Seaweedhead Greaser (Albert Henderson) rules over this land way out West with an iron fist, having no qualms about killing his subjects in cold blood if it means securing their obedience. His daughter Cholera (Luana Anders) supplies the entertainment for his men at the local saloon, singing her heart out, but today she is interrupted when her brother Lamey Homo (Michael Sullivan) starts screaming: a holy ghost has stubbed out his cigar on his chest and it really hurts. Not as much as the bullets his father shoots in him, however...
What kind of film would you expect from that introduction? What it actually was turned out to be the brainchild of writer and director Robert Downey Sr (father of Robert Downey Jr, who appeared here briefly too) and his examination of religious faith in the form of an absurdist parable. Downey was one of the major underground filmmakers of his era - that being the sixties and seventies - so it was only a matter of time before he tackled that genre which had emerged then, the hippy Western. You know the sort of thing, El Topo, Zachariah, and so on, where the peace and love counterculture squared off against the kind of thing John Wayne wouldn't be seen dead in.
Mainly due to this being about as far from the conventional Western as Downey could manage, dispensing with a proper narrative and instead assembling a selection of variations on a theme, with connections to the Biblical Jesus except he was born in a stable in Bethlehem, and this Christ, renamed Jesse (Allan Arbus), makes his entrance by parachuting into the landscape wearing a zoot suit and accompanying hat, claiming he wants to get to Jerusalem to be a song and dance man there. If you didn't pick up on the scripture references it would be likely you would be lost within minutes, but even then it was hard to work out precisely what Downey was getting at.
The story of Christ appealed to certain sections of the hippy movement, hence such works as the musical Godspell, filmed about the same time as Greaser's Palace, but there was an irreverence here in the run up to the inevitable crucifixion sequence that took away from any more chin-stroking readings of the work. What were we to make of Jesse's meeting with little Hervé Villechaize, who tries to chat him up and persuade him into a threesome with his wife, who is actually a bearded, middle aged man in a dress? You might not recall something like that in the gospels, and with good reason, especially as the passage ends with the "wife" crushing Jesse's bollocks in his fist when he is politely spurned.
That was not the sole plotline here, as there was also the near silent tale of the pioneer family travelling across the plains who end up with the mother the only survivor as her husband and son (uncredited Downey Jr) are murdered in their sleep, leaving her trying to bury them and make her way to safety, a task hampered by the bullets and arrows being fired at her at regular intervals. Meanwhile life for Greaser continues bizarrely as he is confounded by Lamy's resurrections, a Lazarus style miracle performed by Jesse which becomes a Kenny in South Park kind of running gag as keeps coming back to life no matter how many times he is killed. Add to that such sights as a topless Toni Basil (singer of Hey Mickey fame) as an Indian girl whose presence is about as clear as the rest of this, and the expected stigmata scene which impresses the denizens of the town more than any showbiz, and you had a comedy more weird than funny, but had something about it that made it very watchable. Music by Jack Nitzsche.