Funny Bones

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Tomorrow is Jerry Lewis’s birthday.

The iconic comedian passed away two years ago at the age of 91.

As the cliché goes, he lives long in my memory.

His career as an actor, film director, stand-up comedian, producer and screen writer spanned eight decades.

I loved him as a kid and if I was to think back over my all-time favourite comedians, Jerry Lewis would come out on top from a list boasting the likes of Dave Allan, Woody Allen, Tim Allen, Richard Pryor, Benny Hill, Chris Farley, Don Rickles, Warwick Davis (all 107 centimetres of him), Mel Brooks, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Kevin James, Peter Sellers, Jack Black, Don Knotts, Martin Lawrence, Paul Hogan, George Burns, Jay Leno, Phyliss Diller and Peter Sellers.

Comedy is subjective. One person’s comedy mastermind is another person’s Adam Sandler. But for me, Jerry Lewis was King.

Not many people I know remember him these days so I’m happy to be the one to pay tribute. His films never seemed to get the full recognition they deserved (he failed to be nominated for a single Academy Award) and he was more popular throughout Europe and in particular France than he was in his native U.S.A. Many folk just simply didn’t ‘get’ Jerry Lewis.

Those factors made me love him even more.

As an adult, I’ve read enough stories about him to know I may not have liked him that much in real life. (Don’t click here if you want to remember Jerry fondly) That doesn’t diminish in any way my love for his films and performances.

On the eve of the anniversary of his birthday, here are my Top Ten Favourite Jerry Lewis movies

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As cruel as it was to relegate Lewis’s recognised masterpiece THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) to second spot, my true heart belongs to the work of comedy genius he produced, directed and starred in 49 years ago WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT?

Lewis plays the role of Brendan Byers III, a rich playboy who forms his own privately financed army platoon during World War 2. He and his men travel to the front lines where the plan is he will impersonate and take the place of a German General just long enough to order a troop retreat.

In the clip below, Jerry Lewis as Brendan Byers is attempting to learn German in preparation for his impersonation of that German Army General. If nothing else, watching this scene should prove beyond any doubt that what makes me laugh may make you, well… not laugh. Or cringe. Or at the very least doubt my bona fides as a judge of quality mirth making material.

Here goes anyway…

Now that wasn’t so bad was it?

Here’s the other nine films that round out my list…

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And because I couldn’t find space for it in that collection here is a clip from another of my favourites THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY (1964) which underlines the case for why Jerry Lewis was a master of non-verbal comedy and what used to go by the name of ‘mugging’ (ie. contorting one’s ‘mug’ or face in the name of laughter – think Jim Carrey.)

The over-talkative patient in this scene being wheeled around by Lewis’s orderly is played to perfection by actress Alice Pearce (1917 -1966) who played the nosy neighbour Gladys Kravitz for three seasons of BEWITCHED (1964 – 1972).

This is hypochondria played for laughs…

Jerry Lewis appeared /starred in more than 60 films including his last, MAX ROSE (2016) as well as the documentary METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF JERRY LEWIS (2011).

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If you’d like to get a sense of the esteem with which Jerry Lewis is held in the world of comedy by the likes of such professional funny men as Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase as well as film director Steven Spielberg, take a look at the trailer inserted below for the documentary METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF JERRY LEWIS.

Ps. I really have saved the best for last with this bonus clip.

It’s long at seven minutes but if you consider yourself a connoisseur of the art of comic timing and delivery then this time will literally fly. This scene is taken from the 1961 movie THE LADIES MAN.

Jerry Lewis plays the part of a young man who, fresh from a breakup with his girlfriend, swears off romance and then takes a job at a genteel, women-only boarding house.

In this scene he greets a gangster who has dropped by the house to see his lady friend.

Seeing this again reminds me of another aspect of Lewis’s films I always loved so much – the small band of sublimely talented character actors he surrounded himself with and used over and over in small roles in so many of his movies. The gangster in this scene is played by Buddy Lester (1915 – 2002) who appeared in five of Lewis’s films (four of which feature in my Top Ten listing).

Enjoy this.

