Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) works in the science department of this university, but he's somewhat accident prone and liable to mess up his experiments and demonstrations, as today when he mixes the incorrect amounts of chemicals to inadvertently create an explosive reaction. The dean, Dr Warfield (Del Moore), immediately sends for the fire brigade, and they break down the door of the classroom to let the students - and the smoke - out, although it's the dean's secretary (Kathleen Freeman) who notices Julius squashed under the door. Will he ever learn?
As far as his solo films went, The Nutty Professor was Lewis's biggest movie, a hit in its day and often held up as an example of his talent both behind and in front of the camera. It was a jokey variation on the old Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, although down the years many have found cause to question precisely how humorous Lewis was being, as there will always be those who wish to analyse the works of the great comedians to uncover the serious side to their personality, as if they could not accept that silly men could not have a dark side. In the case of this silly man, they might have had a point, however.
It was popular at the time to see Julius' split personality as a way of getting back at his former partner Dean Martin, with whom he had formed the double act which had brought them both such huge success, both on stage and on film. But now the overriding view of the character, or characters, is that both Kelp and his Buddy Love alter ego were just what they appeared to be: the two sides of Jerry Lewis, and, as the tales of his offscreen womanising emerged, with behaviour that suggested he was not as sweet as the well-meaning fools he preferred to play at the height of his career, you can understand that there could have been a measure of soul-searching going on in the mind of the comic.
Something along the lines of, how can women fall for my smooth-talking act in private when my public persona is such a goof? Certainly the key to the plot could be in the character of Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), the student who Julius harbours a crush on, but believes is way out of his league. In his attempts to improve himself, he visits a gym leading to a few of Lewis trademark crazy sight gags, but after that fails he applies his knowledge and opts for a more chemical solution to his problems. The transformation sequence where he takes the potion is filmed surprisingly straight, as if he were not so much spoofing Jekyll and Hyde as making a faithful rendition, and the resulting Buddy Love could be seen as a kind of monster.
Well, his ego could, as he visits The Purple Pit nightclub and wows the patrons with his obnoxious charm, even performing at the piano in a Martin style, but our affections are directed by Stella. Lewis uses many closeups on Stevens' beautiful face to guide us as to how we react to both Kelp and Buddy, so we can see that they both have worth as she finds herself attracted to Love in spite of her better judgement - he has quite the line in flattering dialogue that dazzles her. There's never really much doubt as to which persona Stella will choose, as Lewis was aware that the audience would never forgive him if the cad won the day, but if The Nutty Professor was not one of his most consistently hilarious efforts, it was one of his most fascinating. It's easy to mock critics who try to divine so much meaning in Lewis's comedies, but in this case it's entirely justified as his preoccupation with why people are drawn to the charismatic even if they're pretty resistable otherwise speaks to so much about what we can't admit about celebrity. Music by Walter Scharf.