Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Family Jewels

Another of the box sets I've got is a ten-film collection of Jerry Lewis comedies, mostly from after he and Dean Martin split up. I'm down to one or two that I hadn't blogged about before, so recently I cracked that set open again in order to watch The Family Jewels.

Jerry Lewis is Willard Woodward, chauffeur and nominal bodyguard to Donna Peyton (Donna Butterworth, a child actress whose acting career never went anywhere). In the film's opening scene, Willard inadvertently foils a robbery. Meanwhile, we learn that Donna has recently become an orphan with the passing of her father, and it's time for the reading of the will. Donna's father had a whole bunch of brothers, it seems, as the will specifies that Donna should go live with five of them for a while, one after the other. After she does that, she gets to decide which of the five will become her new foster father. The five are, in order of their appearance:

James Peyton, the captain of a ferry boat out in the harbor, who has a ridiculous walrus moustache;
Everett Peyton, a clown who has judicously saved up his money in a Swiss bank account and who deep down inside hates children. He plans to retire to Switzerland so he doesn't have to deal with children any more.
Julius Peyton, a commercial photographer who is just a bit too meticulous in his work, making the photo shoots a slog for all of his photographic subjects
"Captain" Eddie Peyton, who has spent his time restoring a commuter-sized airplane at the local airport. During his segment, a group of little old ladies miss their flight to Chicago on the big jet plane, and wind up paying Eddie for passage, which is a problem as Eddie doesn't have many flight hours and the plane may not be totally airworthy; and
Skylock Peyton, a private detective who has an assistant Dr. Matson (Sebastian Cabot).

Now, it doesn't take very long to notice that all five of these uncles are played by Jerry Lewis as well. And, there's also a sixth uncle, "Bugsy" Peyton, also played by Lewis and sporting a painted-on five-o'clock shadow. Bugsy is already a gangster, which is probably why he was written out of the will. He's miffed at that, so he consistently tries to kidnap little Donna and bump off Willard.

It's also fairly easy to see which uncle Donna is going to choose. Or, more accurately, the fact that it's not any of the uncles who is the right man to be the foster father, as nice as four of them (minus Bugsy and Everett) are. It's Willard who is clearly the person who should be the foster father, although that's not allowed in the will. So how is the movie going to get to that conclusion?

The Family Jewels is another of those movies that gives Jerry Lewis the chance to put his own brand of physical and visual comedy on the screen, as he also directed it. And therein lies the problem with the movie. There doesn't seem to have been anybody around to edit out the excessess, or at least edit it in the right way. As a result, the movie is very much hit-and-miss, and unfortunately misses more than many of Lewis' earlier pictures did. Some scenes are good; there's one dealing with the in-flight movie on Eddie's plane (featuring a cameo from Anne Baxter). The plane hits turbulence, and suddenly the dinner scene in the Baxter movie hits the same turbulence. There's also a well-directed and well-choreographed sequence with a ROTC drill team.

On the other hand, some portions, like the Julius segment, go on much too long, and a lot of the gags are telegraphed. So the final result is a movie that might appeal to the people who already like Jerry Lewis, as well as a movie that's nice to have in a box set. But it's not the best of Lewis' work by any means.

No comments: