Tag Archives: Jerry Lewis

Cracking Up (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jerry needs a psychiatrist.

Jerry Lewis films were long considered light on plot and long on pratfalls with the minimum of character development, but this film, which was his attempt at sketch comedy, makes those others look sophisticated by comparison. The story if you can call it that deals with a man named Warren Nefron (Lewis) whose attempts at suicide do not succeed so he goes to a psychiatrist (Herb Edelman) who he hopes will convince him to live despite feeling like a failure at everything that he does.

The humor has no focus to it at all. Had the comedy bits dealt with the same interconnected theme then I could at least give it some credit, but instead everything gets thrown in with almost no coherence. One minute it’s poking fun at airlines, then 16th century France, hospitals and even art museums. The shtick is excessively broad and Lewis, who also directed, tries milking it too much by staying on jokes long after they’ve played out making what is already lame even more irritating.

What surprised me is how Lewis never tried to evolve his brand. The film was made in the early ‘80s, but could’ve easily been done in the 60’s. No attempt is made to update his comedy with the times, to make it seem trendier, or connect him with a rising star from the decade to help bring in younger viewers. Instead he casts in supporting roles the stars from yesteryear like Milton Berle and Sammy Davis Jr. while continuing on with the exact same pratfalls that he did in the ‘50s that may have seemed somewhat funny back then, but now comes off as predictable and redundant. This movie will only appeal to his aging and already established fans while teens and young adults will most assuredly consider it dated and stupid.

For me the funniest thing about it is what occurred behind the scenes when the studio tried playing it in front of a test audience.  Showing films to a test audience is a standard practice and helps studio heads ‘tweak’ certain parts of a film that aren’t working, or even re-film entire new scenes if it’s found that audiences didn’t take well to the one that was shown to them initially. Studios want to try to save what they have as they’ve put a lot of money into the product and don’t want to just discard the whole thing if they don’t have, but the response to this one was so universally bad in every way that they decided it had literally no chance and no amount of changes could save it, so it was shelved permanently and never released theatrically in the United States.

There are only two moments in this mess that I found even mildly diverting. One comes when Edelman asks Lewis if his parents were related…like maybe being cousins, which is something that every character in every Lewis movie should ask him when he goes into one of those annoying, man-child routines of his. Another comes at the very end during the closing credits where they show behind-the-scenes outtakes. One has Lewis lifting Davis, who was a very small man, into the air  and pretending like he was some sort of trophy that he had won while Davis yells at him to ‘Put me down! Put me down!’

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Title: Smorgasbord

Released: April 13, 1983 (France)

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Director: Jerry Lewis

Rated PG

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

It’s Only Money (1962)

 

its only money

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV repairman gets rich.

Lester March (Jerry Lewis) is a dimwitted TV repairman who has a penchant for reading detective magazines and desires to become a private eye. When Pete Flint (Jesse White) who is an actual detective comes to his shop one day with a broken TV set Lester uses the opportunity to ‘audition’ himself as Pete’s assistant on his next case. Pete decides to try him out by putting him on a case involving a rich family whose heir to their fortune is missing yet when Lester starts to investigate he realizes it may be himself that they are looking for.

The script by John Fenton Murray comes off like it was written in one day and could’ve possibly been done by a 10-year-old in a matter of an hour. The plot is lame and flimsy, the humor excessively silly and the movie offers nothing new or creative. The running gag involving the Jack Weston character and his many attempts at trying to kill Lester is nothing more than a live action, subpar version of the Wiley E. Coyote/Road Runner formula.

How much one enjoys this film relies heavily on how much they can tolerate Lewis. To some extent he is mercifully more restrained here and not as obnoxious as usual, but there are still several scenes that get unnecessarily extended just so he can play up a gag that has nothing to do with the plot and isn’t funny. The biggest issue I have with the character is that he’s too unrealistically and painfully stupid. It’s one thing to be a slightly dimwitted schmuck, but this guy speaks and acts like he has a severe mental defect and needs clinical help.

Mae Questel, who was best known as the voice of cartoon character Betty Boop, is far funnier and without trying half as hard. The scene where she gets into a tight jumpsuit despite being quite overweight and elderly and then tries to do some exercises will certainly elicit a few genuine chuckles from just about anybody and the only real funny part in the movie. Weston isn’t too bad as the nemesis especially the scene involving his attempts to run Lester over with a car.

