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Monday, August 11, 2014

Jerry Scores A Paramount Bullseye


His Best May Be The Patsy (1964) ... Or Not

Jerry Lewis' masterpiece, if I may use the word. It followed The Nutty Professor in terms of Jerry directing and writing (with Bill Richmond). If you want inside Jerry's skull, here's the entrance. He was still potent enough at Paramount to spend free on lush setting --- there are doozies here --- and JL's camera is always up to interesting things. The bloom was coming off the rose, however, The Patsy at two million in domestic rentals being way down from Professor's $3.3 million, and in-between Who's Minding The Store with $2.5. Rentals were thus dipping as Lewis profligacy increased. Was The Patsy too sophisticated for Jerry's increasingly youthful crowd?


There's leisure (plenty) in an opener reel all but labeled "Place Exposition Here" before JL even enters, but who's complaining when it's rogue gallery of Everett Sloane, John Carradine, Keenan Wynn, Phil Harris, and Peter Lorre (just prior to his death, and looking it). The girl is Ina Balin; she's supposed to find Jerry adorable, which calls for acting a Garbo or Gish couldn't manage, what with JL in spastic mode intermitting with suave offscreen Lewis, a weird parlay increasingly woven into his act after Buddy Love parted curtains. There are "star" cameos --- George Raft, with whom Hollywood was long done, though not Vegas (greeter) --- did Jerry buddy up with needy George at casinos? Then there's Rhonda Fleming being asked how her "new picture" is going. What new picture? She hadn't done a US feature since 1960's The Crowded Sky. But that's The Patsy's charm, Jerry operating as if it's still the 40's with show business in a twenty-year ago groove.

Maurice Chevalier Is A Guest To The Patsy Set

But go back even further to the barber trimming "Stanley Bolt's" (Lewis) hair ... Griffith veteran Neil Hamilton from silent days. Then there's Gavin Gordon on a golf course, he of earliest talkies and, I'm sure, thrilled for a day's work back at Paramount. Plus comes Mantan Moreland, Billy Bletcher, Fritz Feld, Benny Rubin --- I should follow each of these names with exclamation marks, as that's how pleased we are at seeing them. Lewis would make a great Cinecon guest just to talk about all of survivor greats to whom he gave work. Jerry's stock company is also in evidence: Buddy Lester, Del Moore, my favorite Dave Willock. So what of the comedy --- indeed, so what? Well, I think it's Jerry's best, whatever one thinks that amounts to. An extended routine with Hans Conried is certifiably a howl. Lewis obviously took dim-view of rock and roll, his thing being swing, so he sends up the big beat mercilessly (having done that before). This time it's I Lost My Heart In A Drive-In Movie, which Jerry lip-syncs to insult of recording pretenders I'd bet he loathed. Memo to 1964 Jerry: The music war was over, and your side lost.

6 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

Your comment about Jerry being in some kind of a time warp is quite true. The last time he hosted the Telethon, he was making references to Vic Tanny and telling Helen Keller jokes. To me, it seems like time stopped for Jerry in 1957, when he and Dean broke up.

But anyone who'd round up a cast like that in The Patsy is cool in my book.

3:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers Jerry the Self-Aware Genius in "The Patsy":


For me, "The Patsy" is the most emphatic of Jerry's "I'm-a-natural-genius" tales.

The setup is that a famous comic/singer/actor is dead and his handlers decide they can drop anybody into his shoes and fabricate a star (the old studio thinking). They grab Jerry and put him through the mill. But he only becomes a real star when an improbably placed camera catches him in an elaborate (and unintentional) pantomime. After all, who needs directors, writers, producers, etc. when you have unspoiled Jerry not even trying to be funny? Once the character figures this out, he becomes the assured "real" Jerry -- a self-aware comic genius.

It's basically the ending of "The Errand Boy" writ larger. In that one, he's an incompetent working undercover to spot inefficiency; a plot point seemingly abandoned the moment it's introduced. After spot gags and profound moments with hand puppets, he ruins a studio party. The footage is seen by an Acclaimed Genius New York Stage Director -- presented as the real article, not a pretentious joke -- who lectures the studio chief on what a miraculous talent is seen here. End with Jerry a big movie star, reveling in the attention and teaching a dim billboard-poster -- himself -- how to be comically incompetent.

The theme goes back to "The Stooge", where Jerry is unaware that he's the big laugh-getter in Dino's act. And before Jerry, Chaplin wrestled with it in "The Circus."

5:32 PM  
Blogger JIM COBB said...

Just watched this on MoviePlex HD. Definitely some interesting bits though much of it seems extended... trimming might have made it sharper. Certainly the show biz world he portrays here was already gone in 1964. Interesting that when Ed Sullivan makes his cameo he mentions the Beatles---who had only been on his show months before. I still prefer THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I was 11 when this came out. So I went because I did like Lewis. And, boy-o-boy, I hated this movie. Lorre died two weeks after finishing this film.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I prefer THE LADIES MAN.

11:16 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Joe Dante sends along the following link to his outstanding site, Trailers From Hell, where "The Bellboy" is the featured preview, with Joe's insightful commentary. I really enjoyed seeing, and listening to this:

http://trailersfromhell.com/patsy/#.U-wELs_BHXe

9:33 PM  

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