Robert Downey’s Greaser’s Palace is a problematic film. Successful upon its original release (Time magazine named it one of the Top Ten Films of 1972), it has gone widely unseen for decades. I still remember it popping up frequently on the schedule of local repertory theater the Music Box when I was in high school. In fact, the next time you visit, go into the restroom (the nicer, newer one off the pub) and notice the framed paper schedules on the walls from the theater’s salad days. One of them proudly announces a screening of Greaser’s Palace in the late 1970s. I still remember staring at the little rectangle on the schedule—featuring Allan Arbus in a zoot suit—and trying to figure out just what the hell this film was about.
Greaser’s Palace has not aged well. Although I would recommend that anyone who has never seen it should check it out, the film’s willing obtuseness, frequent pretentiousness, and occasional amateurishness might sink it as entertainment in some viewer’s minds. I’m glad it exists. Personally, I prefer Downey’s 1969 Madison Avenue satire, Putney Swope, but Greaser’s Palace made the Coen Brothers’ list of their top five favorite Westerns.
Taxi Driver. The problem is, sometimes the same impulse leads to odd, self-indulgent works like Greaser’s Palace. I feel safe in saying that you have never seen a film like Greaser’s Palace. That alone should be recommendation enough to many of my readers. Greaser’s Palace is a little like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, if El Topo were shorter and funnier and less weird less bloody and less good. (Please note: I am a big fan of El Topo.)
Cold Turkey, Slaughterhouse-Five), who is quickly becoming my favorite unsung bit player. In Greaser’s Palace, Gottlieb appears in a dress, playing a character named “Spitunia.” Downey even cast his own wife and son. That’s right, folks: Greaser’s Palace marks the acting debut of Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr.
On the liner notes of the Greaser’s Palace DVD, Jonathan Demme states, “Greaser’s is actually a brilliant, timeless masterpiece that transcends all categories, genres, and other would-be limitations.” Yet Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas wrote “...the film is so utterly devoid of wit and imagination that the unremitting gross behavior and language it wallows in is quickly revolting.”
Art can be exciting, interesting, or groundbreaking without being “entertaining” in the usual ways. The art of Greaser’s Palace can be found in Downey’s ability to strip away all of the comfortable features of movie westerns, and perhaps of film itself. You owe it to yourself to give it a shot—then give us your take in the comments.
Blu-ray release date: June 5, 2018
DTS-HD 2.0 Mono (English)
Blu-ray bonus features:
Robert Downey Sr. interview