The next film in our 1001 movies quest was The Paleface (1948). This one is interesting, and entertaining, but not really as good as some of the other flicks we’ve had the pleasure of watching.
It pales (yes, that was intentional) beside Red River, which we discussed here just a few weeks ago. One can argue that that is because The Paleface is a comedy… but that’s not it. After all, the screwball era had just passed in Hollywood, releasing such classics as Bringing up Baby, My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man.
The problem isn’t that Hollywood had forgotten how to do comedy, but that public tastes were changing to what we would now recognize as 1950s wholesomeness. And it’s… well, it’s not as fun as the edgier stuff from the 30s and earlier in the 40s.
That’s not to say this movie isn’t fun. It is. But it feels hopelessly innocent, like something made for kids. The cynicism, the acceptance that adults could deal with more of an edge seemed to be seeping out of Hollywood at the same rate as it would disappear from American society.
That’s probably a natural reflection of the way Americans had changed after the war as they entered the golden age of the nation, and I assume we’ll find a lot of this as we watch the 1950s unfold through the lens of Hollywood (I’m also sure Hollywood will find a way to get a little darkness in there, so looking forward to that, too).
This is one of those films which couldn’t be made today because of the way native Americans are portrayed. While everyone is made fun of in the film, the mere fact that some of the jokes are about Native tribes would preclude its being redone. Also, the fact that the conflict between settlers and natives is told from the settlers’ side would make it unacceptable to the modern arbiters of cultural acceptability. If anything, the fact that it’s unrepeatable might make it worth watching even if it isn’t perfect.
Of course, most viewers won’t care about any of that and simply enjoy the film for what it is: a goofy western with excellent actors in a transitional era. Perhaps not a defining classic worthy of 1001 film inclusion, but an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author. His work spans several genres, from literary to science fiction, and has even set some stories in the old west. His latest book is a collection of stories entitled Off the Beaten Path, and you can check it out here.