Paramount // 1964 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 3rd, 2005
He'll leave you in stitches!
Jerome Littlefield (Jerry Lewis) wants desperately to be a doctor. There's just one problem, though. Our wannabe medico suffers from a severe empathetic disorder: Any potential patient he meets causes him to immediately mimic their symptoms. Resigned to his status as a lowly hospital attendant at the Whitestone Sanitarium, Jerome dreams of the day he can once again ply the Hippocratic oath.
The life of a glorified gofer can be quite challenging, however, what with balancing the needs of the patients with the requirements of the administration. Good thing the matronly Dr. Howard (Glenda Farrell) likes Jerome so much. This hospital head keeps Chief Nurse Higgins (Kathleen Freeman, The Nutty Professor, The Blues Brothers) and the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Tuffington (Everett Sloan, Citizen Kane), from sacking this stooge.
One day, a strange suicidal patient enters the clinic, and Jerome instantly recognizes her. It's Susan (Susan Oliver, Vina from Star Trek's "The Cage"), his dream-girl cheerleader from high school. Back then she didn't know Jerome existed. Now she finds him creepy and disturbed. Still, the heart is a lonely hunter, and Jerome will do anything to make sure Susan gets well -- even if it means snubbing his regular steady, Julie (Karen Sharpe). Such are the trials and tribulations of a Disorderly Orderly.
By this point in his career, a film like The Disorderly Orderly was old hat to the deliriously debatable comic genius of Jerry Lewis (this critic thinks he's just peachy, but grants that this is not a universal maxim). Throughout most of the early '60s, ever since his infamous breakup with partner Dean Martin, Lewis had crafted crackpot, inoffensive family comedies centering on his trained manic monkey performance persona. Hoping to grow beyond the surreal slapstick and sappy saccharine of his first few features, Lewis began flirted with becoming a filmmaker, finally stepping behind the camera to direct himself in several smash hits (including The Bellboy, The Ladies Man, and of course, The Nutty Professor). Still, in his constant striving to give the public what they craved, Lewis would occasionally return to the tired and the true to fashion a formulaic showcase for his stumbling savant sensibility. The result was films like The Errand Boy and Who's Minding the Store?
The Disorderly Orderly is no different. It's a cookie-cutter confection that only wants to entertain. And it definitely does so in small, sublime doses. Helmed by famed Warner Bros. animation director Frank Tashlin (one of the few of his ilk to make a smooth transition from pen and ink to live action), it represented a step backward for Lewis after the brave self-mockery of the Hollywood star-making machinery in The Patsy. It is a more comfortable pair of pratfalling shoes the comic actor is wearing in this hospice-gone-haywire hilarity, and for once, the man seems a tad ill at ease in such lunatic loafers. Like going back to relive high school, or revisiting an arena you believe you had already conquered, Lewis would occasionally return to the feeble format of such strained, simpleton comedies instead of expanding into more realistic or experimental realms. The innocence in a movie like The Disorderly Orderly comes from such a throwback mentality, as well as the notion of never pushing beyond the parameters of public popularity.
This is a clothesline film, the slimmest of premises strung across the 90-minute running time, upon which Lewis and Tashlin can then hang all manner of major and minor set pieces. Some of the stupidity is just stellar -- Lewis handling a mountain of laundry, Jerry chasing a mummy-wrapped patient as he continuously rolls down a hill -- while others are just one-shot stupidity (the hoary old slower-than-a-snail gag). As with any comedy, some of the jokes soar, while others fall flat on their foolish faces. In an oeuvre not known for its verbal invention, there are several sensationally "written" scenes in this particular Lewis lampoon, the best being the multiple illness rant of the most unwell patient in the history of the world, Miss Fuzzibee. Her laundry list of ailments (she has the smallest, weakest kidneys in the hospital, among other maladies) and Lewis's reaction to each one (on account of his empathy disorder) makes for one of the best moments in the movie. While the final ambulance / stretcher chase pushes the limits of believability (and fails to payoff with the hysterical hi-jinx it promises) The Disorderly Orderly is a briskly paced, thoroughly delightful romp.
Throughout it all, Lewis puts on a brave, buffoonish front. He is retarded and resilient, rebellious and retired, during the course of this nutty narrative. But, oddly, this doesn't really add up to much of a character, not in the way Professor's Julius Kelp or Buddy Love are fully rounded entities. Also, Lewis is capable of incredible schmaltz, laying on the overt romanticism with a sensibility as subtle as a jackhammer. Susan's sad story of love lost and matrimonial betrayal is oddly antithetical to what most of this movie is about (all the other mental cases at Whitestone are treated with gags, not gravitas), and the way in which this semi-seriousness weaves around The Disorderly Orderly occasionally throws the story out of whack. Luckily, Lewis is around to make with the mugging, keeping the atmosphere light and the moody merry. Even the first false ending -- involving Susan and Jerome -- has enough levity to distract us from the quixotic queerness going on. Proving that his films are true starring vehicles, meaning they rise and/or fall based on the level of his accomplishment, The Disorderly Orderly is a fantastically fun Jerry Lewis movie. It may not be as inventive as other works in his canon of the cuckoo, but it delivers what it promises.
Paramount has taken it upon itself to release a great many of Lewis's best-loved films in deluxe, special edition packaging. While The Disorderly Orderly boasts far fewer bonuses than many of the DVDs in this collection, it at least presents some pristine technical issues. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks incredible -- sharp and showy with excellent color correctness and contrasts. Thanks to such print protection, the digital image here preserves Tashlin's cartoon framing fabulously. The Dolby Digital Mono is also pristine, offering minimal hiss and some sensational big band scoring to amp the anarchy of the film.
In the added content collected for this disc, we are treated to a wonderfully weird trailer (though it looks the worse for wear) and about 11 minutes of outtakes (most of which feature Lewis blowing lines or purposefully trying to make Tashlin laugh). These few moments behind the scenes in the making of the movie highlight how serious the performer was at his chosen craft, while hinting at the megalomania that would later tarnish his tumultuous reputation. Without a commentary (like on other Lewis DVDs) or fact-filled documentary, we learn very little about The Disorderly Orderly as a filmmaking experience, which is a true shame. It would be interesting to hear how Lewis worked with Tashlin, and why their collaboration gelled as well as it did.
Those looking for proof of why the French fluff themselves the minute the genius of Jerry is mentioned may not find the necessary evidence in The Disorderly Orderly. This is definitely one of the lesser accomplishments in a career filled with dizzying highs and horrendous lows (we're still waiting for The Day the Clown Cried...). Still, for all its old-fashioned charms and forthright earnestness, it is also an exceptionally entertaining film. The Disorderly Orderly may not be a Professor John Frink of hilarity, but it's a decent enough diversion, guaranteed to make you giggle more than groan. They say laughter is the best of many medicines. There is indeed a lot of curative power in the peculiarity of Jerry Lewis.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer
* The Official Jerry Lewis Comedy Museum and Store