[box cover]

The Patsy

Jerry Lewis's long, excruciating decline began with 1964's overbearing The Patsy, a mug-happy letdown made one year after the excellent The Nutty Professor that set the shrill tone for the many failures that would follow. The ad-libs are flat, the physical shtick is frequently forced, and the situations are largely recycled. Once again, Lewis is playing a bellboy, only this time there's an actual narrative to propel and, ostensibly, support the high jinks. The problem is, it's partially borrowed from The Stooge, and it's adhered to too closely — the loose-limbed, almost experimental Lewis has been suppressed in favor of the stock caricature that would hound him throughout the rest of his career and make him the American symbol of unfunniness. This approach drains what little fun there is out of the picture, which tells the story of Stanley Belt (Lewis), a stumblebum hotel employee who blunders his way into a comedy career when a recently deceased comic's staff opts to remain in business behind a new personality rather than split up and look for new jobs. This collective's arrogant thinking is that their experience has bestowed upon them the ability to craft a talent from raw materials, no matter how utterly lacking in quantifiable ability. But their work is cut out for them with Stanley, who's hopeless at delivering a joke and, worse, has an awful stage presence (well, actually, he has Jerry Lewis's stage presence, which means that we just know he'll be a hit once they stop insisting that he stick to their limp gags). There's also an unconvincing romance that blossoms between Stanley and his publicist Ellen Betz (Ina Balin), which is intended to have an undercurrent of betrayal since she's in on the scheme with the rest of the staff. The rest of the staff, by the way, is played by a handful of beloved character actors, including John Carradine, Keenan Wynn, Everett Sloane, and a very sickly Peter Lorre, whose on-screen condition is even more depressing when one realizes that he died shortly after filming. Only Hans Conried elicits any laughs as the antiques-obsessed voice teacher Professor Mulerr, and only because he seems to be engaged in the material rather than standing back and watching Lewis do his thing. Interestingly, the film's production design is all drab pastels; the colors don't pop here like they do in The Ladies Man or The Nutty Professor, and the energy seems to wane as a result. Lewis's framing is precise as ever, and he does manage one inspired set-piece (not surprisingly, it's the vignette featuring Conried), but he was definitely running thin on promising comedic premises by this point. Still, this is a mere misfire compared to later debacles like Which Way to the Front (1970) and Hardly Working (1980), and that's the problem with running damage-control on Lewis's legacy: The great works are too few, and lauded by even fewer. There's nothing less fashionable in America than being a Jerry Lewis fan. Paramount presents The Patsy in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include a scene-specific commentary from Lewis and Steve Lawrence, archival materials, and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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