[Last Film I Watched] The Nutty Professor (1963)

The Nutty Professor poster

Title: The Nutty Professor
Year: 1963
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi
Director: Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis
Bill Richmond
Music: Walter Scharf
Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley
Jerry Lewis
Stella Stevens
Del Moore
Kathleen Freeman
Howard Morris
Elvia Allman
Buddy Lester
Norman Alden
Les Brown
Henry Gibson
Skip Ward
Seymour Cassel
Richard Kiel
Rating: 5.7/10

The Nutty Professor 1963

American comedian Jerry Lewis’ fourth director-cum-co-writer-cum-star vehicle in his solo career, a loopy parody of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where he playfully juggles with the dichotomy between the geeky, bucktoothed, accidental-prone professor Julius Kelp and the raffish, chain-smoking, hipster crooner Buddy Love.

What prompts Professor Kelp (Lewis) to undergo a thorough transmogrification is his swooning over his student Stella Purdy (Stevens), who is far out of his league, although no one in his class is even remotely credible to pass for a college freshman, or maybe the 60s simply was not a kind era for adolescents. Thanks to an inexplicable magic potion he manages to confect, with a faint reference to the turning of a hirsute werewolf, Kelp’s new-born alter ego, Buddy Love fabulously materializes (introduced by a laboriously arranged reaction long-shot from on-lookers to elicit the anticipation), he is the antithesis of Kelp, and whose rebarbative behaviour has also implausibly escaped from the latter’s clutches. But then the grating part emerges, albeit his condescending, offensive and self-serving attitude, this chimney-mouthed slicker is portrayed as a virtuoso show-stopper, and perversely sweeps Stella off her feet (although she does have some reservations but condones to fall for his bad-boy mojo). This male-patronising, female-stereotyping angle, becomes the undoing of a well-intentioned comedy, as in the final speech Buddy/Kelp delivers, we must brave ourselves to embrace who we are, we can always learn to be a better me, but leave the ideal me in that imaginative realm only.

The film would be treated with a redux remake starring a multiple-role-playing Eddie Murphy in 1996 with great popularity owing to its staggering make-up magic and special visual effects. It also foreshadow the personality-sea-changing in Jim Carrey’s breakthrough stunner THE MASK (1994).

Since this broad comedy relies heavily on its star’s slapstick, Lewis unstintingly turns it into his own shtick-boasting vehicle, and as obnoxious as Buddy Love is, one has to admit Lewis’ protean performance is something to be reckoned with, sometimes he is also evocative of a young Jack Lemmon. Therefore, it barely leaves anything for other players, only Del Moore’s prim but showbiz-passionate university president Dr. Warfield can swipe some thunder from Lewis’ omnipresence, whereas, Stella Stevens’ buxom ingénue is too amicable and souless for her own good, as a corollary of being projected from a parochial and patriarch world-view. In hindsight, the film is a mug’s game hindered by its own myopia but survives only for Lewis’ comedic knack, when he stays in his nebbish character.

Oscar 1963  The Nutty Professor

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