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Jerry Walks Among Us

Jerry Lewis didn’t disappoint at Saturday’s appearance at the Times Center in Manhattan, for an onstage interview conducted by Peter Bogdanovich and sponsored by the Museum of the Moving Image.

The best news is that he looks terrific and seems as sharp as ever at 82. Bogdanovich started by asking some serious questions, but Jerry was there to do what he does best — get some laughs and spread some love — and so the intellectual component of the evening was quickly shuttled aside. Much of the nearly two hour discussion was devoted to Lewis’s partnership with and enduring affection for Dean Martin, and once again he angrily denounced the reductive interpretation of “The Nutty Professor” that holds Buddy Love as a Dean caricature.

The clips — all shown in fuzzy video, cropped to 1.33 — were mostly familiar, though there were a few fresh moments from live television appearances, again favoring Martin and Lewis rather than Jerry as a solo act.

Very little time was devoted to Jerry’s work as a director, apart from the obligatory mention of his invention of the “video assist” — the video playback technology that allows filmmakers to check their shots on set, and which has been a basic part of the filmmaker’s toolkit for decades now.

It was a full house and one that skewed surprisingly young, raising hope that the Lewis legacy has been passed on to a new generation. He took no questions and signed no autographs, but it didn’t matter. The crowd was there for the same reason I was: to bask in the presence of this great artist and unique individual.

96 comments to Jerry Walks Among Us

  • Speaking of “The Patsy”:

    Makes me laugh every time

  • James L. Neibaur

    I think it is interesting that some people only enjoy Jerry Lewis when he is doing his least challenging acting work. I am also fascinated by those who can’t stand Lewis, but will be aghast at my inability to get through fifteen minutes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (I’ve tried three different times).
    I understand Jerry’s comedy is not for all tastes, but his choices as a director are frequently quite brilliant.

  • You know when I laugh during a Lewis picture, or anyone else’s? When Kathleen Freeman turns up. Good as gold she was, and it was a treat to see her onstage in the Broadway FULL MONTY (she died during the run).

  • jbryant

    I have an original theatre poster of “Hardly Working” in storage somewhere. It adorned my dorm wall all through film school. But I don’t think I’ve seen the movie since its original release. I mostly remember the montage, the vivid colors in the circus scene, and that patented Jerry whiplash from pathos to slapstick, as when his heartfelt talk with Susan Oliver is directly followed by some shtick with a pitcher of milk.

    David: You mentioned Harriet Andersson working for both Bergman and Lewis. This reminds me of the priceless SCTV sketch called “Scenes from an Idiot’s Marriage,” a faux Bergman film starring Jerry (Martin Short). My favorite bit: “Jerry’s” butchering of the lawyer’s name. It’s on YouTube (search for it by title).

  • Ben

    Guys, David Boxwell is NOT David Bordwell. Again, david BOXwell is NOT david BORDwell !!

  • Michael Kastner

    While not among the Lewis faithful, I have to speak up for Cracking Up. One of the funniest films of the 80’s, it is also among the most underrated. Aside from being funny, clever &(finally) adult, it has the late auteur death vibe of such greats as Seven Women, El Dorado & Limelight. Will there ever be a remastered dvd to replace my Warner vhs??

  • David Boxwell

    I wish I had David Bordwell’s life. I wish I WERE David Bordwell. But then, David Bordwell has to say responsible, critically judicious things, and I do not.

  • James L. Neibaur

    DOH! I’m sorry, David. I don’t spell so good!

  • James L. Neibaur

    (sigh) SNL and SCTV — the rap music of comedy

  • jbryant

    I always thought SCTV was the sketch comedy show for those who didn’t like SNL.

  • jbryant

    I’m assuming, by the way, that “the rap music of comedy” is an insult, even those there are those who would say it’s a compliment.

  • Brian

    Pendarvis, why don’t you let anyone comment on your “blog”? I’m a fan of your work, including (but by no means limited to) your “blog”, and I am always frustrated by the lack of a comment option. “Blogging” should be a dialogue, not a monologue!

