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Paramount Studios presents
"To train me? I'm either going to be a fighter or a dog, and they can have both if they make me a boxer."
DVD ReviewJerry Lewis' solo comedies often pit his hapless nebbishe characters against the more sophisticated, powerful, and monied interests. This populist tack is front and center in this vehicle, directed by Lewis himself and featuring an all-star cast.
After popular comic Wally Brantford is killed in a plane crash, the six members of his entourage (Ina Balin, Everett Sloane, Phil Harris, Keenan Wynn, Peter Lorre, and John Carradine) despair until they hit on the idea of taking what they have learned to manufacture a star with the same qualities. Seizing on bellboy Stanley Belt (Lewis) as someone unknown and completely malleable, the group not only gets him talked about, but puts his record at the top of the charts and books him on the Ed Sullivan Show. But lack of talent has a way of coming out despite all the glitz imaginable, and disaster soon looms.
The emotional center of the film is a conflict between cynicism and optimism, with sincerity vs. hypocrisy close behind. Everything about the star-making industry in America is ripped, with the gleeful cooperation of Hedda Hopper (as herself) as well as various other industry notables. Even the American Bandstand satire is on the money, with everyone openly acknowledging that the performers are just (badly) mouthing the songs, and demonstrating a cynical (and correct) assumption that the fans will shell out for the records nonetheless. Trapped in a series of nightmarish expectations, Belt is a very well-realized character (much more so than typical for Lewis vehicles), who is both a pawn and clown, while still having a sense that something's not quite right with these proceedings. His shifts of persona as he gets different wardrobes (courtesy of always-entertaining Richard Deacon) allow him to engage in flights of fancy that exceed the possibilities that his handlers have conceived.
The presence of the multitude of stars really makes for a credible satire of Hollywood and the star machinery. Particularly enjoyable are Phil Harris, Peter Lorre (in his last film role), and John Carradine, who really seem to be relishing their roles. But perhaps the best performance is from Hans Conreid as Prof. Mulerr, Stanley's vocal teacher. The sequence in which Stanley very nearly demolishes all of the professor's priceless antiques as Conreid does a massive slow burn is very funny indeed, and it makes a great set piece for Lewis's physical comedy.
There are plenty of laughs in the first hour and a half, with some excellent pantomime sequences reminiscent of the silent era. Unfortunately, things fall apart a bit in the last few reels, with a climax that's pretty improbable given everything what's gone on before. Most irritating is the cheap stunt of breaking the fourth wall for the finale, which usually signifies a lack of imagination as to how to wrap up the picture. On the whole, however, a pretty entertaining picture.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Paramount provides an anamorphic widescreen transfer that has few flaws. Color is vivd, blacks are deep and detail is reasonably good. The occasional nick is visible but generally the source material is in fine shape. I didn't notice any significant artifacting or aliasing issues.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono has some mild hiss but nothing significant. The music, including Stanley's #1 hit I Lost My Heart in a Drive-In Movie has excellent presence and range for a mono track. Dialogue is never a problem.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jerry Lewis, with Steve Lawrence
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsThe all-star proceedings are fun most of the way, though a lack of imagination torpedoes the ending. The transfer's quite good but the extras are not quite as substantial as the keepcase implies.
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