Puppet on a String
Concentrated feel-good juice from LIVING IT UP. Jerry Lewis dances with the awesome Sheree North, who can be glamorous and goofy at the same time.
Watch him bash his spine with the floor at the end of the clip: that’s going to cause you some trouble in later life, Jer.
Some Jerry Lewis stuff is a little sophisticated or has a zany abstraction. If I may quote David Ehrenstein on one mind-bending number: “Like all gags in Lewis-directed films, the Miss Cartilage scene in THE LADIES’ MAN refuses to be specific about its objectives. It questions itself even as it unfolds.”
But there’s another area of humour in Lewis that has nothing to do with gags, or intellection — the warping of the face and body for sheer freakshow appeal. “I bet you never saw a face/torso/limb do THIS,” is the closest this comedy comes to making any kind of statement.
Maybe this is why Lewis has more to do with dance than any other comedian I can think of. sure, Chaplin was balletic, but when he actually dances, in A DAY’S PLEASURE, the effect is ruined. Chaplin turning everyday situations or comic crises into a form of dance is funny and revelatory. Chaplin just dancing is just Chaplin dancing.
WC Fields comes close in his juggling: he’s so amazing at it that you don’t mind a suspension of the comedy, in fact you don’t really want the comedy to interrupt what he’s doing.
But Lewis dances in so many films, and with many different levels of grotesquerie that it’s clearly something inherent in his nature and in his comedy. In the above clip he’s unmistakably REALLY GOOD; in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR he’s brilliant on a whole other level and with a whole different character: those constrained, introverted movements yearning to breathe free. Like a locust who saw humans dancing and thought it looked fun.