Memorial screening for Jerry Lewis. I’d never seen this, didn’t realize it’s semi-plotless, casting a mute Jerry as one of many bellboys at a luxury hotel and throwing him into situations. Apparently hastily written and shot in the Miami hotel where he was performing at the time. And it shows… half the jokes are lazy or awful, though it’s short and overall pleasant enough.

Also featuring Jerry as himself, Milton Berle as himself, both of them as lookalike bellboys, and Lewis’s future cowriter Bill Richmond as a fake Stan Laurel. It’s a strange movie. I feel bad having so little to say about it, but maybe you had to have suffered through the studio comedies of the 1940’s and 1950’s to appreciate its innovations.

I started reading the BFI’s excellent, thorough book on Frank Tashlin, and realized I’ve hardly seen any of his movies. Here’s a quick remedy.


Susan Slept Here (1954)

A screenwriter with an oscar-winning career of “light, frothy comedies” wants to make a more serious picture, needs a dose of hard, cold reality (with the help of a girl who’s too young for him) to gain inspiration for his writing.

But enough about Sullivan’s Travels!

Dreamy teen Debbie Reynolds was actually 21:
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TCM notes that it “has the distinction of being the only film in history narrated by an Academy Award,” as the fictional screenwriter’s oscar presents the story in a framing device which doesn’t quite work besides providing some Tashlinesque self-reflexivity. Lead actor Dick Powell (selected by studio head Howard Hughes “after his first choice Robert Mitchum declined”) in his final film, retaining none of the energy he displayed in Christmas In July, is our author and Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain, providing plenty enough energy for the both of them, is the girl. How they end up together is too stupid to relay in detail – friendly cops leave her with Dick over Christmas, they reluctantly bond, he marries her to keep her from being sent to a foster home (she’s 17) then leaves town to write his screenplay, comes home to annul their marriage but she decides to keep him and he’s not hard to convince.

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The whole situation aims to be risque, but comes off a bit icky. It’s still a fun movie, a bit awkward but light enough to write off any ickyness or awkwardness at the end, tell myself “gee, that was nice”, then forget most of it a week later.

Dick Powell doesn’t quite work in close-up:
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Anne Francis (Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day at Black Rock), seen below as the threatening spider-lady of Debbie’s dreams, is Dick’s girlfriend, who leaves him over some misunderstandings over Dick and Debbie (or are they understandings since those two end up together?).
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Alvy Moore (later one of the underground crazies in A Boy And His Dog) is perfect as Dick’s boy-wonder, a kiss-up assistant who tries to stay out of the sexual escapades.
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Glenda Farrell (of Little Caesar and star of the 1930’s Torchy Blane series), a Thelma Ritter type (Thelma was busy on Rear Window this year), is Dick’s drunken typist. Glenda and Alvy make the movie worth watching.
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Everyone notes the Red Skelton guest appearance. I’ll dutifully note it too, though I don’t know who Red Skelton is.

Noel Simsolo:

The key note is elegance. Frank Tashlin uses smooth camera moves, rigorous composition and classical editing to make a scabrous play and an already completed script even more subversive, lodging his directorial presence in a physical and moral space not of his own making. … As in the rest of Tashlin’s oeuvre, Susan Slept Here shows an immature character intruding into, and at first wanting to destroy, a closed adult world. … Tashlin then shows the way in which the character appropriates the space, and concludes with their desire to be integrated into it.


Hollywood Or Bust (1956)

Jean-Luc Godard wrote a glowing review of this when it came out, identifying Tashlin as an auteur whose style would be world-recognized in the future. This only came true among hardcore cinephiles, unfortunately.

This final Martin & Lewis picture doesn’t hold a candle to Artists and Models, but I still thought it was surprisingly good, especially considering the two leads were reportedly not speaking to each other anymore. Tashlin, right before his two terrific Jayne Mansfield movies, keeps things bouncing along quickly enough that there’s no time for a bitter showdown.

a plug for the widescreen process… Tashlin was into drawing attention to his color or aspect ratios, and congratulating his audience for leaving their couches and televisions to attend his pictures:
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Dean scams a winning ticket for a car raffle (by getting duplicates of every ticket) in order to either sell the car and pay his bookie, or skip town and avoid his bookie – it’s supposed to be the former, but sometimes it seems like the latter. But Jerry has the legitimate winning ticket, so they share the car, and Dean reluctantly shares Jerry’s dream of driving to Hollywood and meeting dream girl Anita Ekberg (of The Alphabet Murders, French Sex Murders, Killer Nun).

