BONJOUR MONSIEUR LEWIS (1982).
First off, let me proudly announce that Jerry Lewis is a God. A greasy-headed, egotistical, slimebag God, mind you, but still a God. And this six-hour documentary treats him as one. And who else but a Frenchman (in this case, director Robert Benayoun) would even consider tackling this type of brain-numbing project? Sure, it sounds like a sick joke, but it's not. Unfortunately, I was only able to secure the first four hours of this epic portrait of Le Professor Imbecile, but that's more than enough Lewis schtick to send most folks running (to the bathroom?) -- spanning Jerry's early mega-success with Dean right up to shooting THE KING OF COMEDY. It's also wild to learn that this human pack-rat has saved every scrap of film that he's ever developed in his basement library (his estimate: "5 to 6 million feet of tape and film"). From the look of this messy (but epic) profile, it seems Benayoun was allowed to rummage at will. Bursting with rare clips and movie outtakes (Jerry dropping his pants, shoving his head under a matron's skirt; in other words, his classier side), some of the highlights include: Jerry interrupting a Sammy Davis Jr. song with his spastic waiter routine; Jerry at La Comédie-Francaise; Sinatra reuniting the long-parted Martin and Lewis during the MD Telethon; Jerry teaching a film course; and even some footage from Jerry's ultra-obscure TV-version of THE JAZZ SINGER. A lot of this is also genuinely funny -- like the skit "Ne Reveillez pas le Bebe" ["Don't Wake the Baby"], which has Jerry playing a 31-year-old son who's still treated like an infant by his doting mom ("Let me have a cigarette, ma!"). The pic loses a little steam in the third and fourth hours, when focusing on his relationship with children and smarmier edge. You also have to wade through several renditions of "You'll Never Walk Alone", while his ancient "musical typewriter" routine is so grating that you'll want to drive your shoe up his shriveled ass. On the other hand, you never know when Benayoun will slip in a real treat -- like a clip of Jerry's dad, his son and himself, singing "Sonny Boy." There are also brief interviews with such comparable lightweights as Martin Scorsese, Louis Malle, Steven Spielberg, and Mel Brooks. By far, the best quip comes from John Landis, who says the MD telethon "encapsulates what is great, powerful and terrifying about the United States...this collection of awesome talent and equipment and electronic genius and cripples!" Even if you can't understand one word of the unsubtitled French narration, almost everything else is in English and, as we all know, Jerry's (alleged) talent spans language barriers. Though far from the last word on this repellent comic genius (there are no clips from THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, dang it!) and lacking a much-needed focus, this fabulous love letter will leave any Jerry Lewis fan drooling and limp with joy -- capturing the man at his best, at his most annoying, and often both at the same time.
© 1996 by Steven Puchalski.