Please do not reveal the middle of this picture. Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens in The Nutty Professor.
  • Please do not reveal the middle of this picture. Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens in The Nutty Professor.
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The Nutty Professor 0 stars

The Jerry Lewis original didn’t make it to DVD until almost six years after the Eddie Murphy remake hit store shelves in 1998. For years I dragged the remainder bins in search of Kelp, when all that came up was Klump.

July 25, 1996, is a day that I’ll never forget, and not because it was 20 years to the day that Dean and Jerry split. While in Chicago touring with Damm Yankees, Jerry was gracious enough to accept my invitation to be interviewed before my class (and a few hundred more students) at Columbia College.

The limo pulled up and out popped Jerry. “11:56,” he yelled, tapping his Cartier wristwatch to make sure I knew that he’d arrived ahead of schedule as promised. We stood in a makeshift dressing room below the stage waiting for the packed auditorium to finish watching The Nutty Professor. Something akin to a sonic boom set floorboards creaking and windows rattling.

“What the fuck was that?” asked a jounced Jerry. “Don’t you know by now?” I laughed. “That’s the sound of an audience showing their appreciation for one of your movies.”

July 13, 1963. My first viewing of TNP was a semi-obscured view from the back seat of my parents' Rambler.

Lobby Card #1

Touched by the hand of greatness

Well, maybe not just one of his movies. TNP is the one Lewis films that even his staunchest detractors grudgingly give their approval. I have spent more of my adult life defending Jerry Lewis than all other artists combined. He’s #2 in line behind Jean-Luc Godard as our greatest living filmmaker. (Sorry, Marty.)

It’s long been my understanding that people either hate Jerry Lewis or dislike him intensely. I can almost come to terms with those who might not find his spastic antics funny. What I’ll never fathom is how someone can look at TNP or The Patsy, or The Ladies’ Man — hell, even Hardly Working — and not recognize a brilliant formalist at work.

No other comedic filmmaker, not Chaplin, not even Tati, knew how to wring gales of laughter through intuitive body placement in the frame quite like Jerry. His visual timing of a gag is exemplary, as evidenced by the heart-stopping orangutan-arms dumbbell schtick in TNP. One second off in either direction and the gag would have been toast. Ditto for Stella Stevens gliding center-frame down the college corridor as two doors on either side of her swing open to allow just enough room for her to slip through.

TNP is one of the most personal comedies ever made, particularly if you don’t buy into all the reductionist hype that surrounds its lead character’s alter ego. Lewis has always had a thing for schizophrenia, and Buddy Love is no more 100 proof Dean Martin than he is Adolf Eichmann, one of the first names Jerry mentions when asked who inspired the character. Buddy’s the evil twin of his creator — a brooding, egomaniacal entertainer, a perfectionist who demands that all eyes be focused on his marvelousness at all times. Lewis refused to allow his own children to watch the film until they came of age, and not for fear that they may look negatively upon their Uncle Dean.

Video:

Alaskan Polar Bear Heater

It wasn’t the first time Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was brought to the screen. Sure, John Barrymore was swingin’ in the dual role, as were the nutty Freddy March and marvelous Spencer Tracy. But nothing quite prepares you for the swingin’ nuttiness of Dr. Kelp and Mr. Love.

Admit it: the last time you viewed The Nutty Professor from beginning to end was at age seven while spending a rainy Saturday afternoon in front of the TV or as an adult too drunk to find the remote and change the channel when it played the 2 am slot on Encore.

You have three chances to see the freshly restored version, at Regal Escondido and Mira Mesa: Sunday, September 14 at 2 pm and Wednesday, September 17 at 2 pm and 7 pm. Don’t miss it!

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Comments

monaghan Sept. 12, 2014 @ 4 p.m.

What, Scott, we're getting a chronological Freudian review of your childhood through film -- "Mr. Hobbs" was seen at age 6; now "Nutty Prof" at age 7? And please, explain "a brilliant formalist," or just tell us what is its opposite. We seek to understand.