Jerry pushes the old oil-rig-in-a-hat bit:
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Complications ensue. Pat Crowley (the young latina girl in Red Garters) gives them a ride when their car is stolen (later recovered) then they give her a ride when hers is destroyed. Jerry’s dog threatens Dean when he tries to make off with the car. Jerry finds Anita but pushes her into a pool. After a nice cartoony soundstage chase, Jerry’s dog is cast to costar with Anita, everyone attends the premiere, and I can’t remember if the bookie thing works itself out but I suppose it does.

Dean’s seduction method of choice (see also: Artists and Models) is blatant sexual harassment:
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I thought Dean’s line “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that hound of yours” was a Scooby Doo reference until I realized Scooby was still a decade away from being created. Maybe Scooby was referencing Hollywood Or Bust, then!

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Anita (left) and Pat:
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David Ehrenstein:

Having just examined America’s obsession with comic books in Artists and Models, and poised to assault the world of rock ‘n’ roll in his next film The Girl Can’t Help It, Hollywood or Bust finds Tashlin in a relaxed, easy going mood. Hollywood may figure in the title – or more precisely the credit sequence, where Anita poses like a living statue before various Hollywood tourist sites – but the film isn’t about the world of movie making in any straightforward Rear Window way. Rather, through the figures of Dean and Jerry, Tashlin explores an American psyche populated by Hollywood imagery, particularly images of women. Images being static entities, it is therefore appropriate that the trip to Hollywood supposedly depicted in this early entry in the “road movie” sub-genre isn’t a real trip at all. Dean and Jerry’s adventures begin and end on a Hollywood sound stage as every artificial set, painted backdrop and second unit photographed exterior of the film makes clear. … The sets of Hollywood or Bust represent nothing other than movie sets.

1955 must’ve been a fun year to be at the movies, a heyday of widescreen and color in Moonfleet, Rebel Without a Cause, Lola Montes and even This Island Earth. This one looked great even on my portable player. Watched it about one and a half times, and would watch it again – full of bright color and good jokes and completely forgettable songs (sorry, Dean) and good characters (except for Dean, sorry Dean).

Jerry plays a grown adolescent (big surprise) addled by his addiction to comic books, and Dean is his friend/roommate trying to break into the art world. Dean’s an okay artist but also a ladies’ man in the creepiest, most stalkerish way, and the object of his lusty affection is successful (until she gets fired halfway through) comic artist Dorothy Malone (one year before she stunned in Written on the Wind). Dorothy’s Batgirl model, less hollywood-attractive but with a much cuter smile, is Shirley MacLaine (whose film debut was just one month prior in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). It’s complicated, but Dean lands a job for Dorothy’s ex-boss drawing super-violent action comics written by Jerry in his sleep (he dreams aloud) the same day Jerry attends a panel as a witness against comics as a corruptive influence on young minds, while Dean tries to get Dorothy as hard as Shirley tries to get Jerry (via an awful music sequence, the low point of the movie). Then totally out of left field, spies and government agents are after Jerry, and the plot gets so mad that I already don’t remember how it’s ties up, except that Dorothy & Jerry give in to their stalker partners and fall into last-minute “love” (a la Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) and get married, all in a single few-second shot, the movie’s way of saying “WHEW!”

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Cameo by George Foghorn Winslow, the kid from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, nine years old and already halfway through his Hollywood career. I didn’t recognize Jack Elam (I keep doing that… gotta notice him next time I watch Kiss Me Deadly to see what he looked like in the 50’s). Eddie Mayehoff was wonderful as semi-hysterical Mr. Murdock, the somewhat pathetic boss at the comics company with no creative drive or ideas of his own – he appeared in a few other Martin & Lewis movies but sadly not anywhere else. I love how Dean and Jerry take turns doing impressions of his character.

Eddie Mayehoff:
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Tash made this a couple years after Son of Paleface with Bob Hope, and a couple years before Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. I think this was the second to last Lewis/Martin flick – a few years later Dean would be starring in Rio Bravo and Jerry would get into directing with The Bellboy.

