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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Was It The Martin and Lewis Story?


Dean and Jerry Being Themselves in The Stooge (1952)

A Martin and Lewis done almost two years before its release, a delay caused by --- what? There's been suggestion that producer Hal Wallis was discomfited by subject matter, Dean being a heel to doormat Jerry and far less laughs than had been case with initial M&L's. If The Stooge got under skin, it might have been Jerry's, his title character desperate throughout to please an indifferent Dean. Was this by most accounts, including Lewis' own, how things were offscreen? Dean plays parts of The Stooge like a noir anti-hero. I wonder if he ever passed Burt Lancaster or Charlton Heston in Wallis hallways and wondered why he couldn't do the straight and rugged stuff. Anything off-formula was figured to shake limbs, and Wallis had overseen enough series to know folly in that. What was difference to his mind between Dean/Jerry and Joe E. Browns turned out wholesale at Warner Bros. while Wallis ran production there in the 30's? Martin and Lewis would have looked to be a fad with four or maybe five years to maximize output, never mind merit, and harvest whatever there'd be of coin before novelty and interest flagged.


Jerry Lewis complained that Wallis had no head for comedy and I can imagine Hal wondering what point the performer was trying to make. Here was rush on a finite vein of gold, as Dean Martin might also have sensed. Could that be why he took money and ran to golf courses? Lewis had Chaplinesque designs and would eventually upset a golden apple cart. I wish an alternate history could tell us how much longer M&L might have lasted as a team had the 1956 break-up not occurred. The Stooge came at peak of a public's engagement. For young folk, especially boys, Martin and Lewis were a happier discovery than even Abbott and Costello had been. What is laborious in The Stooge are routines Jerry does sans Dean, like a lunch counter exchange or business with a  squirting sink in a train compartment. Lewis relied mostly on two expressions: manic and pouty. He's likeable with neither to my thinking. At least there's curiosity for Lewis pics with Martin; when Jerry became the whole show, it was every viewer for him/herself.

6 Comments:

Blogger Bill O said...

I think even that early in the game Jerry was exercising control-and picturing himself at a time when he had no partner, could sing all the songs, and get the girls himself. The film even ends with the soon-to-be-familiar Jerry doubling.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Always thought this one was based on the real life act of Phil Baker and heckler Sid Silvers (Silvers has a story credit here). The most startling aspect is the song 'Who's Your Little Who-zis?' Martin and Lewis got a lot of mileage out of that oldie in the 1950's but check out the original 1930's recording by the 'Knickerbockers' (Ben Selvin Orchestra I believe) and it almost sounds like vocalist Dick Robertson is doing a Lewis imitation!

12:21 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Oh, and here is that first version of "Who's Your Little Who-zis?"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDjeb3B6H1o

12:23 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Did not know THE STOOGE was held back. Certainly Martin was able to grow after he left Lewis in ways he could not have had he stayed as he showed in RIO BRAVO (could Lewis have done that part? Maybe, but I doubt it).

Their films together have never grabbed me the way Abbott & Costello did. Lewis on his own has always seemed forced to me if to no one else.

1:23 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The Argentine (and Latin American) title for this film is EL RABO DE LA ESTRELLA (THE TAIL OF THE STAR).

8:35 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers comedic skills of Jerry Lewis:


"The brilliant comedian who doesn't even know he's a brilliant comedian" is one of those plots that tends to annoy no matter who does it. Even Chaplin had trouble with it in "The Circus", where he's supposed to be unaware he's the star attraction in a live show.




It was especially problematic for M&L because Lewis is always visibly working so hard at what he does. At his very best, you're as much impressed by the actor's technical skill and effort as amused by the character's follies. Compare to Stan and Ollie, whose delicate bumbling always played as real, or Bud and Lou, obviously slick old burlesquers but able to make it look effortless. You can't believe Lewis is doing anything by accident, no matter what the script says.





It might have been interesting (but fatal) to flip the plot: Lewis as a hard-working, perfectionist clown who's TOO precise, finding success with a partner who seems to shrug and walk through the act without a thought. Martin couldn't be unaware of his success, but he could miss that his partner resents sweating blood while he just shows up, sings and throws away lines. And Lewis could miss how much he needed that relaxed, offhand presence to balance his exactingly executed clowning.




In later years Lewis positioned himself as the artist, obsessing about details and eager to talk about his hard work and genius. Martin, in contrast, cultivated the illusion -- at least partly illusion -- of expending no effort at all and cheerfully knocking out stuff like the Matt Helm series.

6:27 AM  

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