  • Ben

    With very few exceptions(like this one), I actually prefer blogs with no comment option. I just want to read what the writer has to say and leave it at that. In this day and age, we are too eager to react. I sound like a hypocrite now since I am reacting right away to your the above comment. Perhaps, I am unfit for this communication age that nobody wants to be alone with their own thoughts…

  • nicolas saada

    I have nothing against Lewis as a director: he was my hero as a child, and I love his COUNT BASIE routine in ERRAND BOY, which is just incredible.THE FAMILY JEWELS has some great performances too. I’ve always seen Lewis as a live cartoon character…until KING OF COMEDY.

  • James L. Neibaur

    jbryant — calling SNL and SCTV the rap music of comedy is either good or bad, depending on one’s perspective. In either case it was something new that came along and completely obliterated that which had gone before. Most younger adults who discovered music after the rap era was in full swing have little or no interest in Motown or traditional blues or r&b. And then there are those who, when asked their favorite comedy film, immediately respond with “Caddyshack,” knowing no more about Buster Keaton than they would Buster Crabbe. Me? I think Caddyshack has some funny parts and rap has some good material. To bring this on topic, Jerry Lewis has hosted SNL and in The Patsy he turned the song “I Left My Girl at the Drive In Movie” into rap, however unwittingly.

  • Jaime

    “I always thought SCTV was the sketch comedy show for those who didn’t like SNL.”

    Don’t know about that, but SCTV (as “dated” as some items seem) holds up better. “Tex and Edna Boil’s Organ Emporium,” “Polynesiantown,” and “Hey Giorgy” and something with Andrea Martin as a feminist theater producer/actress, I’d trade those for the entire SNL catalog any day of the week.

  • jbryant

    James: Okay, I think I understand your comment now. Thanks.

    Y’know, I hate to rag on younger folks whose cultural frame of reference begins with their adolescence and rarely reaches further back, but then I think, Ah, screw it. When I was a young teen in the mid-70s, I loved the Marx Brothers, Cary Grant, Bogart, Capra, Hitchcock — classic movies in general. And lots of before-my-time music as well. And of course many people are still that way. I guess we’re always a minority, but thankfully there are enough of us around at any given time to keep this stuff alive.

  • Blake Lucas

    Before this thread gets away, I just have to chime in as one more Jerry fan who was so sad I could not have been there Saturday night. L.A. to N.Y. just isn’t economically viable for me right now for something like this but I wish it were.

    I’ve come to love Jerry Lewis more and more as the years have gone by–and I say this as one who grew up at a time when he was at a peak of popularity. He’s an awesome talent and that would be true even if he had kept to the performing side of the camera. But I’m glad he didn’t because the full force of his creativity is felt after he became a director. In my book, he is the last great American director to emerge during the classical era (with 1960 directorial debut) and a dominant figure in the early 60s, yet at the same time, in every way anticipating a more modernist cinema and in truth practicing it.

    About 12 years ago, Jerry’s movies actually got me out of a depression. I felt they could have that effect (laughter is always therapeutic), so I scrambled around and lined up 32 of his 33 Paramount films from MY FRIEND IRMA to THE FAMILY JEWELS (all but BOEING-BOEING which he had seemed to appear in to finish his contract and which I didn’t want to end on), then preceded these with reseeing some of the later ones, which are more of a mixed bag, and seeing the few I’d never seen–of which CRACKING UP/SMORGASBOARD seemed really excellent to me and had a lot of the inventiveness of his classic ones. Finding all these films wasn’t easy then–they weren’t all officially out on tape and there were no DVDs, so I felt pretty good to find all those Paramounts especially (and I should do this again now that there are beautiful DVD transfers of so many of them, including that 10-pack Jerry Lewis collection that I have). Anyway, I watched the Paramounts on Saturday mornings, 32 out of 52 through the year, and that self-designed retrospective was a wonderful experience- and sure enough everything about my life felt better at the end.

