Monday, October 11, 2004

Le Moron Stupide

Here's an excellent interview with Chris Lewis, son of Jerry Lewis, who produced the DVD editions of a bunch of Lewis's movies, to be released tomorrow.

Jokes about the French aside, I'll say this about Jerry Lewis: who else was consistently making interesting comedies in the early '60s? Billy Wilder, and Blake Edwards, and Lewis's mentor Frank Tashlin, and that's really about it. Most film comedies in America were visually mediocre and gave few opportunities to performers; even a promising comedy, like Lover Come Back (which has a terrific script -- one funny line after another), is sunk by being shot and lit like a bad sitcom. Meanwhile, most of the emerging foreign directors seemed to avoid pure comedy, perhaps because it requires the director to give up some of his autonomy to the performers; Ingmar Bergman (who made some comedies before 1960, but none after) and Fellini and most of the French New Wave guys weren't about to let a comedy performer run wild. Jerry Lewis's movies may be self-indulgent, and sentimental, and uneven, but they're full of good and innovative visual ideas, and they kept alive the great tradition of creating a comedy to show off a gifted performer's talents, rather than shoehorning a performer into a generic role.

That said, I prefer Tashlin as a director -- his famously cartoony gags, his cynical attitude to American pop culture, made him like no other Hollywood comedy director of the era. None of his films have previously been available on DVD, nor have any of his Warner Brothers cartoons come out yet, so it's especially good to see two Tashlin/Lewis films, Cinderfella and The Disorderly Orderly, included in this new batch. Neither of these are among Tashlin's best work, though Disorderly Orderly has a lot of good stuff; his best films, The Girl Can't Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Bachelor Flat, have yet to be released by Fox, and his best Paramount movies, like Son of Paleface and Artists and Models, remain in the vaults. (His two Martin/Lewis films, Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, are truly insane; they take the basic format of a Dean-n-Jerry picture and go off on strange tangents with bizarre gags, pop-culture satires, and Tashlin's obsession with displaying his leading ladies in every glamour-magazine pose known to man or photographer.) But Chris Lewis says in the interview that the Martin/Lewis movies, as well as other Tashlin/Lewis films, will be coming soon if the current releases sell well, as I'm sure they will.

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