Judge Dennis Prince never liked clowns. He thinks they're creepy and generally unfunny. With this review, he found this also applies to "clowns" who don't always wear bulbous noses and slap shoes.
Our review of Jerry Lewis: The Legendary Jerry Collection, published November 29th, 2005, is also available.
From the original one-sheet: "Jerry Lewis as 'The Errand Boy' fractures Hollywood with a million howls!"
Yeah? Sez who?
Mr. T.P. (Brian Donlevy), the big cheese at the spectacularly successful Paramutual Pictures Studios, is fist-pounding furious. He's not angry about the films the studio regularly delivers to the eager public; those are all hits. He's not incensed over the box office tallies his films garner; the dollars just keep rolling in. It's the studio's bottom line that simply isn't adding up, and it has T.P. hopping mad. T.P. is convinced his high-earning studio has a problem with its cost controls—there aren't any! Upon meeting with a well-regarded auditor and efficiency expert, T.P. quickly dismisses the high-profile professional, sensing the entire studio would be ever-watchful of the auditor's activity. No, to truly get to the bottom of this conundrum, the studio needs a nobody, someone unknown to the entire employee body, someone who can ferret out the much-wanted information and can be easily manipulated to do whatever it takes—however unscrupulous it may be—to find out where the studio's profits are being wasted. Meet Morty S. Tasman (Jerry Lewis)—a nobody; a stoop; a stooge if ever there was one.
Bumbling Morty is whisked away from his billboard-posting duties and is quickly given a job in the studio mailroom. This way, he'll have free reign to access the entire studio, its stars, and its various departments of hard-working but maybe high-spending taskmasters. Try as he might, Morty just can't seem to please the bellowing mailroom foreman, Grumpy (Stanley Adams). No matter—because he's not here to deliver mail, he's here to quietly infiltrate the fiscally-irresponsible fabric that's draining the studio earnings. Unfortunately, Morty can't seem to do anything quietly, and in short order ruins several shoots, scatters reams of updates in the script room, destroys studio props and property, and gives a looping session one of the loopiest tracks ever laid down.
It's always great fun to screen a film you've never before seen and be pleasantly surprised, tickled, and enjoyably entertained. The Errand Boy, however, wasn't such a film. No, it's listing, lopsided, plot-lacking excursion into the emerging ego of one of Hollywood's long-revered legends of comedy. If Jerry Lewis is the King of Comedy, well, then the King has no clothes in this self-absorbed outing. While the setup of a movie studio looking to introduce a mole into its day-to-day workings had some thread of promise, and the notion of leading moviegoers on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Tinseltown's secretive "movie magic machine" piques the curiosity, all that potential is jettisoned in deference to erecting a stage for Lewis to practice his various silly stunts, stammer his collection of malapropisms, and flash his arsenal of facial contortions. Isn't it all so funny? No, not this time around.
Now, there's no arguing that Jerry Lewis has been a man just oozing with comic genius, able to elicit an honest round of guffaws with a perfectly-timed double-take, a cleverly choreographed pratfall, or just a zany shout out of, "Hey lady!" After parting ways with carousing crooner and long-time partner Dean Martin, Lewis set out to further his own iconic existence without being dragged down by that drunken, droopy-eyed singing straight man. But, just as oil needs vinegar to properly serve up a tantalizing garnish, so did Lewis need Martin to balance the routine. The Errand Boy is nothing more than a series of comedic vignettes choppily separated by the standard fade to black. None of it means anything, and if you tuned in late to the picture, no problem, because none of it was leading anywhere anyway. Die-hard fans of Lewis will undoubtedly enjoy the madcap shtick on display here, and Lewis can deliver well, but those looking for any semblance of story arc or character development—or even the most tepid of climaxes—will walk away dissatisfied.
Most confusing here is that Lewis, as director and co-writer of this picture (it was his third self-propelled indulgence), doesn't even maintain a consistent character. When we first meet Morty, he's that veritable boob with the upturned duckbill hat and the quasi-retarded "waahhh-haah-haah" drawl (it sounds like the Lewis of old, but the evolving Vegas slicked-back hair doesn't fit the bill). Later in the picture, Lewis speaks eloquently and tenderly during a conversation with (of all things) an ostrich puppet. I'm sorry, but did I miss something? He hurriedly tries to return to the original plotline when he realizes the final reel is almost over. It's a strange picture, and unfortunately wasn't just a one-off "oopsie" for the post-Martin funnyman. Again, he can be a funny guy on his own (his original The Nutty Professor was terrific fun, and I seem to recall 1967's The Big Mouth being a rip-roaring laugh-fest), but here it seems he had become a bit preoccupied with his own status and becoming one of the big-time Hollywood power brokers. Something's 'broke,' all right. Sadly, I don't think I laughed once during the ninety-two minutes that this disc spun in my DVD tray.
As for the DVD itself, The Errand Boy is another in the line of Jerry Lewis Widescreen Collection features from Paramount Home Video. The transfer is quite nice, an anamorphically-enhanced presentation framed at 1.85:1. The source material was either impeccable to begin with or there was a diligent restoration effort underway here, because the black-and-white image looks terrific. Detail is sharp and clear, contrast is nicely managed, and deep black levels make this pleasing to behold—visually. The audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track, but it musters up enough "oomph" to perform well. Extras on the disc include a paltry handful of "scene selected" commentaries by Jerry Lewis accompanied by his lackey-in-tow, Steve Lawrence. There's little to be gained from the few minutes the two talk through a scene, mostly with Lawrence chuckling dutifully and praising the "King" while Lewis creepily speaks of himself in third-person fashion. Most enjoyable on the disc are the few minutes of bloopers that will evoke a smile. There's also the original theatrical trailer and a collection of TV spots on hand.
All in all, The Errand Boy came as a disappointment to me. To watch Lewis play an idiot can be quite amusing if it works within a character and a plot (see The Stooge), but here it all seems a bit contrived. I can only imagine that this potential "poison pen" parodying of Hollywood circa 1961 was seen as an insult by some…yet who in their right mind would have had the 'nads to take on the King of Comedy? If Paramount Studios wanted to understand if their money was being spent wisely, they might have started by reviewing this picture.
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• Select Scene Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
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