    Of course, the films get better watching them chronologically, but I’ve always loved Dean Martin as well as Jerry–and he did go on from being the perfect straight man to Jerry and an always tremendously appealing vocalist in those films to giving some of the great performances in cinema in RIO BRAVO and SOME CAME RUNNING. Martin-Lewis movies tend to go to old formulas for comedy teams, but Lewis especially fought this and at times helped to take them a different way. Of 16, there are at least four that are really outstanding. I think most people would agree about the two Tashlins ARTISTS AND MODELS and HOLLYWOOD OR BUST, but I’m also captivated by THE STOOGE and LIVING IT UP, perhaps the two best films ever signed Norman Taurog, a prosaic director but one who seemed well-matched to Dean and Jerry in these early years. Another Taurog, YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG isn’t that good (though it does have Diana Lynn) but should someday play on a double bill with Fassbinder’s IN A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS anyway.

    But no doubt the second half of the retro, with so many brilliant Tashlins and then Lewis’ own great films, gets into pretty rich territory. My favorite Lewis has always been THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, a conventional choice I know, but I think THE PATSY may be just as good. For one thing, it has one of the funniest sequences Jerry or anyone ever did–the beautifully constructed Hans Conreid sequence. I have to tell you that if you have any fear something could make you die laughing, you probably shouldn’t see the film! But also, it’s the amazing ending which for me is the dividing line of a classical cinema in which suspension of disbelief is the dominant mode and a modernist cinema which foregrounds that it is an illusion and a constructed work. Of course, many films had already done this (and Godard was at this point doing it all the time) but there is something uniquely, stunningly dismissive in Lewis as he steps into his role as director and makes it clear that there is no reason for us to have had any emotional investment in the often torturous comic/dramatic odyssey of Stanley Belt.

    It’s mostly in another thread that people are talking about the Cahiers 100 list, and I may offer a related comment or two there later as well. But while acknowledging that these lists don’t really matter that much, I must confess I was disappointed Jerry couldn’t make it even with a strong consensus choice like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Of course I don’t begrudge Keaton or Chaplin, who belong there, not even the more cerebral Tati, whom I perceive as brilliant even I don’t respond to him in the way I do Lewis. But Woody Allen with two films? MANHATTAN is my favorite of his films, but it’s artistically lightweight compared to Lewis, and HUSBANDS AND WIVES, which I also like, is mostly sustained by the second leads Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis. OK, just my opinion I know, but given how much the French were Jerry’s champions back in the day, it’s sad.

    More to the point, does anyone know why Jerry never seems to be in line for an AFI Life Achievement Award, a Special Oscar, a Kennedy Center Honors award, or something along these lines? So many lesser people keep getting these, and he’s still around and there’s no one more deserving. He’s not just a great artist but a cultural touchstone as well. How can he be continually slapped in the face this way? I know it doesn’t matter in terms of the value of his work in the greater scheme of things, but I’m guessing some recognition would mean a lot to Jerry himself and that’s why I’m saying this.

    James L. Neibaur–I read and very much enjoyed your book in the year I was watching all those Lewis films. Like you and many others, I’m looking forward to Chris Fujiwara’s book, but that doesn’t take away from your fine pioneering effort, and personally I hope Jerry will draw a lot more good writers and critics who care about him as the years go on.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Thanks Blake
    I am excited about Chris Fujiwara’s book because Ted’s and my Lewis book should not be the only one about Jerry Lewis in English anymore than Rudi Blesh should have the only Keaton book. Lewis is a filmmaker whose work demands a variety of perspectives, and I know Chris is especially concentrating on Lewis as director, which makes his upcoming book something anyone who appreciates film should order immediately upon publication. Chris has a couple of brilliant essays on Lewis that I have read, which makes me that much more eager about his upcoming book.
    I really do hope Lewis is honored with an Oscar or a Kennedy Center award or an AFI award during his lifetime. It is long, long overdue.

  • Michael Dempsey

    Though I haven’t had an opportunity to see “The Bellboy” since it opened in 1960, I still recall it as a blissful stream of almost non-stop hilarity. It would be a pleasure to see it re-surface.

  • jbryant

    So nice to see all this Jerry love. Makes me want to revisit everything and catch up with the few I’ve missed.

    Blake, I like the Taurog flicks, too, and that seems like a good excuse to recommend his little-known MRS. O’MALLEY AND MR. MALONE, a very funny comedy/murder mystery featuring the unlikely but highly appealing team of Marjorie Main and James Whitmore. It has popped up on TCM a couple of times and will again, with any luck.

