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Paramount Studios presents
"You're crazy about me, right? And I can understand it. Only this morning looking in the mirror before shaving, I enjoyed what I saw so much, I couldn't tear myself away"
DVD ReviewThere are movies whose dialogue I can recite from memory as easily as the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance or the Mickey Mouse Club theme song. This one falls under that category, although not to the point of my favorites of Jerry Lewis' solo works—The Disorderly Orderly and The Big Mouth.
I could go on for hours about my respect and admiration for Jerry Lewis, heralding his contributions to the film industry (including pioneering the still invaluable instant playback method enabling immediate replays of just shot scenes, saving directors from waiting for film to develop), his tireless work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (six decades and counting), and his proving it's never too late to reach for a dream no matter what your age by making his Broadway debut at a spry 69 in the critically acclaimed revival of Damn Yankees (and thanks to the touring version Lewis headed, I had a dream come true seeing one of my few true heroes on stage for the first time, as well as my first Broadway musical). Most recently, he's been a profile in courage by fighting off the pain of cystic fibrosis and trumpeting an innovative medical device that can possibly help others with similar agonizing conditions experience agony-free lives.
Yet, slide all those accomplishments off to the side and what's left? A comic legacy that holds up beautifully to those that have always known the magic, one that demands critical re-evaluation and needs to be introduced to a new generation. Thanks to Paramount's overdue debut of eight of Lewis' solo efforts, including a classic early 1950s collaboration with Martin (The Stooge) and this special edition of what many consider to be his masterwork, let the revival begin.
Though not at the top of my list of Jerry gems, in terms of the melding of great storytelling, terrific acting, and stellar scripting that fits perfectly with Lewis' patented brand of slapstick, The Nutty Professor is most certainly the legend's comedic Citizen Kane.
Julius Kelp (Lewis) is an intelligent, well-meaning yet accident prone chemistry teacher whose penchant for experimentation keeps him on a fine line with boss Dr. Hamius R. Warfield (Del Moore). But that's not the buck-toothed professor's pressing concern at the moment, for a drop dead gorgeous, pretty-woman-look-my-way blonde named Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) is making Kelp re-examine his body image and how he could catch her eye. Not cut out for the gym, a visit with an analyst prods him in the direction of bettering himself courtesy of what he knows best: chemistry.
So back to the laboratory he goes, mixing a little of this with a dash of that, a pinch of who-knows-what, gulping it all down, writhing in agony, thereafter emerging to the horror of those observing him as a hipster's Hyde (but with better teeth and a keen sense of fashion). In true updated Robert Louis Stevenson style, Kelp's ivory tinkling, swinger vocalizing, insult hurling alter ego, Buddy Love, bursts upon the scene with Stella in his sight. Although his method of pursuit revolts her, there's no denying the sexual tension that begins to steam between them—until the chemical equivalent of the stroke of midnight strikes and Love develops an instant lisp, forcing a quick goodnight.
Going back and forth between these dueling personae works for a bit until an embarrassing near-miss almost give his secret away. But it's just Buddy's luck that he would have to make a favorable impression upon Dr. Warfield, who gives the prom's planning committee his approval of the swinging hipster as the evening's musical entertainment, an event that also requires the services of Kelp as a chaperone. Unless he can concoct a formula to magically divide himself in two, it's going to be an interesting evening.
Taking giant strides from the typical Jerry Lewis movie playbook, The Nutty Professor attempts a slightly more adult storyline while not completely forsaking the elements that kids of all ages loved about his brand of hilarity. Additionally, Nutty gave Lewis the challenge of breaking away from his standard screen persona to tackle two very diverse characters and he did so brilliantly (particularly as Love) to such a point that it's a shame that he didn't venture into such un-charted territory more often back then (with later performances in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy and the art house favorite Funny Bones serving as proof).
Along with the star's most fully realized screenplay (co-written by frequent collaborator Bill Richmond), Professor profits from great supporting performances featuring many familiar faces from previous Lewis films including the wonderful Kathleen Freeman, Moore (seeing his steely demeanor go buttery in the presence of Love's charm kicks off one of many classic moments), and comic legend Howard Morris from Your Show of Shows (in a surreally wacky flashback sequence as Papa Kelp). Other notable elements: John Woodcock's terrific editing (particularly during the alternately unsettling and hilarious initial transformation sequence), W. Wallace Kelly's colorful cinematography, Walter Scharf's jazzy score, and, of course, the gorgeous and talented Stella Stevens in a role that's alternately tough and surprisingly tender, all add up to a film that's just as funny and enormously entertaining as it was 41 years ago.
Oh, and by the way, allow me to put an end to the Dean Martin=Buddy Love debate here and now. On the recent DVD release of The Joe Schmo Show, one of the actors portraying an intensely despicable type commented that it was "hard work being an a**hole"—and those of us who are true Dino appreciators know he never wanted to work that hard.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: To these eyes, this is the exact same transfer that nicely graced the almost featureless initial Nutty disc of 2000. Although the 16x9 image is somewhat sharper, along with a smidgen more color than the already gorgeous in-place palette of the prior product, we're talking virtually identical. The print is almost perfect and defect free; one of the best transfers of a 1960s film on the market today.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: One of the few complaints I've heard about Paramount's original issue was the absence of the original monophonic track. Purists, for better or worse, you get your wish on this re-release and to be honest, I much prefer the fantabulous 5.1 remix by a continent. Though commendable that the original soundtrack has been (supposedly) restored, it's very geared toward higher frequencies and devoid of any real bottom end. Despite it's occasional instances of primitive early stereo (something tells me that portions of the soundtrack were either recorded in different studios or had various producers), the Dolby Digital track has a wonderfully enveloping feel with much better E.Q. (dig the low end on the musical numbers) and up-front dialogue. Again, small but noticeable improvements in this area are to be heard with much more ambience and presence in the rear speakers (which were all but at-ease previously; check out the transformation sequence as proof) and the much better, more equal balance of incidental music in the fronts.
