Fifty years ago today, the seminal Jerry Lewis comedy first hit theaters and, to celebrate its anniversary, a new box set has just been released. After spending a decade as a part of the Martin and Lewis comedy team, Lewis began taking a bigger role in his projects, writing and even directing some of them. Probably the most famous of them all was “The Nutty Professor”, a parody of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Lewis co-wrote the film with Bill Richmond, directed and starred in it. Warner Home Entertainment released the 4-disc Collector’s Edition box-set with Jerry Lewis input. Lewis helped compile lots of entertaining extras for the project. The set also includes two other of Lewis’ well-known comedies, “Cinderfella” and “The Errand Boy”.
“The Nutty Professor” has Mr. Lewis playing nerdy science teacher, Professor Julius Kelp. He is severely accident-prone and has a tendency to be picked on by some of his bigger, more muscular students. After working out at the gym for six months, with no visible results, he resorts to his science books and creates a formula that transforms him into his alter ego: suave, smooth-talking but obnoxious, Buddy Love. Julius is smitten with Stella (Stella Stevens), one of his students and has a difficult time trying to approach her to inform her of his feelings but when Buddy comes to life, he is arrogant and pompous and while he can clearly sing and play music perfectly, his personality has a lot to be desired.
This was actually the first time I watched “The Nutty Professor”. I remember seeing bits and pieces on TV when I was a kid but I had never sat down and watched it the whole way through. The movie came out in 1963 and I have to admit, a lot has changed since then. Mr. Lewis’ trademark slapstick humor was, for me anyway, very hit and miss. Not so much in the movie but in general. In many ways I would compare him to Jim Carrey. His humor was very physical and he used facial expressions and funny sounds to make people laugh but like any comedian, he only appeals to those who find that style of humor entertaining. After all, Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller are both very funny but their styles couldn’t be more apart.
Overall, I found the movie very entertaining, even by today’s standards. Mr. Lewis did a very commendable job not just in playing the lead role but in also writing and directing the film. Naturally, a lot of the humor has dated somewhat over the past 51 years but some of it still holds up pretty well. He plays nerdy Julius perfectly and you feel for him when he’s being picked on or when he starts stuttering but when he plays Buddy Love, you just want to punch him in the face for the way he speaks to everyone around him, especially women and especially Stella, the girl Julius loves. Not many actors can pull that off, let alone in the same movie.
“Cinderfella” is a modern take (for its time in 1960) on the old Cinderella fairytale. This time round, a young boy called Fella (Jerry Lewis) is standing by his father’s deathbed as he reads aloud, his last will and testament. All his money is left to his wicked stepmother (Judith Anderson) and her two spoiled young sons Maximilian and Rupert (Henry Silva & Robert Hutton). As time passes by, Fella becomes the family’s servant and does everything for them, from cooking breakfast, dinner and tea, to cleaning their expensive cars and the swimming pool. He is made to feel lucky that he has a job, let alone a home.
One day, while out cleaning the swimming pool, his fairy godfather (Ed Wynn) appears and proceeds to tell him that one day, he will be rich and in love. Of course, Fella thinks he’s imagining things but as the film unfolds, stepmother plans a fancy ball in honor of visiting Princess Charmein (Anna Maria Alberghetti) whom she hopes will marry Rupert so they will have their hands delved deep into royalty but fairy godfather shows up and convinces Fella that he has just as much an opportunity to end up with the Princess as anybody else. Naturally, Fella and Princess Charmein end up together and live happily ever after.
I didn’t care for “Cinderfella” as much as I did “The Nutty Professor”. Here, Lewis does his schtick way too often and for way too long. We have extended shots of him looking goofy and idiotic and they just persist for what feels like an eternity. On the other hand though, there are some scenes where Lewis is normal and speaks in his regular voice and it was these scenes that I actually preferred over his trademark zaniness. We all know that he’s going to wind up with the Princess but getting there is what’s supposed to be enjoyable. Unfortunately, for most of the film’s run time, we have too many cringe-worthy moments and far too few genuinely sincere ones.
“The Errand Boy” sees Mr. Lewis play Morty Tashman, an idiotic nerd who is hired by the head of the fictional Paramutual Pictures, a send-up of Paramount Pictures because they’re the studio who actually allowed Mr. Lewis to star in and direct this movie. The production company is hemorrhaging money and nobody seems to know where. Morty is hired to find out who, where and why and is placed in the mail room as nobody will ever suspect him there. And that’s the premise. He is never given any information, rather, he is given access to the entire studio lot in the hopes that he might be able to come back with some sort of information.
“The Errand Boy” is an absolute mess. There is no cohesive narrative propelling the film forward, instead, it’s just a showcase for Mr. Lewis to run wild on all the various sets. He goes from war movies to westerns and melodramas and you just know that wherever he goes, he is going to cause havoc. And not in a genuinely funny way, more of an eye-rolling, slowly-shake-my-head-in-sheer-disbelief-that-this-film-was-ever-made way. I can give a certain amount of latitude when it comes to comedies but this film is so lazy, it’s like Mr. Lewis was simply coasting on his previous successes and didn’t even attempt to make a somewhat decent movie.
It was also an excuse for him to incorporate his famous friends to cameo throughout the movie and unfortunately, that was the only highlight of the film. Of the three movies included here, “The Nutty Professor” was the only one that seemed to have any vitality to it. “Cinderfella” was clever in as much as it took the Cinderella fairytale and turned it on its heels by making the quintessential lead character a male but the rest of the movie was just an exhibition for Mr. Lewis to act dim-witted and moronic and the less we say about “The Errand Boy”, the better.
There is a fourth disc included called “Phoney Phone Calls” where Mr. Lewis would call up and harass unwitting shop clerks, housewives and businessmen. This is a collection of private prank calls secretly recorded by Mr. Lewis over the years. Some were humorous and some not so much but they are all very tame by today’s standards. Overall, the four-disc box set sells for $54.99 and is well worth the price as it is loaded with plenty of extras but I stress, it is for Jerry Lewis die-hard fans only.
More About the Special Features:
“The Nutty Professor”:
• 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.
• Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence.
“The Errand Boy”:
• Select Scene Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence.
• Promo Spots.
• Theatrical Trailer.
Actors: Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Del Moore.
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Box set, Collector’s Edition, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Widescreen.
Region: Region A/1.
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1.
Number of discs: 4.
Rated: NR (Not Rated).
Studio: Paramount Catalog.
Release Date: June 3, 2014.
Run Time: 397 minutes.
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