Comedy dream team Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis set out to spoof hardboiled detective fiction with It’$ Only Money, wherein director Tashlin swaps his usual eye-popping Technicolor palette for film noir(ish) black and white. Jerry plays Lester March, a zany (what else?) electronics repairman with a passion for detective novels with playfully lurid titles like Kiss the Blood Off My Neck, The Case of the Homicidal Homing Pigeon and The Bullet-Proof Bikini (“ooh, I like that one!”). Lester keeps pestering private eye Pete Flint (Jesse White) into making him his partner, but the detective is more intent on locating the long-lost heir to a multi-million dollar fortune bequeathed by the late Charles P. Albright. If his missing son isn’t found in time the money goes to his sister Cecilia (Mae Questel) and her slimy lawyer/fiance Gregory De Witt (Zachary Scott) is only too happy to cash in. But when Lester arrives at the mansion to carry out some repair work, De Witt realises he is the missing heir and tasks homicidal butler Leopold (Jack Weston) - “president of the Peter Lorre fan club” - to do away with the doofus.
Whereas in movies like My Favourite Blonde (1942), My Favourite Brunette (1947) and My Favourite Spy (1951), comedian Bob Hope sprinkles his comic quips over a still-compelling thriller plot, Jerry Lewis leans heavily towards slapstick set-pieces. Consequently, the plot has to take a time-out every time he indulges a pratfall. For a supposed detective spoof, It’$ Only Money mines surprisingly little of its humour out of actual genre conventions, dispensing with most of its pastiche early on with Pete Flint’s booze, broads and bullets-laden lifestyle. Balding, pot-bellied, late middle-aged Jesse White makes a less than convincing lady-killer but presumably enjoyed this atypically nice day at the office, smooching his way through a succession of sexy dames.
Tashlin’s movie might have worked better as a Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis vehicle, since Pete comes across as a grouch and a bully, cynically remarking how he hopes Lester won’t get killed before he claims his reward. This cynicism carries through to Lester’s love interest Wanda (Joan O'Brien), who figures out his true identity early on and latches onto the future millionaire a little too conveniently, though she claims it’s Lester she loves not his money. O’Brien is a lacklustre leading lady but Mae Questel - the voice of Betty Boop! - gets big laughs as the daffy, yoga loving heiress with a singing voice that could strip paint.
As in his later, oddball, Agatha Christie adaptation The Alphabet Murders (1965), Frank Tashlin does not use black and white as creatively as he uses colour but he and Lewis pack the film with manic gags. Leopold’s repeated attempts to shoot, run over, or blow Lester up foreshadows a similar running gag in that modern classic A Fish Called Wanda (1988) with an amusing punchline involving Lester’s inadvertent rescue by a grumpy fisherwoman (“I love you, pudgy lady!”). The late Charles P. Albright’s love of all things high-tech gives Tashlin free reign to pepper the mansion with all sorts of insane gadgetry, most notably the automatic lawnmowers that return to plague Jerry in the frenzied finale. Lewis’ nutty techno-babble is a delight and compensates for the story’s lack of edge.
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.