"The primary critical problem of Jerry Lewis is whether he should be taken seriously at all. Where American critics and audiences see him as the banal equal of, say, Abbott and Costello, European critics and audiences see him as at least the equal of Jacques Tati and the rival in comic imagination of Chaplin, Keaton, Langdon and Lloyd. For the European critic, Lewis' comic strength is the comically accurate depiction of the American mentality--its brash, vulgar overzealousness. They see Americans' intellectual distaste for Lewis as a symptom of our discomfort at seeing such a nasty reflection of ourselves in Lewis's comic mirror."-The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies, Second Edition by Gerald Mast p,303
Growing up during the 70's, it was pretty impossible to avoid Jerry Lewis for any entertainment consumer. He had largely stopped making star movie vehicles by that time, but there were the reruns of his movies (as well as those of him and his former partner Dean Martin) on television seemingly all the time. He was still on many a talk show during this period (Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, Tom Snyder...you name it) and I always thought he was at his funniest as a talk show guest. There was even a short-lived Jerry Lewis cartoon (Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down!). And of course there was that annual Labor Day telethon for muscular dystrophy that Jerry hosted for decades.
Jerry Lewis IS The Ladies Man
For those wanting to sample Jerry as a 60's film auteur, The Ladies Man is a good place to start. The rather thin plot has Jerry swearing off girls after his sweetheart breaks his heart, only to find himself employed in an all female boarding house with dozens of beautiful women all about. But the plot doesn't really matter much here. It's about the gags. There is Jerry unsuccessfully trying to get comfortable in a bed, or trying to move something breakable (which he breaks of course), or trying to deal with all the peculiarities of the women of the house or the gag about him having to feed the house kitty, which is (spoiler!) actually a lion. The whole movie is framed around the boarding house, an elaborately built set which Lewis the director uses to great advantage. Lewis the performer is at his best here and if you don't like this one, Jerry may not be the guy for you.
Jerry Lewis IS The Nutty Professor
The Nutty Professor is probably Jerry's most famous role. Lewis plays the buck-toothed and nerdy Julius Kelp, who concocts a serum that turns him into the suave, if not obnoxious in his own way, Buddy Love, who many have thought (though Jerry dismissed the idea) was really Jerry's depiction of his former partner Dean Martin. Jerry plays the socially awkward Kelp and the obnoxious Love to the hilt. At least one critic (alternative Oscar author Danny Peary) thought he should have won the Academy Award for that year! Once again, if you don't like Jerry in this movie, he's definitely isn't the guy for you!
Now if I could just get my hands n a copy of The Day the Clown Cried!
Thanks for the memories, Jerry...or maybe I'll just shout out in a Lewis voice, "NICE LADY!"