So this has got narratives written by dreams, the struggle to be an artist in a corporate world, an appreciation and condemnation of comics, government cold-war idiocy, and more attacks on television (after seeing this and Rock Hunter I think TV is a favorite punching bag of Tashlin’s). TV had already been mentioned as the downfall of the comic industry when this scene came along (right after Dean’s so-glad-to-be-employed song) with Jerry testifying against comics from inside a television (color, no less) while Dean discovers the futility of arguing with TV:
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The writers have some more fun with comics when Jerry’s love life takes an super/spider-man angle, as he’s in love with Batgirl but not her real-life “secret identity” Shirley MacLaine. Also some terrific bits with mirrors and frames and distortions. Jerry gets to sing most of a song, and in the other room Dean takes off his shirt and pants and sings to himself in the mirror (maybe this was to stall walkouts of female Dean fans who did not come to hear Jerry do the singing). But when Dean’s mirror image starts singing harmonies and looking back at himself in an unwholesome way, Dean splits. The music starts out okay and gets worse – sorry, songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren (“That’s Amore”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “We’re in the Money”).

Rosenbaum says: “Five cowriters are credited along with Tashlin, but the stylistic exuberance is seamless, and this film eventually wound up providing the inspirational spark for Jacques Rivetteā€™s late, great New Wave extravaganza Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)”

Weird 1950’s Thing I Noticed: the want ads are divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs. Suppose there was a separate page for negro jobs? More likely a whole separate newspaper.

The annual Artists & Models Ball. I’m guessing the kids at SCAD have parties like this all the time.
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Dean being creepy over Dorothy:
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Cover your ears, Shirley’s gonna sing:
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Jerry tries being a model:
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1982: the year of Blade Runner, White Dog, Poltergeist, The Thing, Gandhi, Britannia Hospital, Fitzcarraldo, Fanny & Alexander, Tron, the Sting version of Brimstone & Treacle… and this, the legendary Worst Kurt Vonnegut Adaptation Ever. From young hotshot Steven Paul, one of the producers of Doomsday, and I know I just said I wouldn’t waste my time watching anything created by anyone involved with Doomsday, but the Vonnegut connection combined with this movie’s reputation for being one of the worst comedies of the 80’s forced me to watch it out of morbid curiosity.

Laurel and Hardy? The book was dedicated to them.
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Opens with narration by Orson Welles, surely giving even less effort than he did as the voice of the planet in Transformers: The Movie. You can immediately tell that the movie has no comic sense whatsoever. It looks cheap despite the big-name cast, and every “joke” is dead on delivery. The comedy is mostly people falling down, moving fast, talking funny (slapstick, I guess) and it’s badly staged… for instance, the twins are giant-sized, but only when convenient.

I don’t think Vonnegut was as mean-spirited towards the Chinese. And of course, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is not of Chinese descent, but better him than Mickey Rooney I suppose. He plays the shrunken thumb-sized ambassador, a reference only understood by readers of the book since it’s unexplained during the movie. Other bits from the book are also rethought and bungled, and the twins are from SPACE now (and return to space in the ridiculous ending). All traces of Vonnegut’s trademark sadness and humanity are lost, unless you consider the sadness of the cast and the releasing studio and the audience. Rogue Cinema points out that the movie’s cast (Khan, Feldman, even Welles) and poster and title (and renaming the doctor “Frankenstein”) aimed to make audiences think that this would be a Mel Brooks Close Encounters parody. That particular advertising lie is probably the most well-thought-out part of the whole film.

Lewis!
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Khan!
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Madeline Khan and Jerry Lewis double-star as both the super-genius twins and their rich, detached parents. Marty Feldman is the butler in the twins’ secluded home. John Abbott plays a guy with a cool beard and Samuel FULLER is the colonel at the Military School For Screwed-Up Boys.

