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With: Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman, Les Brown and His Band of Renown
Written by: Jerry Lewis, Bill Richmond
Directed by: Jerry Lewis
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 107
Date: 06/04/1963

The Nutty Professor (1963)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Jekyll Inside

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For decades, Jerry Lewis has been the butt of jokes having to do with the French. Despite his particular genius onscreen, and his technical prowess offscreen as an innovative Hollywood director, most Americans have written him off as if to say, "if the French love him so much, they can have him."

Even Lewis detractors will begrudgingly admit that The Nutty Professor (1963) is a good and funny film. Lewis plays a dual role as the nerdy weakling Professor Kelp and the arrogant, super-cool nightclub lizard Buddy Love, after the professor invents a formula to make himself stronger and more confident. Mostly he does this to impress his unbearably adorable student Miss Purdy (Playboy Playmate Stella Stevens, in her most famous role).

This is the most plot-driven of Lewis' films, more or less forcing him to keep the gags to a stricter time schedule, and it's also arguably his most personal work. Many writers have pointed out that Buddy Love resembles Lewis' former partner Dean Martin, but the story could go a bit deeper than that, with Lewis taking on his own nerdy persona and his need for legitimate adoration off camera as a director and screenwriter.

Nevertheless, Lewis presents the film with a bright, bold color palate, emphasizing primary candy-store colors, but darkening them for the appropriate moments, such as the first (fairly frightening) transformation sequence. His eye for visual and aural humor really comes out here, as in the sequence when a big buffoon of a student stuffs the professor onto a shelf. We hear the stuffing and the tinkling of glass, and then the student walks across the frame, giving a slow reveal to the visual payoff.

Lewis also shows a genius for silence, timing long, quiet moments before a gag, such as visiting the dean's office and sinking into his soft leather chairs with a withering sigh.

It's a brilliant job of direction, but the film couldn't have worked without Lewis' performance in both roles -- and especially those key moments when the formula is about to wear off and he plays both at the same time.

Lewis co-wrote the screenplay with Bill Richmond, and their 60's "hip" dialogue has aged wonderfully well, adding a layer of modern kitsch coolness to the film.

All technical praise aside, The Nutty Professor's greatest achievement is that it's still funny and that you still root for the poor schlub to get the girl.

Paramount's extraordinary new DVD supplants the previous DVD release, and even in the first few minutes, one can see why: it has a shockingly lovely use of color (the professor experiments in front of his class with all kinds of beakers, powders and liquids), and Paramount has done a remarkable job restoring it. It's a job to rank with their extraordinary Roman Holiday and Sunset Boulevard DVDs. (Its only flaw is a bit of flutter from time to time.)

Extras include the making-of featurette "The Nutty Professor: Perfecting the Formula," a commentary track by Lewis and Steve Lawrence, a second featurette "Jerry Lewis at Work" (30 mins.), the theatrical trailer, a deleted scene, promos, bloopers, Jerry at Movieland Wax Museum (with commentary by son Chris Lewis), test footage, and "other footage."

In 2014, Paramount released a 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition box set. The Nutty Professor comes re-mastered and looking just glorious, with its colors and snappy music really popping now. All the extras from the DVD are here, plus a new, high-def featurette: Jerry Lewis: No Apologies. The set comes with three other discs: a DVD of Lewis' The Errand Boy (1961), a DVD of Frank Tashlin's Cinderfella (1960), and a CD of Lewis' famous prank phone calls.

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