[box cover]

The Stooge

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis may have been a dynamite nightclub act, but, despite their wild popularity in the early 1950s, they were only a serviceable on-screen duo. At their best (which was always under the direction of prolific studio warhorse Norman Taurog), they enlivened the most clichéd formulas with a battle-worn shtick that relied too uncomfortably on Lewis's burgeoning comedic genius, which is why The Stooge (1953) remains one of their more intriguing collaborations, even if, laugh for laugh, it's a notch below The Caddy (1953) or Living it Up (1954). Martin plays Bill Miller, the crooning half of a rising musical comedy duo, who, upon marrying his popular chanteuse girlfriend Mary Turner (Polly Bergen), is suddenly gripped by a delusional egomania that, against the wishes of his management, leads him to break-up the act and assume responsibility for the songs and the laughs. His quick, resounding failure necessitates a desperate search for another foil — or, in old-school showbiz parlance, a "stooge" — to save his career, which is how he unwittingly gets a shady agent's incompetent assistant, Ted Rogers (Lewis), palmed off on him. Though he's never performed a night in his life, Ted kills the audience just by being his calamity-prone self, and suddenly Bill's fledgling career is not only back on track, but headed for heights heretofore unimagined. However, true to conceited form, Bill hogs most of the adulation while meting Ted out a salary that's a pittance compared to his legitimate value. The unevenness of their partnership churns the waters, attracting a voraciously opportunistic agent who begins to circle the inherently uproarious Ted, though he's far too much the naïf to understand the leverage his talent affords him. Meanwhile, Bill's confidantes, most notably Mary, plead with him to do right by Ted, which he claims he'll do, but he's also troubled by the notion that once Ted is granted equal credit, he'll lose his ability to take the audience by surprise. The fictional dynamic of The Stooge is an unmistakable echo of Martin and Lewis's tumultuous real-life partnership that would result in a most acrimonious parting of ways several years later, which imbues the film with a poignancy that the routine material could never earn on its own. Scripted by a distinguished committee that included Fred F. Finklehoffe and Sid Silvers, the narrative provides plenty of room for Dean-O to do his sweet croonin' thing, but, as was too often the case, the real entertainment is provided by Lewis. Given the needs of the story, Ted's mental capacity swings from merely flighty to mildly retarded, but consistency is hardly a nagging concern when Lewis is orchestrating a bit with an angry, uncooperative train compartment sink, or adopting an affected French patois as he mock-warbles a mushy ballad. The writers, of course, saddle Ted with an unlikely love interest, which bogs things down a little, but the film recovers down the stretch for a subtly touching final performance. It's all very simple, but more than agreeable. Paramount Home Entertainment presents The Stooge in a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras are limited to the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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