Feldman!
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Fuller!
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One of the last films of Jim Backus (Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s Island, voice of Mr. Magoo), John Abbott, Marty Feldman, and even Jerry Lewis (had starring roles in 6-7 more movies, most of them bad) but Jerry recovered in time to make Arizona Dream. Yes, Slapstick was a mega-career-killer, destroying the respectability of everyone involved! It ruined cinematographer Anthony Richmond, who previously shot the beautiful Man Who Fell To Earth and Bad Timing but went on to shoot Dane Cook movies and Dumb & Dumber 2. And – little known fact – it contributed to the death of Orson Welles and was directly responsible for his never completing Big Brass Ring, The Dreamers or Other Side of the Wind. Orson’s female co-narrator’s career was so thoroughly demolished that the internet has no record of who she was. But on the bright side, the movie helped launch the film career of Pat Morita, who would star in The Karate Kid two years later.

Morita! (he’s the one not looking at the camera)
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Music by Michel Legrand and a song with lyrics by Vonnegut were edited out of the movie after the original release – why?? Assistant-directed by Michel’s son Benjamin Legrand, ending his short career as assistant-director (begun the year before on Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round).

Everybody wants prosthetic foreheads on their real heads? The incest scene doesn’t go very far, because we need a “PG” rating.
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Released around the same time as Scorsese’s awesome King of Comedy, also with Jerry Lewis, though I think this was shot first and shelved for a while. Gene Siskel calls it “shockingly bad” and Ebert calls it offensive but makes a point of not blaming Vonnegut or Lewis. I heard one detectable Jerry joke: “You know, do as the romans do… when in rome, that is – I had it backwards” (it’s all in the delivery). There’s an occasional passionate line-read by Madeline or Jerry, the occasional animated bit of action, but mostly the movie moves mechanically from one laborious scene to the next, a simple motion illustration of a screenplay written by a guy who knows a guy who talked to a guy who once read the Vonnegut novel (which wasn’t one of KV’s best stories to begin with). I would looove to say that Fuller, Lewis and Feldman were excellent and the movie was slightly worth watching, but they weren’t and it wasn’t. I’m not in any hurry to rewatch Breakfast of Champions to decide whether this one is worse, but I think it probably is.

Close Encounters of the Dumb Kind:
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“Dig that crazy homework.”

I appreciate that none of Lewis’s movies have even vaguely believable plots. Plausibility is an unnecessary weight on the shoulders of comedy. This one has Jerry playing an aspiring barber in a fancy hotel who gets caught up in a jewel-heist plot along with haircut customer Dean and Dean’s girl Nancy (both teachers at a girls school in a distant town). Jerry mugs an oversized 11-year-old and steals his sailor outfit in order to get a half-price ticket home, but hiding out from the gun-toting jewel thief he bunks with Nancy. Once discovered, he has to keep pretending to be 11 so Nancy won’t be exposed for having a man in her private room. Of course he falls in love with her (and has to fight off teenage girls at the school), but Nancy still marries Dean, awww.

Besides playing the romantic straight-man, Dean sings five dreamy but unmemorable songs. I always think it must be hard to be the woman in those scenes, having to smile through a whole song without attracting attention away from Dean or looking too vacant.

Remake of Ginger Rogers/Ray Milland-starring Billy Wilder-directed The Major and The Minor, in which it’s the girl pretending to be a kid. Hmmm, it’s on TCM tonight. Bosley Crowther’s original New York Times review calls Lewis “noisy and ungraceful” and says the film is “on a mental level that will not demand an exertion from anyone.” Thankfully, Crowther didn’t live to see Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, but yeah, nobody would call You’re Never Too Young challenging. I just found it a cute comedy with Lewis actually at his most likeable and everyone else (Dean included) pleasant enough to watch without adding anything very distinctive.

Good DVD quality. I put this on while paying bills, expecting it to be the lesser of the Artists & Models double-feature disc, so I didn’t pay strict attention but it gradually roped me in. Perfectly fine cinematography by Daniel Fapp (Lord Love a Duck, Let’s Make Love, West Side Story) and direction by Taurog (everything from Andy Gump for President in 1924 to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine in 1965). Written by Sidney Sheldon, screenwriter of Anything Goes and creator of I Dream of Jeannie. IMDB says his family can expect a big royalty check in 2010.

