“I was swimming with millions of babies in a rainbow, and they was naked, and then all of a sudden I turned into a perfect smile.”
A woman is singing a song about the virtue of virginity at the Palace when head honcho Greaser’s son Lamie Homo freaks out, getting himself shot dead for interrupting the entertainment. Soon “Jessy” parachutes into the Western movie, resurrects Homo, and goes about impressing everyone with his magic tricks such as walking on water and bleeding from his hands. Meanwhile, a woman wakes up finding her husband and son (cameo by six-year-old Robert Downey Jr.) dead, then loses all her worldly possessions and gets shot a bunch of times, crawling through the desert with no water. It all seems like it might be a metaphor for something.
The son and the holy ghost:
I didn’t get all the metaphors, though – Hervé “da plane” Villechaize is married to a bearded guy in a dress, Greaser has a constipation problem, Jessy’s entertainment agent walks around the desert as if underwater, characters are named Cholera, Coo Coo and Seaweedhead. On one hand it seems like a fun bit of anarchy – the movie can have a Monty Python-like comic sensibility – but if you check the web you’ll find articles willing to draw biblical connections to every last detail. Downey himself underplays it: “The idea of the trinity of the father and the son and the holy ghost parachuting into a western to get it right this time is all I went with.”
Jesse and Herve:
I’ve seen my share of mad westerns – Straight to Hell, The Last Movie, The Shooting – but this one played more like El Topo, seemed more desperate and dangerous than your usual movie, but never without a script and a plan. Unfamiliar cast – Allan Arbus (who’d later play director Gregory LaCava in a W.C. Fields bio-pic) as Jesus, Albert Henderson (of Serpico and Big Top Pee Wee) as Greaser, his main gal was Luana Anders, a Corman actress who followed Nicholson to Easy Rider and The Last Detail, and the Agent Morris was Don Calfa of Return of the Living Dead.
Jessy is a meeker version of Christ, clear in his intentions but unsure how to accomplish them. … He is a showman, not a messiah or prophet. Walking on water and raising the dead are part of his “act,” and he only reluctantly offers the people advice after he is shown a picture of the Last Supper, calling into question whether Downey intended him to literally represent Christ or merely a Christ-like figure—though it’s most likely a cheeky attempt to obscure any deliberate meaning. Inspired by the image, Jessy comes up with the idea to tell the townspeople of a malevolent force called “Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You’ll Be Gary Indiana” living outside of the town, while reassuring them that he has interceded on their behalf because he believes them to be good people. It is a humorous analogue to the Christian belief of Christ’s intercession with God to save believers from Hell, but one that implies that belief is nothing but a parable intended to give people comfort.
“If ya feel, ya heal”