States November 1972
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)