01 November 2011



1963/Director: Jerry Lewis/Writers:  Jerry Lewis  and Bill Richmond

Cast:  Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman, Med Flory, Norman Alden, Howard Morris, Elvia Allman, Skip Ward, Henry Gibson   

When most people think of Jerry Lewis, if he is thought about much anymore at all, he is probably remembered for being the goofy half of the Hal Wallis managed Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy team and for his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. What many people do not realize is the body of work Lewis did behind the camera as producer, writer and director as well as a developer of technologies still used today. One is the directors video assist system, once referred to as "Jerry's noisy toy" that he basically invented after having worked in the television medium in the 60's. Lewis has become an object of ridicule in the last couple decades and his often crass behavior and sexist and anti-gay remarks have done little to endear him to our newer world. I don't really care about any of that and I think he is a sadly forgotten talent.

Martin and Lewis split up in 1956 with no love loss between them and Lewis fulfilled his contractual agreements with Wallis and starred in a hand full of decent films, in my opinion, such as The Delicate Delinquent, The Geisha Boy and the first film he had some behind the camera control over Cinderfella. Lewis teamed up with scriptwriter Bill Richardson and together under contract with Paramount Pictures they turned out what would be regarded as his best work not only as a slapstick comedian but as a director as well. These included The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Patsy, The Ladies Man (another of my favorites), and the subject of this post his masterpiece, The Nutty Professor. The only reference I am going to make the Eddie Murphy remake (which Lewis co-produced) is that I just did not think it was either as funny or as dark as the Lewis original.

The story is a retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde theme, where a quiet and soft spoken man of science finds a formula for breaking down his inhibitions giving him the power to do all the things his weaker but nobler other half can only dream about. Lewis plays the gangly toothed Professor Julius Kelp who is always drawing the ire of school administrators like Dr. Warfield (Del Moore) by blowing up his classrooms. He ticks off a bully in his classroom and is humiliated in front of all the students and in particular the buxom Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). As is typical of films of the period all the college students here look like they are all about thirty years old. Kelp tries pumping iron at the local gym but it is obvious he is gong to rely on his brains, and not his brawn, to find a solution to his troubles.

He develops a formula that transforms him not into a murderous Mr. Hyde, but rather in the asinine and boorish Buddy Love. While Lewis as denied it most people feel the Buddy Love character is a caustic characterization of both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra's less charming aspects. Others have said the persona of Buddy Love is actually the onscreen Jerry Lewis showing the real Jerry Lewis to the world. It may be that all of the above are true. The character of Buddy Love is simply so unlikable that is uncomfortable to watch some of the scenes. While the character of Kelp is funny and inoffensive, Buddy Love is the epitome of ego and vulgarity. The problem here is though a royal ass he is soon charming Miss Purdy and wining over the local teen crowd at the Purple Pit. The potion wears off of course and at the worst times, such as when Buddy is performing a decent version of That Old Black Magic and when his about to round 2nd Base with Stella. As with the original Jekyll and Hyde story the good half the equation has a choice about whether or not to imbibe in the concoction or not, but not only does Kelp continue to take the potion but he consumes more in order that the effects can last longer and he can remain the cool and self-absorbed Buddy Love. In the end the potion wears off while Buddy is performing at the school dance and Kelp must publicly confess his selfish actions and admit that one has to be themselves even that self is not someone we want to be.

A couple extra things I liked the film. One is the outstanding sets and production design. The transformation scene is filled bright colors of spilled chemicals and various camera angles. The scenes of test tubes and beakers filled with multi-colored chemicals is styled and nice to just look at. The interior of the Purple Pit is lush and posh and is a lounge lizard's paradise.

The other thing is the wardrobe. It is something in a film I always pay attention to actually. The costumes here where designed by the legendary fashion deva Edith Head who was parodied as Edna Mode in the cartoon The Incredibles. Buddy's suits are simply wicked and vile, and Stella Steven causes palpitations in a scene where Professor Kelp imagines her in different forms of dress, from a tennis player to a woman of the world in a well fitting red dress. Sadly most people I have known dismiss the original Lewis gem and have claimed to go into laugh fits watching Eddie Murphy fluctuate in the remake. The original is a great movie and is more than a comedy really. It would not be long before the studios an aging Lewis as no longer whacky and funny. It does not really matter as he did some great work after he and Martin split and The Nutty professor may well be his best, but I certainly recommend all the other films he co-wrote with Bill Richardson.