Jerry Lewis was a major Hollywood money-making machine between the 1940s and 1960s, churning out hit after hit, but to me he was much more than that, he was a comedy legend.
My auntie was the first one to introduce me to the genius of Jerry Lewis. She was a massive fan. She had seen all of his movies and could quote them all, line for line.
There were many times my brother and I would sleepover at her house and we would all sit around watching Jerry Lewis movies. No one could quite make her laugh the way Lewis did, with his exceptional rubbery face, screwball antics and comic timing an early precursor to the likes of Rowan Atkinson and Jim Carrey.
Here are my top five Jerry Lewis movies. I’ve opted to leave out the Dean Martin movies as I feel like these should be judged separately. Let me know your favourites in the comments.
5. The King of Comedy (1982)
One of Lewis’s later works, this Martin Scorsese-directed masterpiece also starred Robert De Niro as aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin, who is obsessed with becoming a comedy great, and seeks out and stalks comedy legend Jerry Langford (Lewis). After trying to appear on Langford’s show, he eventually resorts to drastic measures and kidnaps his idol. This dark movie doesn’t really fall into the traditional goofball Lewis film genre, but showcased a broader talent in a study of the cult of celebrity worship in American society. This scene where a disgruntled woman wishes cancer on him, was actually based on one of his real-life experiences.
4. The Patsy (1964)
When a star comedian dies, his comedy team, decides to train bellboy Stanley Belt (Lewis) to fill his shoes. Lewis co-wrote, directed and starred in this movie that beautifully skewered the entertainment industry and was well ahead of its time.
3. The Bellboy (1960)
The true genius of Lewis was his ability to tell a story purely with his facial expressions. This movie was the perfect vehicle for his talents as he played mute bellboy Stanley in what largely exists as a silent move. Lewis produced and directed the film as a stop-gap measure to delay the screening of Cinderfella. The Bellboy was put together in near record time, but it doesn’t suffer as a result. Jerry Lewis also appears as himself checking into the hotel for the movie, with much hilarity ensuing as a result.
2. The Errand Boy (1961)
After the success of The Bellboy, Lewis tried the same schtick for his next movie with another mute lead character. If anything, this movie slightly improves the formula by changing the setting to a movie studio. Lewis plays Morty Tashman, who is hired by Paramutual Studios (see what he did there?) to spy on staff, instead he just finds himself caught up in increasingly hilarious situations.
1. The Nutty Professor (1963)
A Jekyll and Hyde story where nerdy chemistry professor Julius Kelp drinks a potion that turns him into the suave chick-magnet Buddy Love. Unfortunately, there’s one side effect: Buddy can’t control when he’ll change back into Julius, an event that always happens at inopportune times. The movie was remade by Eddie Murphy but seemed to lose a lot of its nuance and gain a lot more fart gags.
What are your favourite Jerry Lewis movies?