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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Nutty Professor: Review

For those unfamiliar with the zany comedy of Jerry Lewis one only need think of a combination of Jim Carrey, John Ritter and even Buster Keaton to get a pretty good idea of what his comedy is like. Of course the comedian whose heyday was in the 1960s is in a class of his own, heralded by many (most particularly the French) as an absolute, and unequivocal genius. And The Nutty Professor is arguably the quintessential example of his work at its absolute best, both in front of and from behind the camera. That’s right, the man not only performed but he choreographed the hijinks of all those involved with the production of his movies. In fact, Lewis was well known for being very hands on with every aspect of the movie making process. And when it comes to The Nutty Professor the result is definitive Lewis; wacky, wild, utterly absurd and classically funny.

The story is a familiar one, but with a flair only Lewis can provide. As one of the writers (Bill Richmond is co-credited for the script) Lewis brilliantly adapted the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale into a modern version of a nebbish professor and a hip (albeit obnoxious) playboy. He keenly exaggerated the nerdy persona he established while teamed with Dean Martin and matched it with an equally exaggerated version of his old partner as the alter ego. Lewis’ professor (chemistry expert Julius Kelp) is tired of his milquetoast existence so he invents a potion that transforms him into a suave, sexy chick magnet, aptly named Buddy Love.

However, Buddy can't control when he'll change back into Julius, which is an event that seems to happen at the most inopportune moments, such as when he’s making time with the lovely young Ms. Purdy, played by the strikingly beautiful Stella Stevens (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Poseidon Adventure). Naturally, the dramatic aspects of the original plot when exaggerated for comedic effect lends itself perfectly to the over-the-top approach for which Lewis is known (The Errand Boy, The Patsy). His professor isn’t just picked on by bullies, he’s humiliated by his own students, and disrespected by his colleagues, but in a series of hilarious incidents that prompts him to take drastic steps in a big way.

Of course, subtlety is not a word associated with Lewis’ comedy (“Hey, Laaady!”), nor with the production values of his films (he built an entire apartment building on stage for The Bell Boy). The new 50th anniversary Blu-ray DVD issue of the film not only looks beautiful but it really highlights the saturated colors used in both the production design, and the wardrobe so richly designed by the famed Edith Head. No doubt the color spectrum tested the limits of the lab where the film stock was processed. And the make up effects (credited to Wally Westmore of the Westmore dynasty) is outlandish to the extreme for both personas, with greasy black hair and wildly buck teeth for the professor, and exaggerated musky features for the playboy. It’s the extremes one would expect from a adolescent boy, or Lewis and his target audience.

I do realize that not all Lewis fans are adolescent boys, but it helps to think like one when sitting down to enjoy his movies. And in this case it’s a state of mind you’ll happily find yourself reverting to very shortly after the start of the first scene. For some of us it’s a guilty pleasure, but for most it’s simply a pleasure.

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