  • Dave K

    Great post, Blake. Thanks very much.

  • The Bellboy gets shown on TCM every so often. It is so delightful!

  • James L. Neibaur

    jbryant – I second your recommendation for MRS. O’MALLEY AND MR. MALONE. A very funny comedy mystery. Norman Taurog directed everyone from Larry Semon to Elvis Presley in his career. Perhaps his beginnings in wild silent comedy accounts for his aggressive style elsewhere.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Although I am French, to me Jerry Lewis was an acquired taste. In the fifties I had seen a few of the (pre-Tashlin) Martin-Lewis movies and couldn’t stand the Jerry persona. To me he represented the exact opposite of the kind of film comedy I loved (I had been a Keaton fan for years, my first published article in 1958 was about him).Perhaps I didn’t see the best of the Martin-Lewis films but it seemed to me that any one of them would annoy and depress me just as much as any other. To make things worse they were released in France under unbearably vulgar titles. In brief, I was prejudiced. In an article published in 1958 or 59 I wrote some terribly disparaging things about Lewis — Robert Benayoun never forgave me for it…

    THEN I saw THE BELLBOY and everything changed. The proverbial scales fell from my eyes. It was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen, it was original, daring and brilliantly conceived and directed. To me it remains one of his very best efforts, up there with THE NUTTY PROFESSOR or THE PATSY, two of my favorites.

    I redeemed myself in the Lewis entry of 30 ANS DE CINEMA AMERICAIN (1970), which started with the pronouncement: “An auteur is born,” and boldly compared Lewis with Bresson and Godard (I quoted that entry in a FILM COMMENT article in 1975, then again in AMERICAN DIRECTORS (1983), shamelessly rehashing my own stuff, although in translation).

    In AMERICAN DIRECTORS and later in 50 ANS DE CINEMA AMERICAIN I tried to articulate what to me remains somewhat problematic about Lewis’s work — the fact that his directorial ideas are often so complex and daring, so sophisticated that they tend to defuse the comedy rather than serve and enhance it (I analyzed the pantomine sequence at the end of THE PATSY as a case in point. As I wrote somewhere, “THE BIG MOUTH and WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT? are both very personal and very unfunny films.” I do sympathize with those people who fail to find Lewis funny, even when they admire his work as a filmmaker.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Interesting, jean-pierre. I always felt the Martin and Lewis pictures are conventional Hollywood comedies about army life and haunted houses. Jumping Jacks and Scared Stiff are still funny movies, but in a conventional way, like Abbott and Costello. I think Living it Up is a standout, as is Artists and Models. I do not have the same affection for Hollywood or Bust as others. But I believe Jerry’s self-directed films like The Bellboy and The Patsy are complex and brilliant. I find a lot of very clever, funny ideas in The Big Mouth and Which Way To The Front.

    But I also understand those who do not find Lewis funny. What makes us laugh is so terribly subjective. But I have trouble with those who understand film and yet do not recognize his brilliance as a filmmaker. I would like to read your essays.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    James, ultimately it doesn’t matter all that much whether you laugh a lot or not much or even not at all. As you say, laugh is so terribly subjective. I worship Keaton as the greatest ever, but I laugh much more at some Laurel and Hardy stuff. Not to mention a lot of other stuff that couldn’t possibly be placed on a level with Keaton (or even L&H).

    Yes there are great ideas in The Big Mouth and Which Way. The problem to me is that they tend to work against rather than for the laughter that’s supposed to be the objective.

    Actually I think there is a fascinating self-destructive tendency in Lewis (I won’t say he is a little like Welles that way)– a realization that he had pushed comedy to such limits that all he could do to push it even further was self-distruct. This may sound as excessive and wretchedly “romantic” but I think I could at least attempt to justify it.

    Of course Jerry would comment: “Has this guy lost his mind?”

