Editorial review of Jerry Lewis – The Legendary Jerry Collection courtesy of Amazon.com
This 10-DVD boxed set is a delight for anyone afflicted with a susceptibility to the fractured antics of Jerry Lewis, or “Le Roi du Crazy” to the French. This set emphasizes Lewis’s busy period after the breakup with Dean Martin, when he was exerting more influence over his vehicles (six of the titles are directed by Jerry himself) and almost single-handedly keeping Paramount Pictures propped up with his box-office take. The set curiously includes one of the Martin-Lewis pictures, 1953’s The Stooge, which has echoes of the real-life vibe between Jerry and Dino.
The other titles include Lewis’s 1957 solo starring debut, The Delicate Delinquent, and his directing bow, The Bellboy (1960). The latter is an often-ingenious and plotless collection of gags with Jerry as a bellhop in Miami Beach’s Fountainebleau Hotel. His character doesn’t speak (making the connection with silent cinema more pointed), but in one uproarious sequence the obnoxious movie star “Jerry Lewis” comes to visit the hotel.
The Ladies Man puts Lewis alone in a boarding house full of women. This film’s bizarre sexual politics (and its amazing cut-away set) helps explain why French critics such as Jean-Luc Godard consider Lewis a cinematic genius–Godard actually borrowed the cut-away set idea for his film Tout va bien. The Errand Boy is a cascade of gags strung together on the set of “Paramutual Pictures,” a movie studio that employs Lewis’s klutzy gofer; it features one of Jerry’s best musical miming routines. The Patsy is another good one, as nebbish Jerry is drafted into impersonating a famous deceased celebrity, but by 1965’s The Family Jewels the inspiration is flagging a bit.
Two of the titles are directed by Lewis’s mentor, Frank Tashlin. Cinderfella works a sentimental variation on the fairy tale; it’s slow and at times mawkish, but some of Lewis’s physical stuff is top-notch. The Disorderly Orderly is livelier, with a hospital setting and some of Jerry’s most inspired babbling. The box also includes Lewis’s acknowledged high point, The Nutty Professor, in its special-edition form. Its Jekyll-and-Hyde story is still the funniest and weirdest premise Lewis ever had. There are other Lewis films out there, but this box is definitely the cream of the career. If some of the jokes haven’t aged well (and those who can’t stand his mugging won’t be convinced even by this set), Lewis still seems a more interesting filmmaker than he’s usually given credit for. Extras include some disappointing commentaries with Lewis and Steve Lawrence, plus a smattering of outtakes, some of them funny and/or revealing of Lewis’s directing technique. —Robert Horton