The Bellboy (1960)
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Jack Kruschen plays the head of Paramount Pictures in a prologue opening where he explains this film has no plot or story, it's just the day in the life of a singularly inept bellboy. He's the bane in the existence of hotel manager Alex Gerry and bell captain Bob Clayton. Jerry must be related to someone important otherwise he would have been canned years ago.
That raucous Lewis laugh and voice you will not hear at all, still Jerry puts together a lovely series of sight gags without a sound coming from him. Usually that voice is so much a part of his comedy shtick you'd think he'd be lost without it, but he carries off his goal of making a film that is a tribute to the famous silent comedians of yore.
One gag involves writer Bill Richmond doing an imitation of Stan Laurel. My guess is that Jerry tried to get the real Stan to do this film, but probably health reasons prevented it. It wasn't one of the better gags in the film, it could have used the real Stan to make it work.
The Bellboy is a quieter, but not more gentle Jerry Lewis.
The film takes place at a swank Miami hotel. Jerry plays a bellboy who always seems to be getting into trouble or being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of the skits are only mildly funny--but they come so quickly that it really doesn't matter. Among the best of the routines is when the great actor, Jerry Lewis, comes to the hotel-- as well as Milton Berle. Seeing the bellboy AND Lewis was a clever touch--and I loved seeing the entourage that got out of Lewis' limo. Quite engaging and worth seeing. I also marvel that Lewis wrote, directed and starred in this film and did it so very quickly.
"The Bellboy" is a silly collection of gags written, produced and directed by the lead star Jerry Lewis. There are some funny and non-sense jokes, like for example when Stanley meets the guest Jerry Lewis or when he removes the engine of a Volkswagen, and a great homage to Stan Laurel. My vote is five.
Title (Brazil): "O Mensageiro Trapalhão" ("The Clumsy Bellboy")
His first film was supposed to be Cinderfella - a Christmas movie. But, the studio wanted a summer movie from him as well such was his popularity. So, while staying in Miami and engaged in live performances, he took out the time to write, star in and direct The Bellboy. In addition to all this, he invented the video-assist technique which is a standard tool today when making a movie. All this in four weeks. He went on to Las Vegas for further live performances where he did the editing.
The film itself, as the opening monologue frankly confesses is not about plot or any specific sequences. Its a series of comedic gags - snippets completely unrelated to each other. Some are funny, most are dated. Nothing to capture the magic of the Dean years or future classics from JL like The Nutty Professor. However, for fans of JL, it is required viewing. His facial contortions are brilliant. The DVD special features contain an act on stage with JL while rehearsing for the movie. Very nice.
And then there those who think his single greatest moment was playing jerry langford in the king of comedy. as the years have gone by, i have found i'm in the latter group.
i have found that jerry lewis, and other comedians of his time like bob hope, terribly unfunny, especially in their movies. while the bellboy is an amazing piece of art (if you consider what he did to create it), it just isn't funny. it's a story-free tale, gag after gag, starring a largely silent jerry lewis, mugging at the camera like a chimp and creating strangely penalty-free chaos. like he always does. because i love the story of how he made it, i almost never turn it off if i come across it.
i do have to put this film in the same category as the ladies man, which i always watch also, but because of that amazing multi-level set.
The most memorable scene I'll never forget is when he was suppose to get baggage from the airport but instead, he rode the plane to where the president should be left off. However he didn't appear so it was instead Lewis carrying the baggage and not the president. I'll honestly never forget that scene, it was such genius!
It was funny to think Lewis played himself and the bellboy at the same time. Jerry Lewis is well able to play anything at the same time! He really made me laugh in this, check this out!
Plot? What plot? There isn't one. It is just Jerry Lewis doing one gag after another like a stand-up comic. And that is the problem. Usually most stand-up comics are on stage for 30 minutes or less. So you may get tired of it. It could have been different. Jerry Lewis tried to get Stan Laurel for a part and we had a look-alike stand-in instead. He did get Milton Berle for a cameo which did help. He also tried to get Billy Wilder to direct and was again turned down with the response "why don't you direct it yourself?" or words to that effect. If he had got others to help maybe it could have been a better movie.
The best part is at the very end of the movie if you last that long. I would say younger people are sour-pusses and probably won't last that long. But if you make it to the end you are in for a treat. Hint: Wilder won't be there. I chuckled at the other parts but almost died laughing at it. I hope they haven't cut that part out.
It is a self-indulgent piece of fluff that doesn't highlight Lewis's obvious ability from other films and worse...involves other names from the era...notably Milton Berle and a Stan laurel look-alike that looks almost as embarrassed as the real Laurel would have been had he not wisely chosen not to appear.
As homage even it fails. Silent film would have suited this better...but no...we get sound...because the silly faces just aren't enough.
It may be that I am spoiled by watching so much comedy over the years (and yes...this film was made the year before I was born) but there is no real substance to the jokes...subtlety was not what I was looking for...after all..slapstick is hardly ever subtle...but sledgehammer and jokes telegraphed from Pluto was just a bit pathetic.
The film is however watchable on a few levels.
It highlights a man determined to milk the cow as much as possible while his star was ascendant...and that for whatever it means...is clearly a clever ploy on a managerial level.
It highlights his obvious desire to be visible as much as possible...to the point of playing himself...
It is so bad that just watching it makes you chuckle wryly about his motives.
Worth a look just to see that the movie-going public in 1960 were just as gullible about BIG NAMES as they are now...no matter what dross they put out.
There is no real wit...I guess that is my major grief with the film...no point to it even (and I realise it was shot in 4 weeks and had no plot) but it truly amazed me that so many people commented on the comedic genius of THIS film compared to some of the rest of his oeuvre...
