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February 25, 2006

Jerry Lewis - Deux Fois!

stooge.jpg

The Stooge/Le Cabotin et son Compere
Norman Taurog - 1953
Paramount Pictures Region 1 DVD

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The Delicate Delinquent/Le Deliquant Involontaire
Don McGuire - 1957
Paramount Pictures Region 1 DVD

I admit to being a fan of Jerry Lewis. Not an uncritical fan. One of my literary treasures is a copy of Bonjour, Monsieur Lewis by Robert Benayoun that I got in 1975. Benayoun is the French film critic that Andrew Sarris refers to in The American Cinema in Sarris' essay on Lewis. I am extremely limited in my knowledge of French but the book is a great source in terms of its catalogue of Lewis work as an actor and director, including such unrealized projects as The Worst Robber who ever Lived (and We Don't Mean Maybe) and H-Bomb Beach Party.

The two films I just saw reinforce the opinion that the best Jerry Lewis films are those directed by Frank Tashlin or Lewis. The King of Comedy and Funny Bones aren't true Lewis vehicles, though they are both worth watching. The two Tashlin directed Martin & Lewis films, Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, as well as some of the Tashlin films starring Lewis have yet to received DVD releases. For unknown reasons, these lesser Lewis films have recieved priority. While neither film will change the mind of those who think appreciation of Jerry Lewis is a French aberration, they do provide interesting commentary to the legend of Dean and Jerry.

One has to wonder if Martin and Lewis would have been in better films sooner had The Stooge not been shelved for almost two years. Even though the film is about a fictional team in the 1930s, The Stooge strikes quite close to some of the realities of Martin and Lewis both publicly and privately. This was the third film following At War with the Army in which Martin and Lewis received top billing, with Hollywood sensing Lewis' value as a star, and Lewis demanding better quality films. This was the first of several films Martin and Lewis did with director Norman Taurog, a filmmaker whose best films were well behind him. Martin and Lewis may have had long simmering issues well before their breakup, or writer Fred Finklehoffe wrote a prescient screenplay. I was reminded of the quote attributed to Martin where he tells Lewis that he is ". . . nothing but a meal ticket".

The Delicate Delinquent has a few chuckles. Don McGuire must have hoped to achieve mythic filmmaking by naming his characters Damon and Pythias. At least McGuire may have gotten a last laugh with Tootsie at the end of his career. Lewis, as Sidney Pythias is hardly a delinquent, and more of a guy who finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Darren McGavin is street cop Mike Damon, the part originally marked for Dean Martin. The only singing is by Lewis doing "I'll Go My Way By Myself", a song better associated with Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon. The few pleasures of The Delicate Delinquent are from seeing the young Frank Gorshin and perennial badass Richard Bakalyan as street punks. Shot one year before a famous broadway musical, the choreographed rumbles and jazzy score seem to anticipate some other delicate delinquents.

P.S. 2/26/06. This morning I read that Darren McGavin died. I feel somewhat awkward with the timing of my writing about The Delicate Delinquent. After doing a name link search at IMDb, I was reminded that McGavin and Don Knotts actually worked together on two Disney productions in the 70s, No Deposit, No Return and Hot Lead and Cold Feet. One could also point out that the legacy of McGavin and Knotts are linked in the most unsettling episode from The X-Files. The series, inspired by McGavin's Kolchak: The Night Stalker included the episode titled "Home", with small town sheriffs Andy and Barney.

One other bit of wild coincidence, with one degree of separation - the actress playing Lewis' mother in The Stooge is none other than Frances Bavier, best known as Aunt Bee to Don Knott's Barney Fife.

Posted by peter at February 25, 2006 07:31 PM