The Nutty Professor

Directed by Jerry Lewis
Produced by Ernest D. Glucksman,  Arthur P. Schmidt & Jerry Lewis
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (story)
Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond (screenplay)
Starring Jerry Lewis
Stella Stevens
Del Moore
Kathleen Freeman
Music by Walter Scharf, Les Brown and His Band of Renown
Cinematography W. Wallace Kelley
Editing by John Woodcock
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 4, 1963
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Nutty Professor is Jerry Lewis’ masterpiece and undoubtedly his best known work. Many people think that the film and specifically the character of Buddy Love, is a stab at Dean Martin but Jerry has denied this vehemently. Instead he says that Buddy is a conglomeration of every nasty son of a bitch he’d ever met and that he loved Dino like a brother and would never do anything negative against him. Besides, Dean was a genuinely nice guy according to Jerry.

It is easy to forget just how brilliant that Jerry Lewis is. We take for granted the goofy, funny characters that he created as he made it all look so easy. He perhaps does not receive the acclaim that other screen comedians have received but he has always taken his comedy seriously. In fact this ambition to be a better comedian is the reason, partly, why he and Dean Martin broke up their successful partnership. Dino was happy just to turn up and for the two of them to do their thing whilst Jerry always wanted to do things better. Dean in fact apparently asked Jerry why he wanted to concentrate on that “Chaplin shit”, in that he thought that Jerry took his comedy a bit too seriously. That is not to say that Dean was not a professional, rather that he just wanted to turn up, do what was asked of him and then go home or to a party while Jerry wanted to be creative. This is the difference I suppose between an actor and a comedian.

One interesting scene is the transformation scene which takes its cues from the Frederic March version of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, although Jerry said that he was inspired by the Spencer Tracy version.

One of the things that I found striking about watching The Nutty Professor is the bright, vibrant colours that were used. There is quite a liberal use of purples, greens, reds and other colours that you don’t usually see in films. It showcases the Technicolor film process effectively and is one reason why I prefer films that have been made in Technicolor as opposed to the now standard Eastmancolor.

The Professor Kelp character that Lewis created for his film is iconic and has been imitated by The SimpsonsProfessor Frink. Unlike Eddie Murphy in the 1996 remake Jerry didn’t just put on a fat suit to play Kelp. Apparently Kelp is based on a real person that Jerry met one day. That this one character has become so memorable, like Sellers’ Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp, despite featuring in just one film, is a testament to Lewis’ work here. It may be a little dated now, but it is a fine piece of 60s film making.

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