Even though Judge Dennis Prince still distrusts clowns of all sorts, he's a bit more comfortable with Jerry Lewis in this post-Martin outing, even though the "King" dons some scary greasepaint. "Can't sleep. Clown will eat me."
Our review of Jerry Lewis: The Legendary Jerry Collection, published November 29th, 2005, is also available.
Jerry is seven times nuttier in seven gems of character portrayal!
Well, after suffering through the insufferable The Errand Boy, my stink-meter was ready to declare this Jerry Lewis production to be yet another noxious bomb designed to stroke the one-time fall guy's ego. Oddly enough, the King of Comedy surprised me with a picture that, while it's no major achievement, embodied an undeniable sweetness of entertainment and even included some comic bits worthy of genuine applause. Whew! What a relief.
Sweet little moppet Donna Peyton (Donna Butterworth) is facing a life-sized predicament: upon the passing of her multi-millionaire father, she is required to choose a new father out of the collection of her five very eccentric uncles (all played by Jerry Lewis in various get-ups). Her dutiful and loving chauffeur, Willard (also Lewis), escorts the impish waif from uncle to uncle, giving her two weeks with each in order to determine which of them would best serve as her father-to-be. Naturally, mischief and misadventure abound on her odyssey as Donna finds herself absorbed by Uncle James' seafaring slipups, disheartened at the selfish nature of cynical circus clown Uncle Everett, bulb-eyed over Uncle Julius' photographic foul-ups, dizzy over the airplane antics of flyboy Captain Uncle Eddie, disaffected by the sleuthing Uncle Skylock, and unimpressed by the easily outsmarted would-be thug Uncle Bugsy. Through it all, ever-attendant Willard keeps a close watch over the young lass, while also getting tangled in a variety of wacky situations along the way.
It's not too difficult to detect the formula that will be used here—Lewis clowning it up under a variety of character personalities—and frankly, I feared it would another affair where everyone and everything else is pushed away so the King could do his thing. Nicely enough, Lewis didn't seem to demand center stage at every moment, sharing the spotlight with the infectiously adorable Donna Butterworth to bring balance and purpose to the shtick that abounds. And, beyond the huggable button-nosed co-star, Lewis also surrounds himself with a capable collection of supporting actors—quite capable, I might add—to help imbue each routine with the much-needed fullness that was sorely absent in The Errand Boy. This time, we enjoy solid performances from the likes of Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French from A Family Affair) and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon to Adam West's Batman), plus we get numerous notable uncredited cameos from actors such as Francine York, Anne Baxter, Ted Eccles, and even Scatman Crothers. Granted, Lewis wasn't sharing any proceedings with bona-fide "peers" or anyone else with the acting chops to challenge his star status here. Nonetheless, he assembles a near-perfect entourage of supporting players that exceed expectations (especially the five ladies who unwittingly step aboard Captain Uncle Eddie's troublesome Trimotor aircraft).
With a reasonably well-rounded—if not simplistic—plot on hand, The Family Jewels delivers a typically zany, yet often sentimental, outing for Lewis. He pretty much plays himself as Willard, complete with the now-characteristic slicked-back coif, yet full of love and tenderness for little Donna. As Willard, he manages to get into a few squeezes, with the highlight being his adventures filling in for Carl at the Mohawk Gasoline filling station. As the various uncles, Lewis truly shines in the extended segment featuring the air-headed sky captain, Uncle Eddie. Although the segment does play long, it doesn't overstay its capacity to generate laughs (thanks to the excellent "clucking" of the five old biddies who are readying for the flight of their lives). Runner-up has to be the characterization of the bumbling Brit, Uncle Skylock, who unleashes some real mayhem—and some nifty trick shots—at a nearby pool hall. Uncle Julius is just a rehash of Julius Kelp from 1963's The Nutty Professor, and neither the sheep dog look-alike Uncle James nor the dentally-challenged Uncle Bugsy did much to rouse up any decent guffaws. Although Lewis uses various make-ups to portray each character, it's a bit distracting to see each wearing the same rings as Lewis/Willard throughout the proceedings. Oh, and in an unabashed display of nepotism, you'll see Lewis' own son and his pop band of the day, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, on display here, and also an outright unnecessary scene of Willard listening to the band's top hit of 1965, "This Diamond Ring." It's just a bit weird.
On DVD, The Family Jewels is yet another in the line of Jerry Lewis Widescreen Collection features from Paramount Home Video. The transfer here looks pretty good, anamorphically enhanced and framed at 1.85:1. The source print seems to have been in remarkable condition, since the transfer boasts a very colorful and crisp image. You'll cringe at the shimmer of window blind in the very first scene, but beyond that compression fallout remains relatively unnoticeable. The audio is the same Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that seems to accompany all of these Lewis DVDs, yet it does manage to perform with a reasonable amount of energy. Extras on the disc include the same paltry handful of "scene selected" commentaries by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence, as we've seen on other discs. The content is hardly insightful or revealing so there's little to be gained by listening to it. The bright spot, though, can be found during the extended screen test of sweet Donna Butterworth. You'll likely smile along as Lewis puts her through the paces in an intentionally confusing conversation; she manages herself well. There are two bloopers included and also the original theatrical trailer.
The Family Jewels came as a surprise to me, and if you're not a dyed-in-the-wool Lewis follower, you'll probably find some fun in this picture for you and the family. Replay value might be a bit low, but I could definitely suggest you rent this one at least once.
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Scales of Justice
• Select Scene Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
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