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  Geisha Boy, The Funny Bunny
Year: 1958
Director: Frank Tashlin
Stars: Jerry Lewis, Marie McDonald, Sessue Hayakawa, Barton MacLane, Suzanne Pleshette, Nobu McCarthy, Robert Hirano, Ryuzo Demura, Carl Erskine, Douglas Fowley
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Movie star Lola Livingston (Marie McDonald) is greeted at the airport by a host of reporters asking about her latest plans to entertain the troops overseas in Japan. She answers their questions, lapping up the attention, but she is not the only one on the tour, as one of the lowest billed acts arrives soon after: The Great Wooley (Jerry Lewis), aka Gilbert, a magician whose best friend is the white rabbit called Harry which he pulls out of a hat during the performance. Harry has been enjoying the breeze on top of the taxi, and the vehicle drives off with him much to Gilbert's dismay, but Harry is a magic rabbit in more ways than one...

In fact, if there's a reason to see The Geisha Boy, it's for the gags, and there are plenty of them, featuring the rabbit. Director and scriptwriter Frank Tashlin was well known for his cartoonish style, having been an animator after all, and at times it appears as if he more keen on thinking up set ups for Harry than he is for star Lewis, who is almost upstaged. I say almost, because there's no doubt who the main attraction is here, and this was one of the first movies he made after splitting with Dean Martin. Tashlin understood his appeal as far as the humour went, but there was an unwelcome side to this independence.

That being excruciating sentimentality. Once Gilbert reaches Japan, he cheers up a little orphan boy, Mitsuo (Robert Hirano), who is attending with his intepreter aunt, Kimi Sikita (Nobu McCarthy), and witnesses Gilbert's bumbling attempts to make up for the mayhem he has caused on the plane that saw Lola humiliated. Unfortunately these efforts see him accidentallly tear off the glamourpuss's frock, leaving her lying on the red carpet in her underwear, so Gilbert has no option but to roll her up in it to spare her blushes.

Lola is really only present to be brought down a peg or two by Gilbert's unwitting antics, and is the second last character tragic star McDonald played before her untimely death, a few years before Promises, Promises with Jayne Mansfield, another pneumatic Tashlin blonde, so there's historical interest here for those intrigued by vintage showbiz. But the female leads are actually the lovely McCarthy, best known for her television work, and the equally attractive Suzanne Pleshette in her debut as the sergeant who takes a liking to Gilbert in one of those "only in the movies" developments.

For most of the plot it's all about the jokes, and there is a plentiful supply of them. Highlights include Gilbert chased into a bathhouse by a huge Japanese baseball player, only for the pursuer to plunge into a pool that creates a tidal wave into the street, but it's that rabbit that is the centre of the most fascination, whether he's sunning himself wearing shades and going bright red with sunburn, or popping up in unlikely places in true magical fashion: if it could it would sound like Bugs Bunny. Sadly, it's not all fun as what brings down the mood is the Lewis insistence on schmaltz which has Mitsuo wanting Gilbert as his new father, and we're subjected to an overload of tearjerking scenes when Gilbert has to return home without him. Personally, I was more worried about Harry. Still, there are some of Lewis and Tashlin's best routines here, and the view of Japan is surprisingly benevolent. Music by Walter Scharf.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Tashlin  (1913 - 1972)

American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.

 
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