The climactic sequence involves Lester being chased around by robotic lawn mowers, which offers a slight diversion, but the rest of the film is forgettable and subpar even for Jerry Lewis standards.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Tashlin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, You Tube

The King of Comedy (1983)

king of comedy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Struggling comic craves fame.

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a lonely 34-year-old still living in the basement of his mother’s home while fantasizing about one day appearing on the top-rated Jerry Langford show as a stand-up comedian. When he tries to contact Langford (Jerry Lewis) he’s given the blow off, so he decides to plot an elaborate plan with an equally obsessed fan named Masha (Sandra Bernhard). Together they kidnap Jerry at gunpoint and take him back to her apartment where they tie him up with duct tape. They then call the show’s producers and demand that Rupert appear that night as a guest comedian on the show or Jerry’s life will be ended.

Paul D. Zimmerman’s script, which was originally written in the late ‘60s and intended as a vehicle for talk show host Dick Cavett, is nothing short of brilliant and the main reason for its success is that it takes an outrageous idea and adapts it to realities of modern day life while pinpointing with amazing clarity all the absurdities of today’s celebrity worship culture. The story is told by people who’ve worked in the entertainment business, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve experienced life from inside after watching it.

There are so many ingeniously funny moments that it is hard to pick only one in fact you have to watch the movie several times in order to appreciate all of its subtly and satirical nuances. I loved the scene where Rupert talks to cardboard cutouts of Liza Minnelli and Langford as he pretends to be on their show or when he imagines doing his routine in front of an audience while speaking to a blown-up picture of a crowd of people. The segment in which Rupert arrives at Langford’s home unannounced is equally good and was entirely ad-libbed by the cast. The scene involving Langford’s kidnapping and subsequent ‘ransom’ note, which he must read from cue cards is also hilarious and Rupert’s wedding that he imagines being done live on the Langford show is a terrific send-up of the real-life wedding between Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki that occurred on ‘The Tonight Show’ on December 17, 1969.

Director Scorsese does a masterful job of jumping from the real to surreal as well as allowing the viewer to get inside Rupert’s head and appreciating the warped logic that many obsessed fans like him have. I also enjoyed the inspired casting including having Scorsese’s own mother playing the voice of Rupert’s mom and De Niro’s real-life wife at the time playing Rupert’s would-be girlfriend. Frederick De Cordova who was the producer of ‘ The Tonight Show’ during its run with Johnny Carson essentially plays himself as Langford’s producer and even Scorsese can be spotted during a brief bit with actor Tony Randall.

Lewis is interesting in his first serious role and it’s fun seeing a picture of him when he was only 12-years-old. Comedian Sandra Bernhard is surprisingly good and I enjoyed the fact that even though her character was nutty she still came off as being quite sensible when compared to Pupkin. De Niro though steals it by making psychotic character seem strangely likable.

The few drawbacks include why at 34 would Rupert suddenly decided to break into the entertainment business and what was he doing before this. The Bernhard character also needed more of a backstory especially when we find that she’s living in a luxurious apartment and apparently loaded with money, which goes against the grain of most celebrity stalkers who are almost always on society’s fringe.

The humor may not resonate with everyone, but if one is a fan of dark comedy then it doesn’t get much darker than this. The twist ending, which blew me away when I first saw this years ago, now doesn’t seem quite as believable, but the rest of it is on-target in what is clearly a top comedy to of the ‘80s.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Way…Way Out (1966)

way way out

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living on the moon.

The year is 1989 and both the Russians and Americans have set-up bases on the moon. Each base has 2-people living in them. For the Russians things go smoothly mainly because they have a man and a woman (Dick Shawn, Anita Ekberg) cohabitating while the Americans have two men (Dennis Weaver, Howard Morris) who quickly go crazy because there are no women around for sex. NASA decides to replace the two men with a man and woman like the Russians have, but insist that unlike the Russians the American couple must be married. Pete (Jerry Lewis) who is a long time employee of the space agency is chosen and his female counterpart is fellow astronaut Eileen (Connie Stevens). The two had never met and are forced to accelerate their courtship and eventual marriage in a matter of 3 days before getting rocketed up into orbit.