Enjoy this as I unashamably wheel out the wobbly-wheeled cliche cart one last time and declare – ‘They don’t make ’em like this any more.’

They really don’t.

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14 thoughts on “Funny Bones

  1. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis made a total of 17 comedy movies together back in the 1950’s. Growing up in the 1970’s, those films were my introduction to Jerry Lewis.

    Unfortunately for me many of the films featuring that pairing were not completely to my taste as Jerry Lewis was invariably forced to play the infantile bumbling idiot to Dean Martin’s suave and sophisticated playboy. I tired pretty quickly seeing him ‘lower’ himself to another performer in this manner.

    When Lewis branched out on his own in the 1960’s he was able to play both types of roles himself – the stumbling, mistake-ridden fool as well as the irresistable Mr Cool character. He frequently played multiple roles within the same movie, 1963’s THE NUTTY PROFESSOR being just one obvious example of his muli-role ‘range’ within the same movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In so many ways I can see he was before my time Glen, but when I think of you imbibing in the 70’s, I was well and truly in the High School grind so really had no opportunity to know anything about the guy except he was a actor. I loved the smattering of videos you chose for us. If Jim Carey can’t attribute his style to Jerry Lewis, then I would have to conclude he is lying. It was amazing to see the similarities between the 2.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You are right Roger.

    And passing the comedy torch down the line from Jerry Lewis to Jim Carey I wonder who will emerge as the next big thing using the physical comedy style those two were the high priests of?

    Although something tells me that comedy, like so many other realms in society, has now splintered off into a thousand different subcultures and schools so that any one individuals ‘time at the top’ is going to be way more marginal and limited then perhaps it may have been in the past.

    My favourite comedian of recent years has been the English actor Warwick Davis, who stands 107cm tall. In this scene he is attending a property settlement/divorce proceeding represented by his accountant because he cannot afford a lawyer.

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      • Digressions flying everywhere!

        One of the funniest for me was when the accountant and Warwick Davis’s ‘little guy’ character are debating whether or not the film WILLOW (1988) could be regarded as a success – right in the middle of what was supposed to be a serious property settlement negotiation.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Glen, I did read the final interview and saying it was a ‘difficult interview’ must have been the understatement of the year, I understand he must have been tired etc. (age 90) but it was certainly ungracious and painful to listen to.

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  5. Ungracious is a most polite term for Jerry Lewis’s conduct in that interview.
    I can think of a few more strongly worded descriptions that would go more to the heart of the side of him he showed during that interview.

    Full marks to the interviewer who didn’t skip a beat and just kept up the good-natured professsional vibe that was so at odds with the ‘sooky brat’ answers he was being slapped with one after the other.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, it’s sad that the interview went sideways like that. I’ve heard some stuff about Mr. Lewis, too, that’s not very complimentary at all. But our icons ARE just people. Not gods! It’s like how freaked out people are about “Leaving Neverland”, and although, obviously, pedophilia is much worse than just being an ***hole, people are actually throwing all their CDs and records away and vowing to never listen to him again.
    Whatever MJ was, his music reached all of us in one way or another. You can unhear it or wish it away. I think the creation can remain separate from the creator, in one sense.
    And Jerry Lewis made me laugh a lot and brightened up my childhood just that much more!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was talking on this exact point – seperating the creator from their creation – just the other day to a dear friend.

      If I dismissed the sublime creations of artists of all persusaions because of my personal distaste for how they may have conducted parts of their private lives, I would be denied the pleasure of so many books, plays, films, paintings, works of music and so on.

      I am not prepared to do that for that is surely throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to quote an old saying.

      The case of Michael Jackson and the hard-to-deny clearer picture now emerging of how he conducted himself in private and what his natural inclinations were is a classic case in point.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m appreciating how some here are urging restraint towards reactions against creations vs the creators.
      Clear thinking is always necessary to maintain civilisation in the face of the evil perpetrated by messed up people. I’m all for a fair trial for every man and woman, and trial by media can whip up hysteria to such an extent it would be really hard for a judge to maintain objectivity when he or she may fear the mob if they rule against the baying hounds.

      Liked by 1 person

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