Judge Jim Thomas grapples with his own inner Buddy Love.
Our reviews of Jerry Lewis: The Legendary Jerry Collection (published November 29th, 2005), The Nutty Professor (1963) (published October 27th, 2000), The Nutty Professor (1963): Special Edition (published December 14th, 2004), and The Nutty Professor (1996) (HD DVD) (published May 9th, 2007) are also available.
What does he become? What kind of monster?
Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis, The King of Comedy) is a hapless chemistry professor. He's hopelessly nearsighted, bucktoothed, and clumsy both physically and socially. His experiments have a habit of rearranging the local architecture. As if that weren't bad enough, he's starting to feel an attraction towards one of his students, the lovely Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens, The Poseidon Adventure). Kelp's plans to beef up his bony frame through exercise come to nought, and so Kelp turns to chemistry, hoping to find a potion to unleash his inner Rico Suave. Instead, he unleashes Buddy Love, a swaggering hipster with an insult for every occasion, and the unflagging certainty that he and he alone is God's gift to women. Buddy pursues Stella relentlessly, and Stella finds herself inexplicably drawn to him—even as she also finds herself inexplicably drawn to Professor Kelp. Gosh darn it, will these two crazy kids somehow make it work?
The Nutty Professor, generally considered to be Lewis' best film, holds up surprisingly well, despite the looming shadow of Eddie Murphy's 1996 remake. The Kelp shtick does grow a little old at times, as do the ridiculously old college students, but Buddy Love comes across as a bit more of a nuanced character than I had remembered—and Lewis does amazing things when Kelp starts to re-emerge. There's long been a belief that the Buddy Love persona was a thinly-disguised parody of Lewis' former partner, Dean Martin, but Lewis dismisses that notion in multiple locations. The good/evil dichotomy of the Stevenson source material doesn't seem quite right either, though it's the obvious inspiration. To an extent, particularly in his early appearances, Love seems a projection of what Kelp thinks a sophisticated ladies' man should be like—he just screws that projection up like he screws everything else up. But Love retains just enough of Kelp's own personality to maintain Stella's interest, despite his generally loutish behavior. It's Lewis' movie from beginning to end, but there are a couple of solid supporting turns. Stella Stevens does a lot with a fairly underwritten part, managing to combine innocence and sexuality in a nice package, while selling the idea that she might be attracted to both Kelp and Love. But Del Moore at times threatens to swipe the spotlight with a fun turn as Dr. Warfield, Kelp's long-suffering boss.
The Nutty Professor displays Lewis' strengths as both a director and a performer on full display, particularly with regard to placing and timing. There really isn't the sort of madcap slapstick insanity that people often associate with Lewis (that sort of comedy is more prevalent in Lewis' movies with Frank Tashlin). Lewis has a very classical approach to his direction, carefully working out angles, camera placement and movement, etc. well in advance. The ending is something of a deus ex machina, but the seeds of it are set up well enough that it works, particularly the ending, a large set piece with everything leading up to a single, perfect visual gag.
Holy Sweet Mother of God, does this disc looks incredible! If you ever wondered what all the fuss about Technicolor was, this disc has the answer. From the laboratory and Stella Steven's dreamy blue eyes to the Purple Pit nightclub, the colors all but explode off the screen.
The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded HD transfer is crisp, with amazing detail, particularly noticeable in the textures of the costumes. It appears that artificial film grain was added to the picture after the restoration, but it's not distracting unless you get up close and personal with the screen. The primary audio track is a remastered DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio track. It doesn't really push the surround boundaries, but the sound has good spatial imagery in the nightclub scenes and in the prom scene at the end, particularly with the big band numbers. The original Dolby 2.0 Mono track is also included, though it's not the primary option, and labeled as a "restored" mono track.
Lewis himself helped develop the package, and it's pretty damned impressive. The on-disc extras include all the extras from the 2004 DVD release, along with a new HD featurette, "Jerry Lewis: No Apologies". This 20-minute film combines footage of a recent Las Vegas show with recent interviews. The commentary track features Lewis and Steve Lawrence (The Blues Brothers). Lawrence has nothing whatsoever to do with the film, but it's Jerry Lewis. The two chat about minor details about the movie as well as production details. Lewis occasionally gets to monologing on his comedy theories, but Lawrence brings him back before Lewis gets too pedantic. The additional featurettes on the Blu-ray provide additional background on both the movie as well as Lewis' career.
But wait! There's more! You also get two other of Lewis' feature films, The Errand Boy (1961) and Cinderfella (1960), on separate DVDs. These two movies were made prior to The Nutty Professor; the former was co-written and directed by Lewis, while the latter was written and directed by Lewis' frequent collaborator Frank Tashlin. There's also a few collectible books in the gift box, a DVD version of the main feature, as well as a CD of Lewis performing prank phone calls. So, as you can see, you get some serious bang for your buck here. It would be a good value at the $50 MSRP, but it's practically a steal at street prices.
Trivia: Lewis is currently prepping a musical version, set to open on Broadway Fall 2014.
The Nutty Professor remains a sweet, charming take on the Jekyll & Hyde trope, and this 50th Anniversary Ultimate Edition Blu-ray is about as good a presentation of the film as we are likely to have anytime soon.
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