    A fair question.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Jean-Pierre, while I respect what you say about whether something makes us laugh, I believe that is the central purpose of a comedy and if it does not make one laugh, it fails for that person at its most basic level. However I can appreciate the films of comedians whom I do not find funny (Jacques Tati), while realizing some who make me laugh are not exactly creating great cinema (Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis). Laurel and Hardy have made me laugh with nearly all of their films, and they are also among the few whose work may not be the great cinema of a Buster Keaton, but their comic ideas and effectiveness in presenting them, their pacing and structure, make their movies at a somewhat higher level than, say, Martin and Lewis. I think the early comedian who resembles the Lewis style is Larry Semon. He was fond of big, explosive gags involving flying buckets of tar and falling water towers. It was an interesting way to use cinema to enhance the slapstick humor, but his current status as one of the forgotten clowns of silent cinema might be due to excess and overkill. Often Jerry’s lack of artistic discipline is the very thing that makes his work offbeat and fascinating. And, as you have stated, there are times when the technique overpowers the comic intention. I don’t know that I can cite specific examples, even from Which Way or The Big Mouth (I actually think the latter is somewhat more subdued in its comic approach than the Paramount films).
    But Jerry’s cinematic exploration of a certain idea might be daunting for is inherent humor. He told me himself that he now believes he should have cut at least one of the uncle characters in The Family Jewels (the old man), and should not have attempted to shoot such a film in sequence.

  • Jaime Wolf

    It’s not a very good book, and I can’t really recommend it, but participants in this excellent discussion may want to know about a detective/thriller novel from a couple of years ago, “The Shooting Script,” by Laurence Klavan, that was at least clever enough to employ a print of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED as its Macguffin. Completists can buy a copy (via the “Used Copies for Sale” link) from Amazon for a penny:

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    James, I agree that a comedy that doesn’t make one laugh is a failure for that person but then it isn’t a failure for those it does make laugh. It’s all relative and personal and therefore laughter can’t really be taken into account in evaluating a comedy. If a drama doesn’t make you cry, do you conclude it’s a failure?

    I feel exactly like you about Laurel and Hardy. They make me laugh more than anybody else — including Keaton; which wouldn’t be a valid reason to claim they are as good as or better than Keaton!

    Your remark about Larry Semon is interesting. He was an extraordinary comedian and should be rediscovered. Almost nothing has been written about him, aside from a superb 20-page essay by Petr Kral in his book “Les Burlesques ou Parade des somnanbules” (1986) — in my opinion the best book ever written about silent comedy with its companion volume: “Les Burlesques ou Morale de la tarte a la creme” (1984).

  • Blake Lucas

    I too have laughed the most and the hardest at Laurel and Hardy. And I give them a lot for how funny they are–I’m guessing we all do.

    But I’ve laughed plenty at Keaton, Chaplin, Lewis as well. I don’t go to their films only to laugh but for many things, which I have no great desire to separate because I like to think of movies as integral works in which everything counts–so for those filmmakers, the drama as well as the comedy, the aesthetics, the construction, the ideas. THE BELLBOY, which deservedly has a lot of love here, may be Lewis’ funniest movie. It ought to be–it’s a daring succession of individual scenes and gags revolving around the eponymous hero and never asks to be considered as a traditional narrative movie like most Hollywood films. One has to look, on the one hand, at one and two reel silent comedies that plainly inspired Lewis, as well as the French New Wave that was then coming along and would have felt great affinity for his going off to that actual Florida hotel and creating this movie. Just as important, Lewis was in great comic form, and it’s hard to think of any of those episodes that isn’t funny, charming, or in some way delightful. On the other hand, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE PATSY (and Tashlin’s THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY as well) are in part dramatic stories and give up scenes to make us care about these stories, not seeking laughs all the time. It doesn’t mean they are not often funny and just as successful as THE BELLBOY.

    BATTLING BUTLER is a Keaton film that never gets much credit, but I think it’s one of his five greatest features and in fact it’s one of my two favorites along with THE GENERAL. On one level it’s a riveting character-centered drama, but I also think it’s often hilarious, always funny when Keaton wants it to be.

  • Christoph Huber

    Similar to Blake’s marathon, I’ve made the experience that no other film comedian (or filmmaker) has made my life happier than Jerry Lewis. One little-mentioned film that floored me on a recent reviewing (after many years) was The Errand Boy/.