Look at these two. Hard to believe they were involved in a sinister bisexual mafia prostitute murder conspiracy. Oh wait, they weren’t… that was an Atom Egoyan movie.
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Dean’s girl Nancy was Diana Lynn, the youngest brother’s girlfriend Gwen in Track of the Cat, went straight to television after this and died of a stroke sixteen years later.image

Nancy’s uptight co-teacher (not pictured here, since I haven’t forgiven her for being a nosy, moralistic tattletale) is Nina Foch of a buncha period films like Spartacus, The Ten Commandments and Scaramouche.

Not the first time that American Hans Conried (left) played a Frenchman named Francois – and he was also Dr. T in The 5,000 Fingers.
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The very sinister Raymond Burr (center), fresh from playing the bad guy in Rear Window, is the jewel thief. Veda Ann Borg (left), vamped as the thief’s wife in this scene. Besides having a very awesome name, she costarred in the 1940 serial The Shadow and appeared in Guys & Dolls and Mildred Pierce.
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Orpheus! Don’t look back!
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Appropriate that in the water-skiing stunt-double chase scene, Lewis says “I don’t know how to do this!” against a rear-projection screen. It’s a great comic action scene, but I preferred the music performance that preceded it, with Jerry as conductor of Dean and the women’s choir. Similar to a section near the beginning when Jerry leads the girls at a march, only now instead of aping his spastic movements, they vocalize them.

All the “young high school kids” look to be in their twenties. IMDB says they were indeed. Gags involve a milk-shooting water gun, eating cigars, drinking disgusting liquids, falling into a swan pond, and other slapstick stunts, but it’s not over-the-top physical comedy. Or maybe in this post-Dumb and Dumber America, Jerry Lewis humor seems subtle. One of the gags, when Jerry pretends to be a gangster towards the end to escape the school, is referencing 1940’s William Castle movie series The Whistler. Weird how the happy ending involves the girl being left alone as Martin goes back on active army duty, which he’s been hoping to do all movie long. It’s the anti-Stop-Loss.

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Worst JL movie I’ve seen so far. I can’t believe this was the (directorial) follow-up to “Nutty Professor”.

Lewis is of course the title patsy. A famous singer/entertainer dies, and his handlers don’t know what to do with themselves. They want to continue their partnership, keep doing what they were doing, but how can they without a star to support? Enter clumsy bellboy Lewis. His character is sweet but SUCH a loser that it’s impossible to suspend enough disbelief to believe that the handlers would unanimously adopt him instead of taking maybe an hour to look around, or more likely holding a casting call.

Hardly ever funny, the romantic bit seems forced, movie’s sole reason to exist seems to be so Lewis could work with some high-class supporting actors, so here they are:

Everett Sloane (Disorderly Orderly, The Enforcer, Citizen Kane)
Phil Harris (Anything Goes, The Jungle Book)
Keenan Wynn (Piranha, Laserblast, Point Blank, Parts: The Clonus Horror)
Peter Lorre (M, Maltese Falcon, Mad Love)
John Carradine (The Howling, Frankenstein Island, Red Zone Cuba)

Ina Balin (The Projectionist 1971) is the girl, the heart of the picture, and Scatman Crothers gets one good scene.

Jerry is called the “king of comedy” once, and Ed Sullivan refers to having Martin & Lewis on the show before.

a patsy:
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L-R: Lorre, Wynn, Lewis, Carradine, Balin, Sloane, Harris
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this was his final film:
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the mushy flashback scene:
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funny ending, dismantling the set:
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UPDATE: Senses of Cinema calls it “a discourse on comedy” and points to the scene where Jerry almost but never quite breaks all the priceless vases as an example of defying comedic expectations. See attached comment for a more thought-out opinion than mine.

Jerry Lewis is an orderly who would be a brilliant doctor if he didn’t suffer from a syndrome that causes him to empathize with his patients, literally feeling their pain. Unlikely, I know, but it’s a comedy. Mean suicidal woman comes in who can’t afford to pay for treatment, but Jerry falls for her and works overtime so she can stay. Meanwhile another nurse likes Jerry, and after he’s cures of his empathy trouble, he chases her down instead of sticking with the mean girl.

Pretty funny, a good enough diversion, even if some of the gags were lame and the ambulance-and-stretcher-chase finale went on too long.

fixing a “snowy” TV set:
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getting the wrong girl:
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madcap finale (note helpful numbers 1 & 2 on ambulances):
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