The Nutty Professor (1963)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Nutty Professor</strong> (1963)

(In French, On TV, October 2018) Jerry Lewis is often portrayed as an acquired taste (“The French love him!” etc.), but I wonder how much of this perceived difficulty has to do with crucial miscalculations in his best-known films. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to watch The Nutty Professor and being extraordinarily irritated at the nominal protagonist of this Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde parody. Lewis, as the Julius Kelp counterpart of the dual role, is grating, infuriating, intolerable and abrasive. You really don’t want to spend any more time with him. On the other hand, his “monster” persona of Buddy Love is charming, suave, debonair and rather likable despite being an obnoxious egomaniac with a tendency to verbally abuse others. (One suspects that if this wasn’t a movie, we’d feel differently about him.) The jokes in the film are fairly standard (although they sometimes jump the strict limits of realism, meaning that there isn’t a lot here that we haven’t seen elsewhere). The period atmosphere can be interesting, though, and Lewis’ performance does have a few good moments even when they come at the expense of the character we’re supposed to cheer for at the end. Despite the feeling that at least some of this loathing for the protagonist is intentional, the result seems at odds with itself. As a result, The Nutty Professor isn’t quite as good as it could have been with some self-awareness and slight characterization alterations. And much of Lewis’s comic genius gets lost in the transition.

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