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Thursday, June 12, 2014


(THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, perhaps Jerry Lewis' most celebrated comedy, is now available on Blu-ray [as of June 3rd] in a brand-new 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTOR'S EDITION. The set also includes DVDs of THE ERRAND BOY and CINDERFELLA, along with the CD "Phoney Phone Calls 1959-1972.")

Mention Jerry Lewis and you get some extreme reactions, and likely a few remarks along the lines of "Well, the French love him." This is mainly because some of the best French filmmakers, such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard , have recognized and appreciated Jerry's talent, even comparing him favorably with the great screen comedians of yore. But you don't have to be French to do that, as I and many millions of his fans worldwide have found out for ourselves over the years.

With his lavish Technicolor comedy THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963), writer-director-star Jerry Lewis made his bravest and most wildly imaginative statement as a film comic. This outlandish variation on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"--particularly the film adaptations starring Frederic March and Spencer Tracy--finds him abandoning his familiar child-friendly comic persona of "The Kid" to take on two totally different, and at times even unlikable, personalities.

As college chemistry professor Julius Kelp, he's a gawky, ineffectual uber-nerd bullied by his burly jock students and totally lacking in confidence. This prompts him to create a chemical formula to enhance his personality and physique, turning him (in a frightening transformation sequence) into the handsome, cool, and extremely debonair Buddy Love. In this guise he's able to become popular singing and playing piano for the young crowd at a local nightclub while wooing a gorgeous student, Stella Purdy (an incandescently beautiful Stella Stevens), with whom Kelp is smitten.

The trouble is, Kelp's a nice guy and Buddy Love is arrogant, vain, and insensitive. There's been much speculation over the years as to whom Lewis based the character on--is he former partner Dean Martin, or is he Lewis' own dark side? (Or, as some believe, Frank Sinatra?) Jerry himself says Buddy is simply a combination of bad traits he's seen in several showbiz types. The important thing is, however, that his performance as Buddy is so fascinating to watch, especially when brief flashes of Kelp show through whenever the formula begins to wear off.

While Lewis is definitely "saying something" about human nature here, what has always drawn me to THE NUTTY PROFESSOR are his hilarious antics as the supremely geeky Professor Julius Kelp. This, in my opinion, is his greatest comic creation, one which he would reprise in later films such as THE BIG MOUTH and THE FAMILY JEWELS.

He is most similar to the great silent comics when performing his imaginative sight gags (while working out in a gym, a heavy barbell stretches his arms all the way to the floor) but his use of sound is also brilliant. In one scene, while Kelp is sneaking into the university lab at night to continue his experiments, he removes his squeaky shoes only to discover that it is his feet which are squeaking. In another sequence, Kelp suffers the hangover from one of Buddy's drinking binges as every tiny sound in his classroom--chalk on a blackboard, gum-chewing, water dripping--is amplified to gargantuan proportions.

Besides Lewis and Stevens, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR is brimming with Lewis stock company members and other familiar faces such as Kathleen Freeman, Del Moore (hilarious as the harried college dean Dr. Warfield), the great Howard Morris (who, in a nightmarish flashback, plays Kelp's horribly henpecked father), Norm Alden, and Buddy Lester, whose performance as a bartender encountering the abrasive Buddy Love gives the film one of its most memorable comedy bits. (Lester would also score big laughs in Lewis' other truly great film THE LADIES' MAN.)

 If you look quick, you'll catch Gavin Gordon of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (in the p.o.v. introduction to Buddy Love which Lewis copped from the Frederic March version), Francine York, "Laugh-In" castmember Henry Gibson, and a young Richard "Jaws" Kiel.

The story comes to a head when Kelp is enlisted to serve as a chaperone at the senior prom where Buddy has been hired to perform. Here, Lewis stages his most daring and emotional scene yet (with some Oscar-worthy acting), skirting the boundaries of bathos without going over (which he has been known to do frequently). It's the perfect and ultimately quite cathartic capper for THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, Lewis' greatest film. Others may cringe at the sound of his name, but I consider Jerry a national treasure--no matter what nation one might happen to live in.


Also included in this collection are two more Lewis solo comedies on separate DVDs, THE ERRAND BOY and CINDERFELLA. THE ERRAND BOY (1961) recalls the previous year's THE BELLBOY in that we find writer-director-star Jerry shooting a low-budget black-and-white feature which is simply a plotless series of gags set in one location (in THE BELLBOY it was a busy Miami Beach hotel, while this takes place in and around a bustling movie studio).

There's a semblance of plot involving studio head Brian Donlevy and his obsequious toady, played with verve by Howard McNear (Floyd the barber from "The Andy Griffith Show") but it's just an excuse to give Lewis the run of the place once again, packing each scene with as many imaginative gags as he can devisewith a cast that also includes Stanley "Cyrano Jones" Adams, Kathleen Freeman, Doodles Weaver, Sig Ruman, Fritz Feld, Iris Adrian, and some surprise guest stars.

Much of it is as laugh-out-loud funny as you'd expect, while the rest is rather hit-and-miss. Jerry, of course, disrupts the orderly filmmaking process at every turn, at one point dubbing his own ear-splitting vocals into a lovely young actress' song interlude and elsewhere attempting to eat a quiet sidewalk lunch on the set of a war film.

