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The Errand Boy

Taking advantage of his status as a superstar and his record-breaking, multi-million-dollar deal with Paramount Studios, Jerry Lewis used the studio lot itself as the location for his 1961 comedy, The Errand Boy. In his third outing as director, Lewis seemed to be feeling his way along as he went — The Errand Boy is neither as consistently clever as The Bellboy (1960) nor as annoying and over-the-top as most of his other, Nutty Professor-style films. When the head honcho of "Paramutual Pictures" sends a mail clerk to spy on studio employees to discover where all the money's going, goofball Morty Tashman (Lewis) finds himself stumbling, bumbling, and disrupting various studio activities. As with The Bellboy, the premise is designed purely to give Lewis a reason to mount a series of comic sequences all over the studio lot — as an extra, he ruins a shoot by staring straight into the camera during a party scene; working in the studio store, a trio of children make him climb up and down a ladder, over and over, to get jelly beans off a high shelf; he wreaks havoc all over the lot as he drives an out-of-control train of dumpsters; and he has a strange, touching, very French-comedy interaction with a clown hand-puppet in the studio prop shed. It's an uneven exercise, with some gags falling utterly flat while others achieve genuine brilliance — Lewis was obviously trying to find his own unique comedic voice in this film, while still falling back heavily on the works of Jacques Tati, Laurel & Hardy, and Buster Keaton. Lewis appeared in ten pictures between 1960 and 1963, and one wonders what sorts of movies he might have made had he just slowed down a bit and devoted more care to the process — there's a good deal to admire about The Errand Boy, but there's a haphazard feeling to much of the proceedings, as if Lewis was already thinking about the next project while he was hurriedly finishing this one. Paramount's DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), while the quality of the black-and-white source-print varies throughout the disc — one extended sequence with Morty making several awkward trips in a ridiculously crowded elevator combines scenes that are crystal clear with others that are filthy, with of tons scratches and dust, plus a couple of spots that have either white or black lines running through the frame for seconds at a time. Most of the film is clean but still could have used some work on the contrast, often looking a bit murky. The monaural Dolby Digital audio (English or French, with optional English or Spanish subtitles) is serviceable if unremarkable. There's a commentary track with Jerry Lewis and his laughing-hyena sidekick, singer Steve Lawrence; it's a complete waste of time, with little being said and nothing of any substance. There are also silly outtakes, the theatrical trailer, and some TV spots. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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