Today, I'm reviewing the original version of The Nutty Professor (1963) starring Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens.
This article is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. The lovelorn chemistry professor Julius Kelp (Lewis) falls under the lonely scientists section of the blogathon.
Jerry Lewis best movie, The Nutty Professor (1963), is a comic twist on the timeless horror story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film is often riotously funny, but it also deals with serious themes like the true nature of our identity and the desire among all of us to be loved for who we really are.
The Nutty Professor tells the story of nerdy chemistry professor Julius Kelp. Kelp is a brilliant scientist, but his habit of conducting explosive experiments and his strictness in the classroom have not endeared him to either the faculty or the students at the university where he works. When Julius develops a crush on a beautiful blonde student (Stella Stevens), he decides to create a formula that turns him into Buddy Love, a suave lounge singer who soon develops a devoted following on campus.
The Nutty Professor is a retelling of the novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by 19th century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. The classic horror tale had already been filmed three times -- John Barrymore, Fredric March, and Spencer Tracy did the honors in the earlier films -- but Lewis decided to put his own comic twist on the project by creating two unique characters that spoke to his own show business past. The nebbishy Julius Kelp is a slightly different take on Lewis' familiar comic persona, while Buddy Love, a handsome ladies' man who knows how to mix a mean cocktail, is reminiscent of Lewis' former partner Dean Martin. Lewis toyed with making The Nutty Professor for years, but he did not think he had the skills to direct and star in such a film (Lewis also co-wrote the script with Bill Richmond) until after he completed The Errand Boy in 1961.
Lewis, who always liked to consider himself a comic auteur in the mold of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, gradually began directing his own films after he split with Martin in the late 1950's. At first, Lewis' solo films were directed by Looney Tunes veteran Frank Tashlin, but Lewis wanted more freedom to explore his own ideas. In 1959, Paramount Pictures, who liked Lewis' ability to complete his projects on time and under budget, gave him a lucrative contract to direct and star in his own movies, and The Nutty Professor was the fourth film under that deal.
|Jerry Lewis directs Stella Stevens in The Nutty Professor (1963).|
Lewis' direction of The Nutty Professor is spot on, but his performance in the film is even better. It would be a difficult feat for any actor to play both the awkward Julius and the arrogant Buddy in the same movie, but Lewis often has to switch between the two characters in the same scene, and he is flawless every time. While Julius is an extension of Lewis' familiar man-child act, Buddy Love is often seen as a parody of Dean Martin; however, Lewis always forcefully denied this. He said Buddy Love was a parody of several show business types that he met over the years, and, for the most part, I think Lewis' comments are genuine. Martin was a handsome ladies man who wore snazzy suits, but he was much more laid back than the Buddy Love character is in the film. In fact, I think Buddy is actually a parody of Martin's fellow rat pack member, Frank Sinatra. Buddy's Jersey accent, which is often peppered with sixties slang ("hey, chicky baby"), and his frequent performances of "That Old Black Magic" -- a song that is strongly associated with Ol' Blue Eyes -- all points to Sinatra with a little smidgen of Dean thrown in for good measure.
|Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1950.|
The Nutty Professor is available on DVD, Blu ray, and video on demand.