When I saw Jerry Lewis get his hands cemented in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, the only film of his I had ever seen was The Nutty Professor. Again, this was a case of just not growing up with his films available to me and, as I grew into a film fan myself, I never really thought of rushing to get acquainted with Lewis.
But a few weeks ago, I spotted Warner Bros.’ 4 Film Favorites pack of Lewis movies. Considering these sets are only $10, I decided to pick it up and that was definitely a good decision. The set is cheaply put together (I can’t stress enough how much I despise cases with DVDs stacked), but the films themselves are enjoyable and present Lewis at his most audacious.
The Bellboy (1960) is the oldest film in the set and runs a scant 71 minutes. I have no idea how he got Paramount to let him make this, but apparently it was made just to please Paramount after he requested Cinderfella (which I wish was here) be delayed until Christmas 1960. It is a brilliant near-silent comedy, with Lewis’ trademark fourth-wall breaking gags at the center. I just wish it was a bit longer.
Next up is The Ladies Man (1961), which is sort of every man’s fantasy (or at least what Lewis thinks is every man’s fantasy). He plays Herbert H. Heebert, who has lost his girlfriend. He thinks women are terrible, but then he gets stuck working at a boarding house… of only women. Hijinks ensue and George Raft makes an awkward appearance.
The Errand Boy (also 1961) might be my second favorite film in the set, since I love movies about movies. Here, Lewis is Morty, an awful errand boy for Paramutual Pictures who is supposed to report on the activities of his colleagues to his bosses. It features a famous scene where he takes over the board room, ordering around empty chairs. Brian Donlevy (who I had no idea was still alive in 1961 – he lived until 1972) appears as the studio boss.
Lastly, there’s another showbiz comedy, The Patsy (1964). Lewis’ follow-up to The Nutty Professor isn’t actually that funny but still rather interesting. He plays another Stanley (the same name as his Bellboy character), who is recruited by a team of handlers whose star has died in a plane crash. The team tries to build Stanley up as a star, even though he’s completely incompetent. Along the way, he falls in love with the secretary of the team, played by the beautiful Ina Balin.
The Patsy is much more plot-heavy than the other films and is surprisingly not that funny. Perhaps that’s the point. Stanley’s awful jokes are actually awful. He really can’t sing. He has no stage presence. Had Lewis made Stanley funny, the story wouldn’t work of course. Stanley only becomes a success when he gets to run his own life.
Each disc is a direct re-issue of the original Paramount DVDs, including all the bonus material. There’s plenty of funny outtakes and deleted scenes (which are often funnier than scenes that landed in the film – the best is Peter Lorre not being able to shoot a rifle in time during The Patsy filming). Unfortunately, there’s no behind-the-scenes documentaries and the commentaries really don’t help. Singer Steve Lawrence keeps Lewis from actually telling us anything remotely interesting in the commentaries and laughs at every single gag. They are grating and annoying. You can skip them.