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  Bellboy, The Checking In Checking Out
Year: 1960
Director: Jerry Lewis
Stars: Jerry Lewis, Alex Gerry, Bob Clayton, Sonnie Sands, Eddie Shaeffer, Herkie Styles, David Landfield, Bill Richmond, Larry Best, Cary Middlecoff, Stanley Allan, Maxie Rosenbloom, Joe E. Ross, Jack Kruschen, Walter Winchell, Milton Berle
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: This is not your average motion picture. While many like to attend romantic movies, or science fiction movies, or crime movies, or horror movies, this one has something that the others don't. Or rather it lacks something that the others have: a plot. There is no story to this one, in fact it's a series of gags that revolve around a nut, and he is one of the bellboys at this Miami hotel. He doesn't have much to say for himself, but then he is simply ordered about most of the time, and inadvertently causes chaos for the guests he comes into contact with...

The Bellboy was Jerry Lewis's first outing as director, after a career as the star, but he was not prepared to take a back seat as far as appearing onscreen went, so took the title role of this film too. Paramount, his then-studio backers, put the pressure on him at the time to deliver a film that would be released before Cinderfella, his and Frank Tashlin's take on the Cinderella story, and so this item was rustled up at extremely short notice for the summer. As much of it was Lewis's brainchild, the success of the project rested on his shoulders, and today it is not so much remembered for being fall-down hilarious, but more for indicating the new direction he would take.

That direction being mainly behind the scenes, as he took control of his films like never before, often doing as much as possible to create his vehicles. He had always been a perfectionist, but now his obsessions rose to new heights, and you can see the beginnings of that here, although this has a far looser, improvised feel than his precision efforts of the rest of the decade. As is stated at the beginning, as if to contend with any complaints that there was no real plot here, what The Bellboy amounted to was a series of sketches centred around that hotel, with Lewis following the lead of not only Tashlin, but his idols of silent comedy as well.

Not only is the bellboy called Stanley, there's even a Stan Laurel character wandering about, played by writer Bill Richmond with the expected mannerisms, so there was at least one reference to the greats that audiences would recognise. Was Lewis comparing himself to those stars, or was he paying tribute? How you feel about that will depend on how you feel about him in general, but he comes across as sincere in his attempts to fashion a comedy just as they used to, and Stanley doesn't say a word until the last couple of minutes of the movie. However, that doesn't mean that you did not hear Lewis's voice, as if he felt the need to remind those watching of his status in the Hollywood firmament.

This meant that Jerry Lewis is also a character in the film, stopping by at the hotel with a comically huge entourage who laugh sycophantically at his every sentence, even the least appropriate ones. What he was saying about his place in showbusiness is not completely clear, as his persona seems sympathetic - he's not playing the obnoxious bighead celeb, for example, and if anything has mixed feelings about his renown. This could be why he so often took the roles of members of the lowest rungs of society, and its nice to see him finding worth in those parts without seeming patronising, as he does here. However, The Bellboy was not exactly the funniest movie he ever made, as while it was pleasing and inventive, there was not much to have you roaring with laughter at the cartoonish gags. There were plenty of amusing moments, but they did not really draw together to a triumph; it does remain interesting for what it signalled in its creator's career, though. Music by Walter Scharf.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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