Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

John Wendt
teaches Sports and Entertainment Law and Business Law and is the MBA Director for Sports and Entertainment Management at the University of St. Thomas. A national and international arbitrator he also sits on the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.


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"Oh, you the man? Well, Sheriff, run down to the corner and get me a crooked lawyer. How do you like that? Look at the fellow rolling in the mud. Arrest him for drunk driving. I'm an innocent man and if you have any justice in you, you'll accept my bribe."

Feature article

Remembering Bob Hope - Son of Paleface

by John Wendt

Scratch almost any Bob Hope film and you will find a legal issue. Most of the time, especially in the "Road Films" you can find Bob and Bing Crosby in the midst of a scam and on the lam.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday and now subsequent passing, I would like to thank Bob Hope for a film that is often overlooked but is chock full of legal concepts, Son of Paleface. The 1952 Paramount classic, directed by Frank Tashlin and with a screenplay by Frank Tashlin, Robert Welch and Joseph Quillan, is the sequel to another Hope classic, The Paleface.

In The Paleface Hope plays "Painless" Peter Potter, a dentist from out East in a Wild West spoof co-starring Jane Russell as Calamity Jane. The 1948 movie was Bob Hope's first color film and a huge box office success winning the Academy Award for Best Song with "Buttons and Bows." Now comes Son of Paleface where Junior, a recent Harvard graduate and eastern tenderfoot heads to the Wild West to claim the inheritance left by his daddy, "Paleface" Potter.

So often films with legal concepts are dramas - Twelve Angry Men, The Firm, A Man for All Seasons. Or if there is a comedy it still focuses on a courtroom or law school- My Cousin Vinny, Adam's Rib or Legally Blonde. Here the legal concepts are almost hidden in the film and that's the beauty of it. They come so fast and furiously that you often don't see them but they are there, including: robbery, criminal law, federalism, wills, creditors remedies, community property, bribery, negligence, product liability, consumer protection, fraud and even animal rights and conjugal visits for prisoners. And in true Hope fashion, the jokes come so quickly that you can easily miss many of them. And some of the jokes are so bad, so corny, and at times, so obnoxious, that they are good.

At the beginning of the film California is being hit by a non-stop series of stagecoach hold-ups by "The Torch" (Jane Russell). Despite increasing rewards, there is no luck and Governor Freeman asks for Federal Aid. Coming to the rescue in better than Indiana Jones fashion, are Federal Agents, Roy Barton (played by Roy Rogers), Doc Lovejoy (played by Lloyd Corrigan) and, of course, Roy's horse, Trigger, "The Smartest Horse in the Movies."

They soon figure out that the town of Sawbuck Pass is The Torch's headquarters.

Governor Freeman: "Be careful, Roy. If The Torch ever finds out that you and Doc are Federal Agents, you'll never get out alive."

Roy: "We have before. You see, Governor, I disguise myself with a song and Doc hides behind a bottle of patent medicine."

In Sawbuck Pass, Roy, the singing cowboy, preps the crowd for Doc's pitch of the sure to be FDA approved patent medicine.

Doc (from his peddler's wagon): "And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, my partner and his four-legged friend have told you a few, only a few, of the curative powers of Doc Lovejoy's Wonder Tonic. Now, who's going to be the first one to waltz up and purchase a clean bill of health?"

Also under cover is The Torch's chief henchman, Kirk (Bill Williams)

Kirk: "Hey, Doc. I'd like to buy a bottle for the sheriff. He's suffering from 'Torch Trouble.'"

Sheriff: "That ain't funny, mister."

Kirk: "Ain't funny having bandits steal our gold. Getting so nobody's safe. The next thing you know The Torch will be riding in, shooting up the town."

Enter Junior Potter fresh from Harvard in his new horseless carriage, emitting smoke and backfiring like gunshots.

Junior (in the midst of the smoke): "Somebody must be smoking a full pack. (As the smoke clears to reveal him and his horseless carriage in full Harvard regalia) "Easy folks, it's only me. Only me! That's the understatement of the year!"

With reckless driving he creates havoc in the streets and spews mud all over town and its inhabitants.

Junior: "Out of my way! I'm a Harvard Man!"

The steering wheel comes off and he literally runs into and knocks over Roy and Doc's wagon causing damage and sending Doc, Roy and Trigger into the mud. Junior is upset because the wagon ran into him!

Junior: "A scratch…Look a scratch on my mudguard. Sheriff… Where's the Sheriff?"

Sheriff: "I'm the Sheriff."

Junior: "Oh, you the man? Well, Sheriff, run down to the corner and get me a crooked lawyer. How do you like that? Look at the fellow rolling in the mud. Arrest him for drunk driving. I'm an innocent man and if you have any justice in you, you'll accept my bribe."