Most of the other gags in the movie don't seem creative today, or funny. The movie does kill time for its 72 minutes, but it really isn't funny. I've nothing against Lewis - he's been good before and after this movie - but he's not funny here.
I am watching "The Bellboy" now, recorded on my DVR, and it is incredibly stupid and unfunny. What happened? There has certainly been a change in social behaviors, seeing how women are treated and how men behave in the movie. And there has been a change in what we find funny, apparently.
There are a few comic pieces that hold up; Jerry leading the invisible orchestra is a nice piece of work, his trying to find a seat in the crowded coffee shop with the huge unoccupied counter which is instantly filled with customers the second he tries to take a seat, his joyride in the DC-8 and his buzzing of the Fontainbleau, the real Jerry Lewis meeting the Milton Berle bellboy, and the one I have always liked, his taking a flashbulb picture of the moon that instantly changes night into day.
Otherwise the movie is not funny anymore, or maybe I've outgrown its type of humor. It's good to watch as a piece of history and cinematic history.
Times have changed.
there is so much about Lewis that was ahead of his time. not only did he pre-date comics like Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, and Rowan Atkinson, his view of comedy as a cinematic art form is timelessly contemporary. at the time he made 'The Bellboy', really only the french thought of comedy in truly cinematic terms like with art-house films like 'Mr. Hulot's Holiday'. there is a lot in 'Bellboy' that is inspired by the french comedy and does it better and is better entertainment.
Lewis's 'The Bellboy' really isn't all that commercial. it's actually very experimental and even consciously artsy in conception. it's low budget decision to film in in B&W only gives it the feeling of serious filmmaking.
not only does Lewis toy and experiment with physical humour much the way Chaplin did, he also takes his photography very seriously and manages to elevate the film to a level of technical sophistication with numerous long and overhead shots.
everything about 'The Bellboy' is taken to a higher level of sophistication and subtlety that goes far beyond it's appearance of silly goofiness. it's only seems dumb on the surface, what you really have is a film of great cleverness and intelligence. only you don't really have to think about it if you don't want to, which is part of the genius of it.
comedy is rarely better than this. art-house cinema is rarely better than this. all brilliantly conceived under the guise of a "knuckle head" comedy. pure genius in action.
A Gentlemen from Australia, 4 years my junior, said that the film did not have a point, or meaning. I respectively disagree. In the DVD audio commentary where Jerry Lewis discusses the film with Steve Lawrence, he near the end of the film says to Mr. Lawrence "you can understand why people did not know that the kid did not talk".
The final climactic scene, when the bellboys are talking about a strike I think is the films denouncement. Here we are given an indication that Stanley might not be this stupid bumbling idiot that others think he is. Some of his co-workers mention that he is hard working, and fast. He shows his skills in putting seats in an auditorium so quickly together. If Mr. Lewis had wanted to show him as a stupid idiot, the scene where he takes this jet up into the air, he would have had the character of Stanley act in fear as he is flying the plane. But he does not, he lands the plane without any problems. While Stanley makes mistakes, and may do absurd things, Jerry Lewis asks the question, if we allow Stanley to speak, perhaps we would discover a really intelligent human being.
Throughout the film, Mr. Lewis asks the question, who are really the idiots. Mr. Lewis I think even makes fun of himself, the real Jerry Lewis, when he plays himself with his bunch of yes people who travel with him. The sequence, in many ways reminded me of La Dolce Vita, La Aventura, which were released the same year. It also brought back memories of Woody Allens Star Dust Memories, made some 17 years latter. There is a scene where Stanley, is sitting my a glass window, looking at the bottom of a swimming pool, the man who has just finished the work there, and taken down some boards, is polite. But one of the guests of the FountainBleu who sees Stanley, calls everyone to come down to look at this crazy person eating at the bottom of the pool. Here Jerry Lewis shows who really are crazy. Amazing to me that the real management of the Fountainbleu did not get that the joke might be on them.
Also look how people treat the bellboys, calling them boy. Ironically, there is not one black person in the film, which for us in 2009 calls attention to itself. Also you do not see Spanish Speaking people, unless the gentlemen who wants his pants pressed is one. Had the Stanley character, been a black person, I am sure that even in 1960, people would have understood what Mr. Lewis was maybe trying to say.
Mr. Lewis says this is a film as a homage to Stan Laurel, though in it you see a lot of Jaque Tati. When I finally saw a Tati film, I realized the similarities even then to The Bellboy. The Stan Laurel character does not work to well now, because we know that it is not him, though it 1960, perhaps it did work.
I could not give it 10 out of 10, because not all of the film works for me, but those who have seen it, and perhaps dismissed it as just a series of gags, should see it again and reevaluate it. Perhaps the film is about our not being able to communicate, and that if we did, that those who we think are not worth knowing, perhaps are. The American film goer of 1960 was right, while the critics back then were wrong. While American critics only could look at Mr. Lewis as a commercial entity, the critics across the Atlantic, "Those silly French", were correct in realizing the worth of Jerry Lewis. I have not seen many other films by him, and perhaps he did not live up to what promise he showed with his first directing effort (Though many say his Nutty Professor, which I have seen some of is his masterpiece), The Bellboy is an interesting film, that should not be dismissed as just a series of jokes.
In another posting someone said this movie was the "best of his carrier". It may well have been, but to me, his career spiraled down after he and Dean Martin went their separate ways. I, as many others, always felt sorry for the poor picked on character he played opposite Dean. And I felt sorry for the actor in just about every film he's made since.
I love good slapstick and I have fond memories of Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis, Laurel & Hardy and the 3 Stooges shorts. Until Steve Martin's "All of Me", the aforementioned groups were the masters of comedy for me. Steve Martin's routine when his character, Roger Cobb, and Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin) merge is a tour de force, top of the line, all time great comedy routine.
It gets up to a 4 because of Uncle Milty.