To some degree this is an interesting idea and the first 15 minutes or so allows for some comic intrigue, but the filmmakers blow it by backing off of their novel approach and turning the whole thing into just another contrived romance. Stevens may be attractive, but her acting is limited and her presence adds no other added element to the proceedings besides being ‘eye candy’. The film would’ve been funnier had Pete been forced to go up with agency’s second choice, which was Esther (Bobo Lewis) who was a more aggressive, less attractive woman who could’ve added humorous conflicts. The spats between Pete and Eileen is banal and the second half devolves into one long drunken party between the American and Russian couple that isn’t funny and more like filler  put in when the writers ran out of ideas from their original concept.

From a sci-fi angle it is implausible. The rocket ship takes only a few minutes to get from earth to the moon and when they get there the lack of gravity is never addressed and they are able to walk around normally except for the few times when they get into fights, which sends one person flying off into the air when punched by the other. The earth that is shown in the sky has no clouds even though clouds can always be seen from just about every satellite shot taken of earth from space. The film also ruins the most intriguing element, which is seeing how they might’ve predicted things would look like in the ‘80’s from a ‘60’s perspective by having a narrator state right away that ‘little has changed’ in the past 23 years and therefore making no attempt to show anything from a futuristic viewpoint.

Lewis is amazingly restrained and doesn’t end up ruining things with his overacting, which instead gets done by Shawn. Weaver has a few good moments as the stressed out astronaut slowly going nutty as well as Brian Keith as a gruff American general, but Robert Morley is the funniest as the over-worked and over-burdened head of the space program.

Since one must set the bar very low from the beginning with any Lewis comedy this manages to be tolerable despite being more benign than it needed to be.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Gordon Douglas

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Instant Video

Boeing, Boeing (1965)

boeing boeing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fooling around with stewardesses.

Bernard (Tony Curtis) thinks he’s come up with the perfect plan where as a confirmed bachelor he can enjoy the ‘benefits’ of a relationship without ever having to take the ultimate plunge. Using the timetables of all the airlines he has devised a way where he can date three different stewardesses (Dany Saval, Christiane Schmidtmer, Suzanna Leigh) simultaneously without any of them knowing of the other ones. When one of them is on layover from their flights they come over to his pad for romance and passion and then promptly leave for their jobs only to have another one arrive from another layover. It works for a while before the expected complications ensue. Things get even worse when Bernard’s out-of-town friend Robert (Jerry Lewis) arrives and wants to get in on the action while Bertha (Thelma Ritter) Bernard’s long suffering maid feels that she’s had enough and wants to quit.

The flimsy premise kills itself from the beginning by having a main character that is unlikable. I’m as open-minded as the next person, but if one wants to enjoy the swinger’s lifestyle then they must be open and honest with their partner(s) for it to work. This guy lies to them at every turn, manipulates with their emotions and views them solely as sexual playthings for his own pleasure, which is about as callous and self-centered as they come. His scheme is full of potential holes and any halfway intelligent person would’ve known it wouldn’t work and avoided even attempting it from the start.

The women are portrayed as being painfully naïve and stupid and falling for every pathetic lie and story that the men tell them. I was hoping at some point they would wise up and turn-the-tables, which would’ve been really funny, but that never happens. Instead the viewer gets treated to one ‘madcap’ scheme after another as they try desperately to keep their ridiculous ploy going, which becomes tiring and annoyingly redundant.

The three actresses at least have some acting ability and aren’t just the usual wide-eyed models mouthing their lines, which helps a little. Ritter certainly makes for a good anchor, but even she becomes stifled by the story’s derivative theme. Lewis surprisingly is the best thing about the film and this is mainly due to the fact that he is much more restrained and not allowed to fall into his over-the-top shtick.

Based on the stage play by Marc Camoletti this thing might’ve at one time been considered a fresh and funny bedroom farce, but by today’s standards it is tame and dated and not good for even a few chuckles.

boeing boeing 2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Rich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Hardly Working (1981)

hardly working

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Klutz can’t find work.

Bo Hooper (Jerry Lewis) is a circus clown who finds himself out of a job. His sister Claire (Susan Oliver) and her belligerent husband Robert (Roger C. Carmel) agree to take him in and help him find a new source of income. Things aren’t easy as Bo proves to be a major klutz at everything and gets fired from most of his jobs on his very first day. He finally gets hired as a mailman that after a rough start begins to go semi-smoothly, but will his secret relationship with Millie (Deanna Lund) who is his boss’s daughter help ruin it?

