Say the name Jerry Lewis and you are likely to get two opposing reactions. One group of people will recoil as if they had just witnessed Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman trying to explain American history. The other will recognize that Jerry Lewis is one of the most important cinematic pioneers in Hollywood history.
Not to mention a very funny guy. If you haven't yet been exposed to the comedy films of Jerry Lewis, you have been missing out. This is especially true for anyone who enjoys the contemporary comedy stylings of box office bonanzas known as Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and Jack Black. All those modern comedy stars and many more owe a debt to the former funny half of Martin and Lewis. But what about that whole cinematic pioneer stuff? What's the skinny on that and is the skinny really the 411?
Jerry Lewis' first solo effort after the breakup with Dean Martin was originally intended as the next film for that comedy duo. "The Delicate Delinquent" was directed by the mostly forgotten Don McGuire. Everybody's favorite Christmas movie dad, Darren McGavin, steps into the role that was intended for Dean Martin while Jerry Lewis, well past his delinquency, plays a janitor mistaken for a juvenile who is targeted for rehabilitation by police officer McGavin.
After three years of being directed by a handful of other men - the best movies of which were directed by animation legend Frank Tashlin - Jerry Lewis stepped behind the camera to direct himself in "The Bellboy." This movie is not only one of Jerry Lewis' funniest solo efforts, it is the movie on which Jerry Lewis supposedly developed a system now widely used today, but barely known in Hollywood at the time. Lewis has since claimed to own the patent on the Video Assist in which a videocamera records the action at the same time as the movie camera and thus allows instant replay of the take.
A quick search of the US Patent Office reveals that Lewis does not own any patent of any sort and the evidence also points to the existence of a Video Assist kind of device utilized infrequently before "The Bellboy." When watching this surreal exercise in humor, you won't care whether Lewis is snatching credit where it does not exist. Look for a plot inside "The Bellboy" in vain and instead value the beauty of the mastery of a specific medium to put across its message of comedy.
The legend that is Jerry Lewis is based in part upon the self-proclaimed insistence by Lewis that he invented the Video Assist system which revolutionized the moviemaking business and is today standard equipment on just about every film set. Jerry Lewis movies have always contained their fair share of gags in which the very lack of a punchline is the mechanism by which the laugh is forced. The fact that Jerry Lewis is not actually the figure responsible for revolutionizing filmmaking seems more like one of those jokes that lacks the delivery of a paradoxical upending of reality than some guy grabbing credit when he doesn't deserve it. The fact is very much that Jerry Lewis was the first major American director to utilize the Video Assist system and he did more than anyone else to make the technology a standard part of the filmmaking process.
And even if that isn't so, it's worth keeping in mind that this is the guy who cowrote and directed the original "The Nutty Professor" and that alone is enough to earn Jerry Lewis a place in Hollywood Heaven.
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- Martin and Lewis
- Jerry Lewis
- Frank Tashlin
- Jim Carrey
- Jack Black
- Video Assist
- Darren McGavin
- comedy films
- Adam Sandler