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Paramount Studios presents
"Rich? With millions? You mean I'll be a wealthy millionaire? A rich wealthy. A wealthy rich millions. Millions, and I have millions and millions? That's rich to be!"
DVD ReviewIn the movies, comedy don't get no respect. Drama, certainly, and even fantasy and musicals, but it's rare that the critical establishment appreciates what's arguably the hardest genre to successfully pull off. (It wasn't until 1977 that a comedy, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, finally won the Best Picture Oscar.) So it's hardly surprising that the films of director Frank Tashlin, who worked exclusively in comedy, are usually overlooked.
Tashlin began in animation, working at a number of studios including Disney and Warner Bros.' legendary "Termite Terrace" with such luminaries as Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. He was also a gag-writer, successful cartoon strip artist and children's author, but it's his feature films—with the likes of Bob Hope, Doris Day, Jayne Mansfield, and especially Jerry Lewis—that are best remembered (if not necessarily appreciated) today.
The Cinderella story has been filmed countless times, and it doesn't take much thought to figure out that Cinderfella is going to be a gender-switch version of the fairy tale. Jerry Lewis stars as Fella, who's treated shabbily by his rich stepmother Emily (Judith Anderson) and her two snobby sons Rupert (Robert Hutton) and Maximilian (Henry Silva). Tashlin (with a little help from Joe "Three Stooges" Besser) wisely adds a twist or two to the hoary old story, in that the family's actually about to run out of money, and they only have two chances for salvation: either marry off Rupert to the beautiful Princess Charming of the Grand Duchy of Morovia (Anna Maria Alberghetti), or find a fortune that's been hidden in the house by Fella's father. The family decides to hedge their bets by being nice to Fella, so it's no surprise when the evil stepbrothers take him to play polo and golf, even though their ulterior motive is to wear Fella out, so he'll finally sleep long enough to finish the recurring dream in which his father shows him where the money's located.
Tashlin's directing was influenced by his work in cartoons, and Cinderfella is no exception. Careful composition and camera work maximize the effectiveness of the sight gags, and the bright primary colors are a treat to watch. In one of the funniest sequences in the film, Tashlin frames Fella, seated at the end of a table, eating his meager dinner of soup and crackers, and the camera slowly pulls back along the impossibly-long table to reveal the rest of the family indulging in a grand banquet at the opposite end. The family constantly interrupts him to perform servile chores such as pouring wine and lighting their cigarettes, and each time he has to hurriedly change from his dinner to his servant's jacket, run the length of the table, stumble through his task, then return to eating. It's a great example of how Tashlin's directorial talents and Lewis' comedic talents combine into a highly amusing whole.
Tashlin has a few more tricks up his sleeve. There's a shot of Fella's shadow, cast on the wall, that fades to black, but (shades of Hitchcock's Rope) instead of a fade-in, we see the back of a man's black jacket, only recognizable as such when he moves away from the camera. And there's a beautiful scene of Fella moving slowly down a long corridor, singing a depressing song and switching off the lights as he goes. The camera holds steady, and the shot ends with Fella in the distance, with only a hint of illumination to allow us to pick out his figure against the darkness.
There's more to like about the movie, especially the bulbous-nosed Ed Wynn as the Fairy Godfather, especially when he tries to impress the doubting Fella by dressing in drag. Edith Head's sumptuous gowns are as always a treat for the eyes, and the settings, both real and in-studio, are beautiful. The songs, while a bit maudlin, always advance the narrative or develop the characters. And Jerry Lewis? Well, if you like him, you'll find the movie to be an appropriate vehicle for his comedic talents. If not, his twitching clumsiness and constant near-befuddlement will probably keep you from seeing the movie in the first place.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Cinderfella was filmed in Technicolor, and Tashlin's primary color palette fairly jumps off the screen. There are a few scenes that have color shifts, but these are typical of Technicolor and not especially distracting. There is a fair bit of grain in most of the film, and some scenes are soft.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: There's a bit of hiss at the beginning of the movie, but this soon disappears. For the rest of the film, the sound is solid and serviceable, about what you'd expect from a movie from 1960.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Feature/Episode commentaries by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsDirector Frank Tashlin's cartoon-influenced visual style is the perfect vehicle for Jerry Lewis' screen persona, in an enjoyable film that's easy to like. The transfer is good, but the extras are a bit disappointing.
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