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Scott Marks Sept. 12, 2014 @ 5:22 p.m.

Quite unintentional, Mon. "Hobbs" was premeditated, but a restored "Nutty"at Mira Mesa came out of the blue.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're not telling your story in pictures, you're not telling your story. What's the opposite of a brilliant formalist? Anyone, save Elaine May, who ever directed a Neil Simon adaptation. Lewis is a stickler for visual presentation. He invented the video playback assist to ensure that every composition, every splice would be perfect. There's not a bad cut or camera angle in TNP. You'll even find a stellar example of how to utilize the most reviled lazy-man's technique of the bunch, the zoom shot!

If you haven't noticed, it's been my sworn duty to try and get people out of their living rooms and into theatres where they belong, particularly when it comes to screenings of older movies. You don't see Landmark showing anything as obscure as TNP. They tend to stick to the AFI top 100-z-z-z-z-z. Here is an astounding piece of filmmaking, easily the decade's finest (and funniest) American comedy. This is not "Some Like it Hot" or "Casablanca," films that are constantly revived. Opportunities like this don;t come every day. Seize the opportunity to see them the way they were intended to be seen.

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dwbat Sept. 12, 2014 @ 9:10 p.m.

NOT a comedy, but Lewis was so good in a supporting role in "The King of Comedy."

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Scott Marks Sept. 15, 2014 @ 9:26 a.m.

Not a comedy? Then why am I laughing so hard? The exchange between the yenta and Jerry at the pay phone is funnier than most features.

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dwbat Sept. 15, 2014 @ 9:53 p.m.

I don't remember that scene. De Niro was brilliant , but his character just totally creeped me out, and made me very uncomfortable.

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Scott Marks Sept. 17, 2014 @ 1:32 p.m.

Jerry's on a pay phone and a "fan" approaches asking Him for an autograph. He politely asks that she wait a moment to which she replies, "YOU SHOULD ONLY GET CANCER!"

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CaptainObvious Sept. 14, 2014 @ 11:46 a.m.

Oddly enough, a retired Hollywood prop man here 500 mies north in the Sierras told me that the cage from the club in the movie is somewhere on a property he used to own across the highway from me. I'm gonna have to watch the movie again and go treasure hunting.

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Scott Marks Sept. 14, 2014 @ 4:33 p.m.

I'm not sure what you mean. A Pit, maybe, but a cage?

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CaptainObvious Sept. 14, 2014 @ 7:26 p.m.

He said it was a dancer's cage, but i don't remember one. Got to do my research before digging. The movie is not on Netflix or Comcast, and video stores no longer exist in Calaveras County.

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Scott Marks Sept. 15, 2014 @ 9:01 a.m.

You just missed it. It played TCM last Friday. Here's a scene in the Purple Pit, the only place in the film where the gang gathers to shake their tootsies. No dancer's cage here.

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

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CaptainObvious Sept. 17, 2014 @ 12:37 a.m.

I'm gonna have to buy the old man breakfast and pick his brain and find out where it really came from. Thanks.

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monaghan Sept. 14, 2014 @ 10:02 p.m.

I will run it by a posse of present-day 6,8,10 and 12-year-olds and see if "Nutty Prof" is fine and funny. I will watch it with them and report back.

Did I say I went to the Ken to see William Friedkin's "Sorcerer?" It was interesting -- a gritty portrayal of our poor hard-working hermanos to the South -- so thanks for that recommendation. (I have a test for you: why is that the name of the film? A couple on the sidewalk afterward asked the question, so I'm passing it along.)

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dwbat Sept. 14, 2014 @ 10:33 p.m.

Wasn't Sorcerer the name of one of the trucks?

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Scott Marks Sept. 15, 2014 @ 8:54 a.m.

Can't help you, Monaghan. Haven't seen it since the week it opened. (dwbat sounds correct.) And I think you got me wrong. I would never recommend an inferior remake. If you want to see it done right, check out "The Wages of Fear." If your posse is anything like the Lickona clan, they won't stop at "Nutty." I see many visits to Kensington Video in your future.

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