Color, 1972, 90 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Robert Downey
Starring Allan Arbus, Albert Henderson, Michael Sullivan, Luana Anders, George Morgan, Pablo Ferro, Toni Basil, Hervé Villechaize, Stan Gottlieb, Don Calfa, Michael Sullivan
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
The early '70s saw an avalanche of would-be cult films based on religious texts or myths, be it acid westerns like Zachariah and El Topo or other fare like The Holy Mountain, Brewster McCloud, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. To that list you can add the more obscure Greaser's Palace, an oddball take on the life of Christ as envisioned by Robert Downey, the iconoclast who had scored big with Putney Swope and misfired commercially with the lovably weird Pound.
The very fragmented story takes place in a western town (shot in New Mexico) and the surrounding area where new arrival Jessy (Arbus) runs afoul of the bulling Seaweedhead Greaser (Henderson), who runs the local saloon and theater and has a mean streak that extends to killing his own son (Sullivan). On the way to Jerusalem to be an "actor-singer-dancer," Jessy has more faith than the wayward Ghost that's already given up on the population, and some of Jessy's displays include walking on water, healing the blind, and raising the dead. Swirling around in the mixture are Seaweed's singing daughter (Dementia 13's Anders), the bubble-headed Morris (Return of the Living Dead's Calfa), Hervé "Tattoo" Villechaize for no apparent reason, an unrecognizable little Robert Downey Jr., and even future "Mickey" singer and legendary dancer Toni Basil as a half-nude Indian squaw.
Mostly a western (with some definite Sergio Leone influence), sort of a musical, and all bizarre, Greaser's Palace is the sort of film you'll either click with right away or shut off after ten minutes. The daffy, anything goes approach gives it a freewheeling, unpredictable tone that allows for sudden bursts of profanity or violence in the middle of all the sunny non sequiturs. It all looks great (thanks to cinematography by Peter Powell, who shot Brian De Palma's The Wedding Party), and there's even a beautiful, elegiac score by Jack Nitzsche before he hit the big time soundtrack-wise with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Image Entertainment released a bare bones, full-frame edition of Greaser's Palace on DVD in 2000, followed by a widescreen one from Scorpion Releasing in 2010 featuring video interview with Downey (12m50s) in conversation with Rudy Wurlitzer about the film's financial backing, the basic concept of the holy trinity parachuting into the middle of a western, and the impossibility of making a film like this (unless, as he does, you play the lottery all the time). That featurette is ported over as the main extra on the 2018 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray, which features a fresh new HD scan and looks excellent with a retention of the film's hazy, vaguely druggy original look. The DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds good for what amounts to a fairly standard, flat mix. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included, plus theatrical trailers for Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Doctor Death, Hollywood Blvd., Seizure, and Conduct Unbecoming.