Cousin Gregor (Nestor Paiva) rushes to the council chambers of The Mayor (Gene Lockhart) of the corrupt town of Brodny. He is running for his life after being sentenced to death by the Inspector General. Gregor use to be mayor of a town called Klinenti. A different corrupt town. The Inspector General is traveling to each town and cleaning out the corruption. He has full backing of the Emperor. Gregor says the Inspector General is heading this way.
After delivering his bad news Gregor takes his fresh horse and races away. Realizing that it’s just a matter of time before the Inspector General gets around to his town The Mayor has all the councilmen, who are also relatives, quickly clean up the town. Not knowing what the Inspector General looks like he orders Kovatch (Alan Hale), the police chief, to post guards on all the roads leading to town and find out if anyone entered the city in the last twenty-four hours.
Already in town is a band of traveling gypsies run by Yakov Goury (Walter Slezak) selling snake oil. Georgi (Danny Kaye) works for Yakov. When a little old lady with a sick husband wants to buy some medicine Georgi can’t bring himself to cheat her. He tells here the medicine is fake. Other people hear him and attack Yakov, Georgi and the wagon. Georgi runs for his life. He wanders around for a couple days before returning to town. Having not eaten for all that time he steals some oats from a horse’s feedbag. The horse begins following him. Kovatch accuses him of stealing the horse and throws him in prison.
When the mayor hears about the vagrant in jail he mistakenly believes that Georgi is the Inspector General. Georgi is released from prison and, with much fanfare, given a feast. Things are looking good for Georgi, at least for awhile. Yakov finds out that Georgi is being wined and dined and wants to exploit him. He says he is the Inspector’s servant in order to get access to the council. Georgi wants to flee town before the council finds out who he really is but Yakov convinces him that the Mayor and the council are crooked. Which they are. He makes Georgi believe that he can do something to clean up the town. Yakov is really planning to take a bribe from the council and take off leaving Georgi in the lurch.
What Georgi also doesn’t know is that The Mayor and the council are plotting to kill him. And the mayor’s wife, Maria (Elsa Lanchester), wants to seduce him. Plus there is the nagging worry that The Mayor and the townspeople will find out he is a fake and hang him for sure.
“The Inspector General” was released in 1949 and was directed by Henry Koster. It is loosely based on a play by Nikolay Gogol. The story was changed from Russia to a fictional country ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a musical/comedy and these days a fantasy. Since Inspectors General have been dropping like flies I thought it might be nice to watch one that has lasted over seventy years.
Being a Danny Kaye fan from way back I have nothing but praise for this movie. It’s a little silly and a little slapstick but lots of fun. Some of the satire gets lost in the craziness and it may be a little dated but in some ways it is still relevant. Granted there are a lot of sight jokes, physical comedy and musical numbers but that’s what Kaye did.
There are also some really good supporting actors in the film. Besides Alan Hale, Walter Slezak and Elsa Lanchester you have Nestor Paiva, Barbara Pepper, Rhys Williams, Gene Lockhart and Walter Catlett as well as many other character actors rounding out the cast. It’s just light hearted and entertaining. Even with its many references of firing squads and other gallows humor. Some may not view it as appropriate for kids but I saw it as a kid and I’m OK. Right? It’s actually tamer than the original play. In the original play the fake Inspector General takes advantage of his position with the local maidens. Kaye on the other hand remains pure and innocent in that regard.
The movie was co-produced by Sylvia Fine, Kaye's wife. She also wrote much of the music for the film. Including "Happy Times" and "The Gypsy Drinking Song." Which she co-wrote with Johnny Mercer. Johnny Green won a Golden Globe for his musical score.