#391) The Nutty Professor (1963)

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#391) The Nutty Professor (1963)

OR “Jerry & Hyde”

Directed by Jerry Lewis

Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond

Class of 2004

The Plot: Chemistry Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a friendly and well-loved faculty member, but also quite meek and accident-prone. Kelp creates a serum that will help him overcome his nuttiness, and temporarily becomes confident, obnoxious hipster Buddy Love. Love puts the moves on one of Kelp’s students (Stella Stevens), who begins to suspect that Buddy and Kelp are one and the same. All of this comes to a head at the school dance with the dancing and the changing and the hey laaaaaaddyyyyyy!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “comical character study tinged with pathos” and praises Lewis for his directing and his “not inconsiderable acting talent.” A double negative makes it seem kinda back-handed doesn’t it?

But Does It Really?: Jerry Lewis’ multi-faceted career should be represented somewhere on the list, and “Nutty Professor” is a logical, recognizable choice. “Nutty Professor” still has plenty of very funny moments, and while a tad predictable and childish, highlights the comic precision that Jerry Lewis brought us in front of and behind the camera. It also helps that the film has a modern remake whose popularity has help keep this film in the conversation (see “Legacy” below). No argument for NFR inclusion from me for “The Nutty Professor”.

Shout Outs: Stella comments on Buddy’s constant drinking by calling him “Lost Weekend Junior”. What a fun, unsettling spin-off that would make.

Everybody Gets One: Jerry Lewis started as a young comedian in the Borscht Belt, mugging and pantomiming to popular records. One night he was paired with up-and-coming singer Dean Martin, and a legendary comedy duo was born. Lewis & Martin performed in nightclubs, on television, and eventually in the movies, becoming Paramount’s biggest box office draw of the 1950s. The duo split in 1956, and Jerry used his box office standing as leverage with Paramount to let him direct and write his own movies.

Wow, That’s Dated: Mostly Buddy’s hipster slang, as well as the casual smoking that happens throughout the film.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Nutty Professor”. In fact, none of Jerry Lewis’ films received any Oscar nominations, though the man himself received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2009.

Other notes

  • First and foremost, let’s talk about the whole “the French love Jerry Lewis” thing. It’s not so much that the French have an inexplicable fondness for Lewis’ broad comedy; it has more to do with their love of the auteur. Lewis wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his own movies, making him a solid example of a film auteur, and therefore an admirable figure in European cinema.
  • While not the first Jerry Lewis movie to utilize this technique, “The Nutty Professor” was among the first productions to use video assist. Because Jerry was acting in most of the shots he was directing, video assist allowed him to see a take immediately afterwards on a closed circuit television, enabling him to fine-tune immediately without waiting for the film to be processed days later. Video assist has become the industry standard thanks to Jerry Lewis. Now if only he had held the patent on it…
  • Is being a “nutty” professor the same as being an “absent-minded” professor?
  • While never explicitly mentioned, “The Nutty Professor” is set (and shot on-location) at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Mom, any recollections about that?
  • This movie has a bounty of character actors. Lewis staple Kathleen Freeman is spot-on as less than helpful secretary Millie Lemon, and I particularly enjoyed the flamboyant work of Del Moore as Dean Warfield. Also be on the lookout for “before-they-were-famous” appearances by Henry Gibson and Richard Kiel.
  • Professor Kelp attempting to join a gym is pretty much how I imagine my gym experience would go. Either that or like this lady.
  • The transformation scene is quite an offbeat sequence, but even knowing how it would pan out, the big reveal is still laugh-out-loud funny.
  • Buddy Love is rumored to be Jerry’s swipe at Dean Martin, but that doesn’t ring true to me. At the very least, it’s certainly not an imitation of Dean’s on-screen persona. Jerry always claimed Buddy was an amalgam of various jerk hipsters he had encountered in show business. That scans.
  • Stella Stevens’ character is one of the more advanced “He’s a jerk and she’s okay with it” clichés. Stella calls Buddy out on his rude behavior, but she’s still attracted to him, and the movie constantly objectifies and fantasizes about her. For crying out loud, “The Poseidon Adventure” treats her with more dignity!
  • Colleges had proms? When did those go away? Can I blame “Animal House”?
  • Ultimately, this movie has a very sweet moral. As Kelp says in his final monologue, “You might as well like yourself…If you don’t think much of yourself, how can others?” Can I get a amen?
  • The movie ends with a curtain call in which the primary cast comes out one by one and takes a bow. A bit odd, but at least it makes more sense here than in “The Bad Seed”.

Legacy

  • Jerry Lewis continued to write, direct, and star in his own movies for the next 20 years, but audiences weren’t willing to go along with Lewis’ increasingly serious work. Anyone with a complete copy of “The Day the Clown Cried” to the front, please.
  • “The Nutty Professor was, of course, remade in 1996 with Eddie Murphy playing the overweight Sherman Klump, his skinny alter-ego Buddy, and Klump’s entire foul-mouthed family. Jerry Lewis was an executive producer on the film, but later regretted his decision to green light a remake. But never mind that: “Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!”
  • Lewis finally made his long-desired sequel to “The Nutty Professor” 45 years after the original. 2008’s “The Nutty Professor: Facing the Fear” is an animated follow-up with Lewis reprising his dual role, along with Drake Bell (of “& Josh” fame) as his grandson.
  • I guess there’s a musical version? Lewis directed a 2012 production in Nashville with a score by the late great Marvin Hamlisch.
  • And if Professor Kelp’s voice and overall demeanor sounds familiar, you’re thinking of Hank Azaria’s impression as Professor Frink from “The Simpsons”. They even got Jerry Lewis to voice the character’s father in one of their “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

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