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With: Jerry Lewis, Walter Winchell, Milton Berle, Bill Richmond
Written by: Jerry Lewis, Bill Richmond
Directed by: Jerry Lewis
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 71
Date: 07/20/1960

The Bellboy (1960)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Bellhopping Mad

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In spite of all the French jokes, Jerry Lewis' directorial debut, The Bellboy (1960), is nothing less than a masterpiece. Patterned after Jacques Tati's classics Mr. Hulot's Holiday and Mon Oncle, The Bellboy takes place in the Fontainebleau hotel in Florida as a spastic clod of a bellhop (Lewis) goes about his work routine. This plotless film consists of a series of sketches, sometimes less than a minute long, and sometimes much longer. As in Tati, not every gag is a hit, but all of them are somehow charming. Lewis has an innate sense of the film frame, of three-dimensional space and innovative sound design; he's also smart enough not to appear in every frame of this 71-minute film, giving a little space to the hotel itself and some of the other oddball characters wandering around. Like Tati, as well as Chaplin and Keaton, Lewis' bellhop character is very nearly speechless, although the "real" Jerry Lewis shows up in a cameo as a guest of the hotel. Haskell Boggs' cinematography sparkles with its intensely deep-focused, crystal-clear black-and-white images. One gag has the bellboy setting up chairs in an enormous auditorium, and we can see all the way to the back of the room and count every single chair, if we so please. Famous radio newsman Walter Winchell provides narration, Milton Berle appears as himself, and co-screenwriter Bill Richmond does an impressive imitation of Stan Laurel.

I can't recommend The Bellboy DVD highly enough. Jerry Lewis provides a full-length commentary track, accompanied by Steve Lawrence. A surprising wealth of archival materials shows Lewis at work, with rehearsals, a "blooper," deleted scenes, trailers and color footage of Lewis's promotional bus tour (narrated by Lewis's son Chris). Lewis also reads a letter from Stan Laurel, regarding Richmond's impression.

Paramount Home Video has just released a treasure trove of Jerry Lewis films on DVD, including six directed by Lewis ( The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Ladies Man, The Nutty Professor: Special Edition, The Patsy and The Family Jewels), two by Lewis' mentor Frank Tashlin (Cinderfella, The Disorderly Orderly) and two others (The Stooge, with Dean Martin, and The Delicate Delinquent -- Lewis' first film withoutMartin). I hope this new release puts things right again and gives a littlecredit where credit is due. More detailed reviews to follow soon.

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