[box cover]

Cinderfella

There's wisdom to be found in the wacky goings-on of the 1960 Jerry Lewis comedy Cinderfella. As Fella, the put-upon orphan mercilessly bossed around by his wealthy stepmother (Dame Judith Anderson) and obnoxious stepbrothers (Henry Silva and Robert Hutton), Lewis explains why he divides humanity into two categories, "persons" and "people": "See, persons are people who have made it, so they're rich and famous. So that makes them persons, and they're not people anymore. But I like persons — I think because I feel sorry for them." As wisdom goes, it's a fairly lame observation — but then, this is a Jerry Lewis movie. Directed with a broad, cartoon-like sensibility by Frank Tashlin (Lewis' favorite director in those early years, Tashlin got his start in animation at Warner Bros.), the picture veers wildly between slapstick and Lewis' unique brand of self-indulgent pathos. While the film is extremely uneven — at times weirdly so, with Lewis throwing in a couple of songs for himself, even though the movie isn't a musical — some moments are remarkably successful. One highlight is a lengthy sequence in which Fella attempts to eat his spartan evening meal while his family, dining at the other end of a half-mile long table, keep calling him down to pour wine, carve a roast, and light cigarettes. This brilliantly conceived set-piece not only requires Fella/Lewis to run back and forth as he misses out on his own dinner, but to exchange his dinner jacket for a waiter's coat for each trip — and also serves to illustrate the pathetic lengths to which Fella will go to appease his evil stepmom and sibs. There's also a very odd subplot in which the scheming stepbrothers hope to beat Fella to millions of dollars hidden on the estate — money that a clueless Fella talks about in his sleep, as he gets instructions as to its location from his dead father. Add a visit to the family manse by Princess Charmaine (Anna Maria Alberghetti) and Fella, as explained to him by his Fairy Godfather (Ed Wynn), is set up to "rectify all the great wrongs brought about by the original Cinderella story" by getting a gender-reversal shot at the princess' hand. The appearance of Count Basie's orchestra and Fella's cosmetic upgrade via a snappy red blazer and some gray streaks in his hair transforms our hero into someone that, bafflingly, a princess can fall in love with after just five minutes of face time, followed by the expected — but oddly touching — conclusion. Cinderfella is stocked with some of Jerry Lewis's most ego-driven moments, including a dance number at the ball that's nothing but two solid minutes of Lewis cavorting spastically to a Basie number. But, depending on your tolerance and/or affection for the comedian's self-indulgent style, it's a film that also offers a great deal of humor and charm. Paramount's DVD release is part of the "Jerry Lewis Widescreen Collection" and offers up a beautifully crisp and color-saturated anamorphic transfer with excellent monaural Dolby Digital audio (in English or French with optional English or Spanish subtitles). On board is a commentary track with Jerry Lewis and singer Steve Lawrence — Lawrence mainly serves as a sycophant for Lewis, laughing at the movie and at Lewis's wisecracks, with long stretches of silence between Lewis offering opinions on comedy direction and describing scenes as being "so Jerry" when talking about himself on film. There's also some not especially interesting outtakes. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page