Charlie Morgenstern 11 a.m., June 25
DVD Rentals: Jerry Lewis & Tony Curtis in Boeing (707) Boeing (707)
Had I revisited Boeing (707) Boeing (707) since my dad took me to see it first run at Chicago's Balmoral Theatre? Bit and pieces here and there, but I don't recall ever subjecting myself to a repeat viewing.
Next to Don't Raise the Bridge... and Way...Way Out, it's the only Jerry Lewis film I have never seen more than once. I endured Smorgasbord twice, for goodness sake, but could never bring myself to book another Boeing flight.
Some memories are better left alone.
The recent Broadway revival of Marc Camoletti's flat, 1962 French farce sparked renewed interest in the Christmas 1965 film version. It had always been my understanding that this opened to universal slams. The confused Variety staff critic wrote, "Director John Rich has done a topnotch job in overcoming what is essentially (except for a few Paris exteriors) a one-set, one-joke comedy."
The one set is obvious, but will someone remind me what the one joke is?
Howard Thompson in the New York Times called it "passable nonsense" and applauded the fact that "Jerry Lewis is so subdued he's hardly recognizable." Baloney! I'd recognize the Sy Devore suits, highly polished fingernails and greaseball crewcut anywhere. The snide Mr. Thompson went on to suggest that we all look upon Jerry's toned down performance "as a Christmas present."
Boeing (707) Boeing (707) is a '60s sex romp that attempts to raise the bar set by the glut of neutered Rock Hudson/Doris Day vehicles. Tony Curtis plays an American playboy in Paris who stacks stacked stewardesses (or flying waitresses as they were called back in the day) like an air traffic controller would jets.
At one point, the trio of international beauties that polygamist Curtis juggles cease to be called by their first names and are reduced to answering to the trade names of the airlines they work for: Air France (Dany Saval), Lufthansa (Christiane Schmidtmer) and British United (Suzanna Leigh).
The opening picture credits not only list the actresses' names, but their measurements as well, including housekeeper Thelma Ritter's (in the Phyllis Diller role) whose stats read "?? - ?? - ??."After awhile all formalities are dropped and the broads are simply referred to as "this one" and "that one."
Curtis operates out of a five bedroom, Hal Periera designed stabbin' cabin in the heart of Paris which he stocks with hot and cold running fianceés. In spite of his conquests, whose arrivals and departures are timed to the minute, Curtis never once appears to enjoy his good fortune.
Producer Hal Wallis wanted Dean Martin for the lead. When Dino declined, Wallis offered it to Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers, Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra, even Bob Hope, but all rejected the role. For a mercifully brief period, Wallis entertained the thought of turning it into an Elvis vehicle (the King was Paramount's main breadwinner at the time) until Curtis signed on.
Tony dominates the first reel-and-a-half of endless exposition. Enter Jerry as a long (and better) lost friend who needs a place to bunk for a few nights. Immediately sizing up the situation, Jerry hatches a scheme to literally move in and steal one of Tony's brides to be.
The characters get to leave the set, while we seldom do. In one exterior shot, it appears as though the extras were instructed to stare directly into the camera. TV director John Rich does little to "open up" Camoletti's slamming door farce for the screen. Even ace cinematographer Lucien Ballard (Fixed Bayonets, The Party, The Wild Bunch, A Ducking They Did Go) phones in the flat visuals.
1965 was a tough year for Jerry. He took a body-breaking pratfall that led to a decades-long Percodan addiction. An acrimonious relationship with Paramount Pictures led to a nasty divorce. Boeing (707) Boeing (707) marked Jerry's 33rd and final film for the studio he called home for 16 years.
Trying to break away from "the Idiot" persona, Jerry took a whack at playing the Dean Martin role. With the exception of some Bellboy-esque fumbling with luggage, Jerry pretty much plays it straight. Sex symbol Curtis was the logical choice for the lead, but one can't help wonder how much different (not better) it would have played had the roles been reversed. The only element that could not possibly have been improved upon is Thelma Ritter. How many times did she (brilliantly) play this role?
There is only one legitimate gag in the entire picture. After Jerry wins British United's heart, he stops at a pub to phone fresh instructions (which involve drugging Lufthansa) to Thelma. The patrons eavesdrop and think Jerry is a murderer. This is compounded when the hostile locals mistake a beaten Jerry for a short eyes after a young lad verbally delivers British United's message of love. The rest is a tame sex(ist) comedy that never takes flight.
Both Curtis and Lewis staged walk-offs at various points during production. Filming wrapped a week late and a few hundred thousand over budget. One month later, in June, 1965, Paramount Pictures said goodbye with Jerry.
The Jerry completest in me was glad to snag a DVD copy at a local pawnshop. When it comes right down to it, with a price-tag of $2.00 I overpaid.
Thanks to Rob "Colonna" Martinez for helping with this review!
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