The usual bathos occurs when the errand boy befriends some cute little puppets which come to life for him in a dusty storeroom--it's in these moments that Lewis tries too hard to be charming when we really want him to keep making with the funny. This he does in one of his most celebrated sequences, in which he pretends to be the chairman of the board non-verbally chewing out his underlings while broadly pantomiming the instruments in a blaring big band tune. For this scene alone THE ERRAND BOY is well worth a look for Lewis fans, but it has much more to offer as well.

1960's CINDERFELLA, as you might guess, is a gender-reversed take on the famous fairytale "Cinderella" with Jerry as the gentle soul ("Fella") harrassed by a wicked stepmother out to steal his inheritence (Dame Judith Anderson, giving the film much added class) and two hateful stepbrothers played wonderfully by exploitation film mainstay Henry Silva and Robert Hutton of THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY and THE SLIME PEOPLE.

When Dame Judith hosts a ball for a visiting princess (cute Anna Maria Alberghetti), Fella's fairy godfather Ed Wynn makes it possible for him to attend and steal the young girl's heart. The ball sequence is best known for Jerry's amazing first-take dance down the massive staircase and also includes some genuinely charming choreography as he and the princess enjoy a spirited dance together.

(There seems to be a scene missing before this, however, since we never see his goldfish being turned into a chauffeur or his bicycle into a limosine, or find out why he must flee the ball at the stroke of midnight, leaving behind one of his Italian loafers.)

Much of the rest of CINDERFELLA is of the "charming" variety, yet there's plenty of the old Lewis hilarity to enjoy as well. The film is directed by Frank Tashlin (of the superb Martin and Lewis hit ARTISTS AND MODELS as well as other of Jerry's solo ventures) and thus we get to see where some of Jerry's own directorial influences came from.

There's another musical pantomime bit, and one great sequence which has Fella trying to eat his own supper at the end of a mile-long dinner table while also scrambling to serve as waiter for his stepmother and stepbrothers. The sets and costumes are opulent, and, like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, CINDERFELLA is in dazzling Technicolor.

Finally, this collection comes with a CD entitled "Phoney Phone Calls 1959-1972", which finds Jerry displaying his unparalleled talent for prank phone calls years before The Jerky Boys came along. Some of the gags are a little flat, but several are screamingly funny. In "The Lost Watch", he answers an ad from a woman searching for a misplaced heirloom and by the end of the track almost has her believing that it's his ad and that she called him.

One phone gag was recorded live during an appearance on "The Steve Allen Show" with an appreciative audience reaction. But it's the final cut, "Bill Lynch", in which Jerry pretends to be his own thick-headed private secretary while thoroughly exasperating some hapless guy calling for a favor, which had me almost breathless with laughter.

All three films in this collection feature some wonderfully warm and chummy (and sometimes even informative) commentary tracks with Jerry and his old pal, singer Steve Lawrence. For THE ERRAND BOY, commentary is included for selected scenes only, along with bloopers, promo spots, and theatrical trailer. CINDERFELLA comes with bloopers as well.

THE NUTTY PROFESSOR Blu-ray is packed with extras, including:
•Jerry Lewis: No Apologies NEW! An intimate look at the artist who has entertained and educated audiences for more than eight decades

•Directors Letter NEW! A letter specially written by Jerry to present this new collection

•Recreated "Being A Person" book: 96-pages made up of drawings and quotes inspired/written by Jerry Lewis and drawn by his personal illustrator. 250 copies of this book were originally made and distributed to members of the cast and crew of The Nutty Professor after the director heard of general conflicts among them.

•CD: Phoney Phone calls 1959-1972: Years before the Jerky Boys were harassing unwitting shop clerks, housewives and businessmen, Lewis perfected the art, as these recordings show. Released in 2001 on the Sin-Drome label, this is a collection of private prank calls secretly recorded by Jerry Lewis over the years.

•48-Page Storyboard Book

•44-Page Cutting Script with Jerry’s notes

•Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence

•The Nutty Professor: Perfecting The Formula Behind-The-Scenes Footage

•Jerry Lewis at Work

•Jerry at Movieland Wax Museum with commentary by son Chris Lewis

•Deleted Scenes

•Jerry and Stella Promos


•Screen Tests


•Original Mono Track


(Pictures shown are not stills from the actual discs.)

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WB update: Warner Bros. and Jerry Lewis celebrated the 50th Anniversary of The Nutty Professor this past week in New York. Jerry Lewis, the consummate entertainer, world-renowned humanitarian, cultural icon and motion-picture innovator was celebrated in an entertaining laugh-filled tribute by his friends and peers. In attendance were Jerry Lewis, Brett Ratner, Larry King, Richard Belzer, Kerry Keagan, Danny Aiello, Ed Norton, Russell Simmons, Rosario Dawson, Dominic Chianese, Ron Raines and more.

The event took place in honor of the Blu-ray release of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR 50th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION which Lewis personally supervised, helping to compile loads of entertaining extra content for the release.

Event Sizzle Reel


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