Roy: "What's the big idea? Look what you did to our wagon, my horse!"

Junior (looking at Trigger): "Quarantine that beast. He's got chicken pox."

Roy (grabbing Junior): Listen you."

Junior: "Please, lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine."

Roy: "I never touched a drop in my life." (A great reference to Roy Roger's famous temperance position.)

Junior: "Then somebody's been putting bourbon in your toothpaste."

Roy: "Why you…"

Sheriff: "Just a minute. Now you'll pay for that wagon, stranger, or you'll go to the hoosgow."

Junior: "The 'whogow?' Oh, the 'hoosgow.' Hold on, you can't put a Harvard man in jail! It's unsanitary!"

Roy: "What are you going to pay for that wagon with?"

Junior: "A preposition at the end of a sentence and you split your infinitives. Next thing you know he'll be dangling his participles. Oh, oh, shame on you, the school marm will certainly here about this, sir. Now, can one of you peasants direct me to the bank? I'm here to claim the inheritance left by my daddy, Paleface Potter."

Voice from the crowd: "You Paleface's son?"

Junior: "You're staring right at him"

The crowd, in fact the entire town gathers at the bank. At the Bank, Mr. Stoner (Harry Von Zell) reads the will to Junior.

Mr. Stoner: "'The reason I leave my money to my son, Junior, is that being of sound mind' - Well, I won't bother to read the last paragraph, Junior. It's merely an expression of your father's love for you, his son."

Junior: "Oh, just a minute, just a minute. I was so young at the time I don't remember many of the things Daddy said about me. He poured out his heart in this will. I'd kind of like to read it."

Junior: "'The reason I leave my money to my son, Junior, is that being of sound mind I can't leave my money to my wife cause I ain't never forgiven her since the day she presented me an idiot for a son….' I was the only child. 'But this idiot is all I've got in the world, which shows what a lousy spot I'm in….' All Dad's friends like me! What a reception! All those smiling faces out there."

Mr. Stoner: "Some of those faces out there aren't smiling, Junior. You see your father left town in a hurry. He left a lot of bills to a lot of people. They expect to be paid out of the money you inherit."

Junior and Mr. Stoner go to the back room so that Junior can open his daddy's chest and claim his immense inheritance.

Mr. Stoner: "There's your father's chest, Junior. Hasn't been moved since he put it there. Here's the key."

Junior: "It's a Yale lock. I wish I had my gloves."

Meanwhile Mr. Stoner and his assistant, Waverly, move to the front office to give Junior some privacy to open the literal treasure chest.

Mr. Stoner (to Waverly): "If they hang Junior Potter they should be ashamed of themselves. For his sake I hope he finds a lot of money."

Waverly: "The way that mob's attacking he'll need it."

Mr. Stoner: "Look at that big fellow with the block and tackle. They'll tear him limb from limb. Oh!!!!!!!!"

Waverly: "This whole thing makes me sick to my stomach."

Mr. Stoner: "Well, Junior will be worse than sick to his stomach if doesn't bring that gold out here. You hold him off while I go get him."

In the meantime Junior opens his father's treasure chest, only to find……… nothing!

Feigning "gold fever" he buys some time. According to the will he's got two days to pay off his creditors. As he's buying time, he meets "Mike" Delroy (Jane Russell) the gorgeous showgirl who owns the Dirty Shame Saloon (when she's not robbing stagecoaches) and he's off to romance her.

Junior: "What's your name, honey?"

Mike: "My friends call me 'Mike.'"

Junior: "Pretty masculine handle for such a feminine pot of goodies. Mind if I take pot luck?"

As he goes to get his horseless carriage to take Mike on a date, his daddy's former partner, Ebenezer Hawkins (Paul E. Burns) tells him to concentrate on the riddle that Paleface left him to find the gold rather than taking Mike out on a date.

Eb: "You've got not time for romance, boy! You've got to think!"

Junior: "I've been doing plenty of thinking. I didn't go to college fourteen years for nothing! I've got it all figured out. It just so happens the richest girl in town is crazy about me."

Eb: "You mean Mike?"

Junior: "Ha hah. By tomorrow she'll be Mrs. Mike Potter. Don't you get it? I marry her. This is California. Community property. I divide her money. With my half I'll pay my stingy old Daddy's bills. The rest is gravy."

Eb: "But, we'll have that woman on our hands!"

Junior: "Please, keep your hands out of my gravy."

And the race is on to find the gold and pay off the creditors at the same time.

The rest of the movie only gets better. In the end, Bob, for once, gets the girl, the creditors get paid and Roy and Trigger ride off into the sunset!

And all agree that Son of Paleface is one of the few sequels that may be even better than the original.

It's definitely worth your time and effort to find and watch both films and realize what a treasure we had in Bob Hope.

Posted July 28, 2003

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