Tomorrow is Jerry Lewis’s birthday.
The iconic comedian passed away two years ago at the age of 91.
As the cliché goes, he lives long in my memory.
His career as an actor, film director, stand-up comedian, producer and screen writer spanned eight decades.
I loved him as a kid and if I was to think back over my all-time favourite comedians, Jerry Lewis would come out on top from a list boasting the likes of Dave Allan, Woody Allen, Tim Allen, Richard Pryor, Benny Hill, Chris Farley, Don Rickles, Warwick Davis (all 107 centimetres of him), Mel Brooks, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Kevin James, Peter Sellers, Jack Black, Don Knotts, Martin Lawrence, Paul Hogan, George Burns, Jay Leno, Phyliss Diller and Peter Sellers.
Comedy is subjective. One person’s comedy mastermind is another person’s Adam Sandler. But for me, Jerry Lewis was King.
Not many people I know remember him these days so I’m happy to be the one to pay tribute. His films never seemed to get the full recognition they deserved (he failed to be nominated for a single Academy Award) and he was more popular throughout Europe and in particular France than he was in his native U.S.A. Many folk just simply didn’t ‘get’ Jerry Lewis.
Those factors made me love him even more.
As an adult, I’ve read enough stories about him to know I may not have liked him that much in real life. (Don’t click here if you want to remember Jerry fondly) That doesn’t diminish in any way my love for his films and performances.
On the eve of the anniversary of his birthday, here are my Top Ten Favourite Jerry Lewis movies –
As cruel as it was to relegate Lewis’s recognised masterpiece THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) to second spot, my true heart belongs to the work of comedy genius he produced, directed and starred in 49 years ago WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT?
Lewis plays the role of Brendan Byers III, a rich playboy who forms his own privately financed army platoon during World War 2. He and his men travel to the front lines where the plan is he will impersonate and take the place of a German General just long enough to order a troop retreat.
In the clip below, Jerry Lewis as Brendan Byers is attempting to learn German in preparation for his impersonation of that German Army General. If nothing else, watching this scene should prove beyond any doubt that what makes me laugh may make you, well… not laugh. Or cringe. Or at the very least doubt my bona fides as a judge of quality mirth making material.
Here goes anyway…
Now that wasn’t so bad was it?
Here’s the other nine films that round out my list…
And because I couldn’t find space for it in that collection here is a clip from another of my favourites THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY (1964) which underlines the case for why Jerry Lewis was a master of non-verbal comedy and what used to go by the name of ‘mugging’ (ie. contorting one’s ‘mug’ or face in the name of laughter – think Jim Carrey.)
The over-talkative patient in this scene being wheeled around by Lewis’s orderly is played to perfection by actress Alice Pearce (1917 -1966) who played the nosy neighbour Gladys Kravitz for three seasons of BEWITCHED (1964 – 1972).
This is hypochondria played for laughs…
Jerry Lewis appeared /starred in more than 60 films including his last, MAX ROSE (2016) as well as the documentary METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF JERRY LEWIS (2011).
If you’d like to get a sense of the esteem with which Jerry Lewis is held in the world of comedy by the likes of such professional funny men as Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase as well as film director Steven Spielberg, take a look at the trailer inserted below for the documentary METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF JERRY LEWIS.
Ps. I really have saved the best for last with this bonus clip.
It’s long at seven minutes but if you consider yourself a connoisseur of the art of comic timing and delivery then this time will literally fly. This scene is taken from the 1961 movie THE LADIES MAN.
Jerry Lewis plays the part of a young man who, fresh from a breakup with his girlfriend, swears off romance and then takes a job at a genteel, women-only boarding house.
In this scene he greets a gangster who has dropped by the house to see his lady friend.
Seeing this again reminds me of another aspect of Lewis’s films I always loved so much – the small band of sublimely talented character actors he surrounded himself with and used over and over in small roles in so many of his movies. The gangster in this scene is played by Buddy Lester (1915 – 2002) who appeared in five of Lewis’s films (four of which feature in my Top Ten listing).
Enjoy this as I unashamably wheel out the wobbly-wheeled cliche cart one last time and declare – ‘They don’t make ’em like this any more.’
They really don’t.