Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Patsy

Stella Stevens died yesterday, and the obituaries mention that she was the bombshell in the Jerry Lewis movie The Nutty Professor. That movie happens to be on the box set of Jerry Lewis movies that I have, but unfortunately, I just very recently watched a different movie off that set to do a post on here: The Patsy.

Jerry Lewis is again the star, and since this is one of his later movies, the director as well. But we don't see Lewis at first, at least not after the opening credits. Instead, we hear about some popular comic actor who dies in a plane crash in Alaska. We then meet the people around that deceased actor: his manager, press agent, and the like, played by a cast of mostly character actors. These include John Carradine, Ina Balin, Keenan Wynn, Everett Sloane, Phil Harris, and Peter Lorre who looks like death warmed over largely because he died shortly after shooting and before the movie was released. Now that their nominal boss is dead, they're technically out of a job.

The handlers are meeting in the dead actor's penthouse suite at the Beverly Hilton, and who should come in but bellboy Stanley (that's Jerry Lewis, as if you couldn't tell), very incompetently trying to serve them their drinks. Instead of getting him fired on the spot, the handlers come up with the insane idea that perhaps they could turn Stanley into a star. At least they'd have somebody pliable whom they could keep mooching off of. And since all these people were repping a big star in the past, they've got an in to the movers and shakers in Hollywood to try to make Stanley a star in his own right.

There's just one catch, however. They need somebody with talent, and, well, that's one thing Stanley doesn't seem to have. They try to dress him up in fine clothes (watch for a cameo from George Raft), get him elocution lessons (with Hans Conried, whose character also collects antiques), have him cut a record, and do a press availability with the columnists of the day that turns into a sketch involving Hedda Hopper and her hat. But can they make Stanley a star?

As with a lot of Jerry Lewis' movies after the split between him and Dean Martin, The Patsy is shorter on plot and longer on a series of sketches that serve a threadbare framing story. But it's also an excuse to get all sorts of Hollywood stars in one-scene cameos. I mentioned George Raft and Hedda Hopper, but there's also Ed Sullivan, Scatman Crothers, Richard Deacon, and a whole bunch more, some credited and some not.

But do the sketches work? Some do and some don't; the original The Bellboy is probably the best of the Lewis sketch comedy movies in that the greatest proportion of the sketches work. Here, the Hopper scene is great in part because her hat is so ridiculous and everybody is supposed to act like they're in The Emperor's New Clothes and not notice is. Stanley is the only one to notice is, and acts like we're all thinking. The song Stanley records is terrible even without his singing (or in drag as a trio of back singers), and wouldn't be rescued by a competent recording artist -- but it's supposed to be bad. Some of the other scenes are just too manic. I didn't care so much for the scene with Conried, or the one where Stanley goes on an American Bandstand-like show. (Presumably they couldn't get Dick Clark for a cameo.)

Overall, The Patsy is the sort of movie Jerry Lewis fans will like. But if I were introducing people to Jerry Lewis, I'd still start with either The Bellboy or his movies with Dean Martin.

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