    Strangely enough, and although it is full of great and wondrous things, I have a hard time with one of the consensus favourites here, The Patsy, for the simple fact that it is Peter Lorre’s last performance. Like in many of his last films, after having returned a more or less broken man after the failure of his unique, great directorial effort The Lost One, he is visibly unhappy or really just half-heartedly trying to conceal this. The feeling is intensified by the knowlegde that — however wrongheaded — he hated Jerry’s “silly” antics. So after the (astonishing) ending when they all come for the curtain call, that not-reconciled-look he is giving always depresses me.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Blake, I haven’t seen BATTLING BUTLER in a long time but it’s not one of my favorites. However it’s perhaps the most sophisticated and inventive of his films with THE GENERAL in terms of direction: camera moves, angles, framing, placing of the characters within the frame, creative use of depth of focus etc… Interestingly, it’s one of his few features for which he is credited as sole director. Perhaps because there is less physical activity in this film than in most others, he had more of a chance to concentrate on camera work.But I don’t remember it as being very funny. And the plot, or premise, is trite, conventional (every single comic has used it) — unlike in most of his other features.But its major weakness to me is in the final switch from the hero’s fatal ineptitude at boxing to his triumph: its arbitrary and doesn’t actually generate any gags.

    Some French critics are great fans of the film though (or were at the time of all the excitement about Keaton in the late sixties). Jean-Patrick Lebel in his Keaton book (which was translated into English) waxed enthusiastic about that ending. So did Claude Gauteur in a Cahiers du Cinema article (#130). I discussed their views in my own Keaton book. I really should watch it again.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yes, you should watch it again. I’m not trying to persuade you it will be one of your favorites but someone who cares so much about Keaton should give get back to all his silents at intervals don’t you think.

    Of course the premise has used by all comics–but I maintain that his handling of the premise elevated it and far transcends the usual thing one sees. Tell me after you watch it again–and watch Keaton in that climax carefully–if you don’t think he does make it believable; remember, the character has endured some considerable physical training and just needs the motivation of the truly stark provocation here. No, there are no gags in this climax at all (just one in the fadeout shot that follows–and it’s perfect).
    But I maintain that there is humor throughout all the rest of the film up this point, along with all that beauty of direction you mention, and that he earns a completely dramatic climax for once.

    Getting back to the premise–just because it comes from a long tradition shouldn’t and doesn’t mean it’s worn out. Films other than comedies have used it well too–a movie like NORTH BY NORTHWEST for example. That film’s hero too is a spoiled, indulged and self-indulged man whom we might think can’t do much very well if thrown back on his own devices, and he too finds, he has the inner resourcefulness he didn’t even know he had. That film works well, doesn’t it?–and has plenty of humor too, of course.

  • Jaime

    Pardon me if this has already been said in one form or another, but I would dare to say that Jerry Lewis films begin to be really interesting when they don’t produce laughter. Of course laughter is an inestimable high and tough to induce… where else in filmdom is a sequence as perfectly crafted and played as the “fixing the hat” scene in THE LADIES’ MAN, the very memory of which gives me the giggles goddamn five years after seeing it for the first time. But take a census of the varied quarters and segments of Lewis-directed films that are un-funny or simply AREN’T FUNNY and you get a ton of really astonishing cinema. For starters the clown puppet sequence in THE ERRAND BOY (an astonishing movie, little-mentioned in this thread), considerably more unnerving than the Thomas Ligotti short story of the same name.

    Formidable though it may be, I want to say that laughter isn’t the richest emotional reaction to Lewis.

  • Jack Lechner

    Just to set the record straight on Harry Shearer and THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED: The Spy article stated clearly that Jerry showed a copy of the film to Joshua White, a legendary pioneer of rock concert light shows who directed the MDA telethon for a number of years. White brought Shearer along for the historic occasion.

    Nicolas, the Basie routine was actually in CINDERFELLA rather than THE ERRAND BOY, and it’s one of the only outstanding moments in one of Jerry’s (and Tashlin’s) least funny movies.

    For an astonishing example of Jerry at his best, check out Vol. 1 of the CD compilation CELEBRITIES AT THEIR WORST. In one selection, Jerry makes a crank call; in another, Jerry (who must have tape-recorded his life as obsessively as Nixon) deals with a favor-seeking boob by pretending to be his own secretary.

  • James L. Neibaur

    I am guessing that Nicolas may have been referring to Jerry’s board meeting routine in ERRAND BOY, which is a pantomime to music, although I do not believe it is Basie. There are indeed some interesting things in CinderFella, but I agree it is weak for both Tashlin and Lewis. Lewis likes that one, but dismisses another Tashlin collaboration, IT’S ONLY MONEY, which I think is one of their funnier efforts.

    There is an entire album of Jerry Lewis prank phone calls out there somewhere.

    Jack — thanks for clarification re/the SPY story and Shearer. Still rings false with me.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Jack and James: the routine in THE ERRAND BOY was indeed on Basie’s music, a Neal Hefti arrangement from the famous “The Atomic Mister Basie” LP. The tune is “Whirly-Bird” I think but I haven’t seen the film in a long time. Blake will correct me if I’m wrong. Actually it was a routine Lewis had done live with the Basie Band at Birdland, where Basie often played in the late fifties-early sixties. Benayoun in one of his many articles and books on Lewis wrote: “I saw Jerry lewis at New York’s Birdland introducing Count Basie and his orchestra and actually directing it for two solid hours, during which each memorized note inspired a silent discourse.” There’s a 1961 Roulette LP of the Basie Band at Birdland, highly praised but unfortunately not reissued on CD as far as I know.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Jean-Pierre —
    As much as I enjoy jazz, I do not know as much about it. I asked a friend who knows the music well, and she said that the song in Errand Boy is indeed a Basie, but it is called “Blues in Hoss Flat.”
    She further stated that it can be found on the Basie is Back record, but does not think it is on The Atomic Mister Basie (Whirly-Bird is, but that’s not the song). She said the Basie song that Lewis does the pantomime bit with in CinderFella is called “Cute.”
    Thanks for letting me know that it was a Basie composition in Errand Boy. I really should know more about this music.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    James, don’t be embarrassed. I managed to mistake not only one Basie tune for another, but also one Lewis movie for another (I haven’t seen them in such a long time!) The only accurate thing in my post was the mention of Basie at Birdland. Thank your erudite friend.

    By the way, both “Cute” and “Whirly-Bird” as well as the other tunes on the “Atomic” LP were written by Neal Hefti.

  • jbryant

    I’ve just learned that Jerry Lewis’s Cracking Up (aka Smorgasbord) is playing at Hollywood’s Silent Movie Theatre tonight at 10 p.m. And I don’t think I can make it. 🙁

  • Why no mention of Artists and Models? Very zeitgeisty, what with The Dark Knight.

  • jbryant

    Better late than never: Jerry will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the next Oscar ceremony.

  • James L. Neibaur

    I am so glad he is receiving that Oscar during his lifetime. I was afraid it would be posthumous. I want him to be around to appreciate the honor.

  • Bob Furmanek

    Well deserved – and LONG overdue!

  • john pierson

    I enjoy all of the comments on this website.
    First, a general question. Can any of you lucid film critics tell me where I can find English translations of French Jerry Lewis reviews. The ones I know of are the lengthy CAHIERS article on Jerry Lewis film symbols in the Edinburgh Film Festival book FRANK TASHLIN, the reviews of FAMILY JEWELS and THREE ON A COUCH from the brief-lived CAHIERS DU CINEMA in English and the POSITIF tribute to Jerry Lewis from its 50th anniversary book.
    Secondly, Jean-Pierre Coursodon was wrong to semi-retract his praise for Lewis. In 30 YEARS OF AMERICAN CINEMA, he states that Lewis’ focus on inventiveness at the expense of comedy was similar to what Keaton and Chaplin did in their best known films. He later changed his mind. I disagree. They may be lesser as comedy but masteful as mood pieces. A film doesn’t have to hold to one category.
    Thirdly, when Lewis was so revered in France, why are his 2 French films so mediocre and low-budget? CAHIERS slammed the first and ignored the second (just after it gave major coverage to his three prior, recent films).