Also: Don't know if my 2000 copy was part of a defective batch, but the brief audio clip just as the Paramount logo arrives has been fixed on this new edition, thankfully.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Producer, Director, Co-Writer and Star Jerry Lewis & neighbor Steve Lawrence
Packaging: Keep Case
Okay, I know those of you owners of Nutty's first DVD incarnation are thinking, Let's get to the good stuff. By golly, your four-year wait is about to pay off big time.
Thanks to Paramount's access to Jerry's archives, the supplements are a dazzling mixture of featurettes, outtakes, screen tests, and, believe it or not, a trailer (no misprint, folks—an actual t-r-a-i-l-e-r on a Paramount catalog release.)
Six Deleted Scenes (06m:40s) in rough, unrestored but watchable quality are mainly fluff, but an excised bit with son and future pop frontman Gary is cute, but the sole keeper of the bunch is Stella's Sultry Entrance showcasing the charms of one of Hollywood's last great beauties of the studio-system era (and I know my reaction is identical to the great group shot of dumbstruck males watching her strut her stuff).
Promos (04m:13s): Stella and Jerry team up for six wildly diverse promotional spots for the film, which show just how much work Lewis put into promoting his films, in addition to the obligatory Coming Attractions trailer.
Bloopers (13m:03s): One of the true highlights of the bonus inclusions, this contains over 10 minutes of blown lines, mistimed entrances, on-set pranks, and giggle fits that illustrate what a trip it must have been to work on a Lewis set. Two guaranteed thigh slappers: the crew's inability to keep from laughing at Jerry in Baby Julius character and full-length primary camera footage of the brilliant Buddy Love/Dr. Warfield scene; Lewis tries to keep from breaking character in Del Moore's presence as the latter attempts a conference room table top performance as Hamlet, but finally loses it in the end. Good stuff.
Kelp and Warfield Screen Tests: Two individual screen tests, with the former being an early and entirely different look for the professor than the finished product (in fact, Lewis's get-up favors Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X more than a chemistry professor); Del Moore's sequence proves that he nailed the approach Jerry expected from this character from the onset.
Outtake: Kelp Calls His Father (3m:03s) is an extended outtake of a scene drastically shorter in the final cut, portraying the art of editing for maximum effect.
The Nutty Professor: Perfecting the Formula (15m:46s): An informative, fast-moving featurette that covers all the creative hallmarks of the production including new interviews with Lewis, Stella Stevens, author James Neibaur (The Jerry Lewis Films), and family historian Chris Lewis. Along with rare behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards, and promotional materials are many fascinating tidbits including the identity of the world-class actor that inspired the project, the origin of the Kelp character (whose roots go back all the way to the days of Martin and Lewis) and mini-tribute to cast mates Stevens, Moore, and Kathleen Freeman.
Jerry Lewis at Work (29m:57s) is a brilliant but brief documentary that dives right in at the beginning of his solo career following his emotional breakup with Martin and covering most of his 1957-1965 output for Paramount. Supplementing interviews with Lewis, Neibaur, Stella Stevens, Chris Lewis, Rock-a-Bye Baby co-star Connie Stevens, music show host/author Lloyd Thaxton, and Cinderfella leading lady Anna Maria Alberghetti are classic clips from the comic's most beloved efforts, tips of the hat to influential director Frank Tashlin, art director Henry Bumstead, and legendary costume designer Edith Head (who was actually on Lewis' payroll in addition to her studio-sanctioned jobs) and an extended segment dedicated to the Lewis' directorial debut, The Bellboy.
Movieland Wax Museum Footage is a brief snippet of early 1970s footage (accompanied by Chris Lewis commentary) capturing Jerry at the Hollywood tourist attraction's unveiling of the wax figure depicting Professor Kelp.
Finally, in a dream treat for diehard fans, a feature-length Lewis commentary pairs the comedian with longtime friend, neighbor, renowned singer, and fan, Steve Lawrence (Pretty Blue Eyes, the original Go Away Little Girl), who serves as a sort of moderator over the track. Although it gets off to a slow start, it quickly gathers steam to offer a bevy of information. From technical details to behind-the-scenes tales, Lewis' propensity for recollection is nothing short of amazing (and I have five pages filled with notes as proof). Among many highlights: Paramount's aiding the director's dream of a post-scene playback system (proof of the clout he possessed back in the day), the importance of color in the classic laboratory scene, how Del Moore went from getting on his nerves as a local television personality to becoming one of his closest friends, and the studio's nervousness as to what they perceived as a drastic change from Lewis' typical slapsticky fare.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsBy far the most anticipated title in Paramount's initial Jerry Lewis DVD avalanche, this special edition release of The Nutty Professor is a "don't think twice" upgrade thanks to wonderful new extras and slight improvements to already impressive A/V credentials.
Beyond recommended, baby.
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