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The Nutty Professor: Special Edition (1963)

One of the finest comedic moments in the history of film can be found in Jerry Lewis's 1963 The Nutty Professor (and after Eddie Murphy's wildly successful remake, this probably isn't much of a spoiler). There's always two parts to a joke — the set-up, and the payoff. And often the proportional value of a joke will be funnier when the distance between the two points is increased. Enter The Nutty Professor, which takes an elaborate amount of time to establish its downtrodden hero, the buck-toothed, bespectacled professor Julius Kelp (Lewis), who is constantly immersed in his scientific experiments, at least when he's not distracted by the beguiling Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). Lewis — an icon of the American cinema who always has been more renowned overseas for some reason than in his native land — fully immerses himself in the role, always finding little bits of comedy (mostly physical) that allow us to excuse the lengthy exposition: nearly blowing himself to smithereens in the lab, messing about with some new-fangled exercise equipment, being berated by the college dean while sitting in a collapsed chair that robs him of the dignity he never felt he had anyway. But when Kelp finally gets the courage late one night to experiment with some Jekyll-and-Hyde serum, he plunges to his laboratory floor, mutating before our eyes into some sort of bizarre extraterrestrial Wolf Man. But then Lewis cleverly has Prof. Kelp wander the city streets on his way to "The Purple Pit," a hip local hangout for students, and it's a journey conveyed only by stunned reaction shots from the general public. What frightful mutant is on his way to The Pit? The payoff — in a memorable cinematic double-take — is none other than "Buddy Love," a brash, crass, perfectly coifed, chain-smoking hipster who'd just a soon punch a guy in the face as he'd talk to him, and with a testosterone level that's been cranked to 11, which means his radar never stops blipping in a pretty woman's direction. Lewis's genius here is in the details — Buddy's too-loud suits, the way he smokes a cigarette, his relentlessly sardonic tone. Is it supposed to be Dean Martin? Is it Sinatra? Is it another member of the Rat Pack? In some ways it's all of them, and while The Nutty Professor may coast along on a threadbare plot shamelessly borrowed from Robert Louis Stevenson, this frothy comedy is Lewis' inimitable take on '60s cocktail-culture and the celebrities it spawned (and if you've seen Fight Club, watch this one again and compare Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden to Lewis's Buddy Love — split personalities with a free-roaming Id could be a near-Jungian theme of literature). Paramount's second DVD edition of The Nutty Professor offers the same anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) as the original, from a clean, colorful source print, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and restored monaural audio. Gone is the "Paramount in the '50s" featurette, but the title has now been fleshed out as a bona fide special edition. Supplements include a commentary by Lewis and Steve Lawrence, the "making-of" featurette "The Nutty Professor: Getting the Right Formula" with comments from Lewis and Stella Stevens (15 min.), the film-career retrospective "Jerry Lewis at Work" (29 min.), five deleted scenes, fourteen outtakes, six TV promos, two test reels, one additional deleted scene, archive footage from the Movieland Wax Museum, and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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