I admit I’ve never been much of a Lewis fan. His routine seems too much like that of a 5-year-old desperate for attention and willing to do any inane thing for a cheap laugh. Peter Sellers and Don Knotts have played similar klutzy characters, but they at least came off as semi-believable adults albeit not very bright ones. Lewis though is this middle-aged man who for no warning or reason will suddenly revert to the behavior of a 6-year-old, which isn’t funny, but creepy, weird and pathetic instead. You start to wonder how this character was able to make it in the adult world as long as he had without being sent away somewhere instead of whether he will get a job or not.

His shtick amounts to nothing more than accidently knocking something over and spilling contents onto the floor, which is about as simplistic and basic as you can get. In many cases he doesn’t even offer to pick it up, which forces others to do it instead. In one instance he knocks over some materials that were lying on top of his boss’s file cabinet and then just lets them remain on the floor only to have the stuff three minutes later magically reappear on the top of the cabinet anyways.

The empty logic of this already threadbare concept is another issue. Why must this circus clown resort to doing jobs he has no experience in? Aren’t there other circuses out there that he could work for? And wouldn’t a man who has spent years working in that industry have built up a network of contacts that he could go to in time of need?

His foray working as a sushi chef where he pretends to be Japanese will be deemed offensive and racist by today’s standards, but the film’s worst scene is the one involving a blimp. He decides on a whim to pilot one despite being on-the-clock as a postman. Since the character is unable to flip even a light switch without causing a catastrophe one would expect his blimp drive to have dire consequences, but instead he pulls it off without a hitch and then somehow doesn’t lose his job or get arrested afterwards.

Filmed in 1979 the production was forced to go on hiatus for 6 months when it lost funding, which may be why Oliver and Carmel, who appear predominantly during the first half, disappear completely without explanation during the second part. In either event Lewis’ ‘big comeback’ after a 10-year absence from the big screen is a complete misfire. His material hasn’t evolved at all and he relies on the most infantile jokes and insipid scenarios imaginable that wouldn’t entertain a bored child let alone an adult.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Lewis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982)

slapstick

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: These twins are extraterrestrials.

Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel ‘Slapstick’ the story centers on a Caleb and Lutetia (Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn)  who are a rich and famous couple that give birth to deformed and ugly twins named Wilbur and Eliza (also played by Lewis and Kahn). The couple immediately disowns the children and has them put away into a home run by Sylvester (Marty Feldman) who acts as the children’s caretaker. Unbeknownst to anyone is the fact that twins are actually aliens implanted inside Lutetia by a race of super intelligent beings from a faraway planet as a way to help earthlings solve all of their problems. When the twins put their cone sized heads together they are super smart, but when they are separated they are dumb making everyone believe that they are mentally deficient and of no use to anyone.

The biggest problem with this disastrous attempt at a movie is the approach. Director Steven Paul who ironically made his acting debut in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, which was another Vonnegut book adaptation brought to the screen seems to have no idea what type of audience he is aiming for. The humor shifts wildly between child-like farce to satirical jabs with nothing in-between, which will alienate both adults and children alike. The grownups will find it incoherent and silly while the children will be frightened by the ugly visuals as well as the cold, callous nature of the characters and plot. There is also a strange side story that make no sense and deals with miniaturized Chinese men who are the size of a human thumb and fly around in a spaceship resembling an eggroll while trying to make contact with the twins in order for them the help make a deal on the sale of gravity?!!!!

Lewis and Kahn are relatively amusing as the snotty couple, but as the twins they are downright embarrassing. The scene where they have a food fight while yammering incessant baby talk is a degrading sight and a career low for both performers. I know Lewis has the reputation of doing some really silly, inane stuff, but even this should’ve been beneath him.

The eclectic supporting cast helps a little and the only reason that I’m giving it 2 points. Feldman is genuinely amusing and it’s great seeing Jim Backus in one of his last acting roles playing the President of the United States and hearing this predominantly kid-friendly performer utter the word shit…twice!

I have never read the novel from which this is based, but have heard that it is far superior, which isn’t a surprise. I’d be interested to know what Vonnegut, who apparently wrote the lyrics to a song sung by Kahn in the film, but then later cut, thought of this catastrophe. Some bad films are fun because you can make jokes about as it goes along, but this thing is so utterly bizarre from beginning to end that instead you sit in a stupor throughout and it becomes a surreal experience instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated PG

Studio: International Film Marketing

Director: Steven Paul

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video