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Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Luana Anders, Jim Antonio, Allan Arbus, Toni Basil, Don Calfa, Woody Chambliss, Elsie Downey, Joe Madden, Pablo Ferro and others
Greaser's Palace (VHS)  Robert Downey Sr (Size: 868.51 MB)
Greaser's Palace (1972)
Financed by Mrs. Cyma Rubin, the producer of the Broadway revival of the stage musical No, No, Nanette in 1973, Greaser's Palace (1973) was the first big budget feature for underground filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr. His reputation as an irreverent, anti-establishment provocateur had already preceded him thanks to the release of the surprise art house hit, Putney Swope (1969) and the subsequent film Pound (1970), which was a boxoffice disaster and a bad first experience with a major Hollywood distributor (United Artists). Before that, of course, he was one of the critics' darlings on the New York City experimental film scene in the late sixties with such infamous short films as Babo 73 (1964, 57 minutes) and Chafed Elbows (1966, 63 minutes).
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?" 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 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 dysfunctional children, Cholera (Luana Anders) and Lamy (Michael Sullivan), 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 lighthearted version of the cult film El Topo (1970) though with considerably less violence but just as much religious blasphemy and taboo smashing.
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 boxoffice 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-style comedy.
Seen today, Greaser's Palace is rather unique for its sick, often cruel humor and theatre-of-the-absurd sight gags. 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 (M*A*S*H*, In the Heat of the Night, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Luana Anders (a graduate of such Roger Corman gems as The 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]
Producer: Cyma Rubin
Director: Robert Downey Sr.
Screenplay: Robert Downey Sr.
Cinematography: Peter Powell
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