Niiiice Laaaaaady! Judge Neil Dorsett says please watch dis heah Jerry Lewis funny movie wit the guy doing the falling over thing wit da movie and da—oooooh—laughing.
Our review of Jerry Lewis: The Legendary Jerry Collection, published November 29th, 2005, is also available.
"This ain't gonna work anyhow! It's like trynna make a soused pig out of a person's ear!"
Jerry Lewis opens it up, whips it out, and waves it in your face for a hundred minutes, in the process creating what may be his best movie—but only if you were sort of curious about what was in there in the first place.
Facts of the Case
When a prominent Hollywood comic actor goes down with his plane, his management team is left with a void. They've got a producer (Everett Sloan), they've got a director (Peter Lorre), they've got a joke man (Phil Harris), and they've even got clothing- and people-handling specialists (John Carradine, Ina Balin, and Keenan Wynn)—but they've got no star. And since either they're lazy and used to a well-oiled machine, or they're a loving family (a question that's never settled, of course), they decide to stick together and replace the star. In the words of Stanley J. Mussberger of The Hudsucker Proxy (which uses the same formula, roughly), the group needs "some schmuck we can really push around."
Which is often the first impression people have of Jerry Lewis.
Amazingly, who should walk in the door at the very moment of that decision than Jerry himself! Okay, not so amazing. As, once again, a bellboy (named Stanley Belt this time), Jerry arrives in a display of total subservience that instantly dominates the movie. He spills ice on the carpet of the luxurious suite where most of this movie will take place, and spends at least eighty full seconds on a display of incompetence picking it up. In a strangely self-referential moment, Stanley the impoverished bellboy holds a piece of ice up to his hand, where we can compare it to the real Jerry's luxurious diamond ring. Then the group converges on him, and Stanley backs away in terror to the point he actually falls off the balcony, all the way down to the swimming pool, where he hits the diving board and bounces right back into the room, seemingly better for the trip. And that, in a nutshell, is what this movie is about.
The movie continues to present incongruities and reversals. When Stanley studies at the well-appointed home of singing instructor Hans Conreid, he flails about the room and just barely manages not to break anything. When he says "You're a nice lady," he says it in his normal adult voice. And when Stanley at long last is on his own on the Ed Sullivan Show, he spontaneously ad-libs a sketch which transforms into a detailed, obviously cinematic scene with a cast of hundreds and lots of film tricks. And all the way through you can see this face, and it's Jerry's real face, but it's kind of angry-looking and crafty, like all the while he's just waiting to lay down four aces and say, "I bet you thought I was an idiot, didn't you?"
Jerry is definitely showing off in this one. While it continues to give on the old-style, belly laugh sight gags and slapstick, the real point of The Patsy is how good Jerry is at it, and that he considers it an art form. Whether you enjoy The Patsy is, in at least small part, contingent on your agreeing with him—or at least playing along. This means that The Patsy is, in short, for locals. If you're not already down with Jerry to the point you'll laugh at a reversal or exaggeration of his usual shtick, then The Patsy is not your Lewis movie.
As is his usual, Jerry bolsters himself with a fine cast, this time of all-stars from the shady side of Hollywood's casting roster (mostly in the name of one beautifully cheap gag that occurs near the beginning). Keenan Wynn, Everett Sloan, Phil Harris, John Carradine, and in a final big-screen turn, Peter Lorre (The Maltese Falcon) compose the supporting cast, along with leading lady Ina Balin. All seem animated and involved. Only the physically ailing Lorre lacks scenes of his own with Lewis. Balin is very sweet and perfect for a self-contained flashback scene of Stanley's youth, in which he's shamed by his rented tuxedo at a formal dance but rescued by a mousey girl in a similar state. That sequence brought to mind the familiar comparison of Lewis to magazine gag cartoonists—in particular, Don Martin of Mad.
One thing about this movie that fans of the era should not miss, under any circumstances, is Ed Sullivan's amazing self-parody when he introduces Stanley on the "Really Big Shoe." Sullivan runs through his entire gamut of weird speaking mannerisms in about one minute and really shows that he knew himself well. Other guest appearances in the film include Mel Torme, George Raft, Hedda Hopper, and the tap dance act, The Four Step Brothers. The Step Brothers seem to be included to show how "real" entertainers work really hard only to be swept aside in favor of the likes of Stanley Belt. The great Scatman Crothers has a scene both brilliant and unfortunate—brilliant, in that it's performed beautifully, and unfortunate, in that Scatman plays a shoeshiner. And at the same time Scatman shines Stanley's shoes, Batman's Commissioner Gordon, Neil Hamilton, is cutting his hair!
The Patsy is presented in a fine new anamorphic transfer with just a touch of edge enhancement. Otherwise, the picture is wonderful, if not quite the equal of the Nutty Professor disc, and it shows off the glories of that old Technicolor we never see anymore. The gigantic Beverly Hills suite alone has a palette like a carpet and paint store, and the disc never lets it down once. The color fidelity in a color Lewis film is important, as he often attaches subtle bits to his gags and scenes that are derived from matching colors, such as the punch-stained jacket sleeve in Professor and here, with Stanley's costume in the Sullivan bit having colors carefully chosen to match a Picasso-style (hell, it could be a real Picasso, I don't know) painting on the wall. Interestingly, Stanley goes from these deliberate colors to the black and white of a tuxedo during his "proving grounds."
The audio is presented in a very nice mono track. While it isn't as satisfying as the bang-on 5.1 remix of Professor, it is more faithful and more than adequate for an older film. The audio commentary (again with yes-man Steve Lawrence) is sparse this time, appearing only over a few short scenes and containing little of value. We get the film's trailer and, as usual for this series, a trip into Lewis's outtake vaults that provides a half-dozen deleted scenes, including some home movie style footage of Lewis' young son Gary and a lame black-tooth gag that Lewis pulls on Ina Balin which she attempts to return, but can't hold in her giggles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is a Jerry Lewis movie. 'Nuff said.
So how's The Patsy all told, now that I've watched it seven times during the period it took to write this colossally late review? It's pretty okay. It rewards multiple viewings (thankfully), and it's a pretty smart piece of its own type of entertainment. If you like Jerry, you'll like The Patsy.
How could this movie be guilty, when it's only a patsy?
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on Select Scenes by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
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