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  Disorderly Orderly, The Empathy Overload
Year: 1964
Director: Frank Tashlin
Stars: Jerry Lewis, Glenda Farrell, Susan Oliver, Karen Sharpe, Kathleen Freeman, Everett Sloane, Del Moore, Alice Pearce, Milton Frome, John Macchia, Jack E. Leonard, Barbara Nichols, Muriel Landers, Frank J. Scannell, Mike Mazurki
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Throughout history there have been many men of great potential who faltered just as their moment of glory was nigh, say, the man of war who fled the battlefield, the mountaineer who fell off the summit, and the doctor who ran away from the operating room when he became too squeamish. But which of these men will we be following? How about the medical man, one Jerome Littlefield (Jerry Lewis) who is now an orderly at a sanatarium, and has the habit of causing chaos wherever he goes, much to the chagrin of the staff...

For many movie buffs, Lewis never had a better director than Frank Tashlin, one most attuned to the star's comic sensibilities, and that included Lewis himself when he helmed his own vehicles. The Disorderly Orderly was their final collaboration, and as with all of their efforts together saw the comedian used as a cartoon character by the director and writer, only with sentimental interludes which some have found the major turn-off in his work, although here Lewis appeared to be wanting to say something sincere about the business of making people laugh. Basically, Lewis here was sympathetic because he cared too much, goddammit.

This led to scenes both amusing and those intended to be tearjerking since Jerome suffers too much empathy, so he grimaces when he hears about any kind of illness or injury and goes through a host of tics and convulsions as he tries to cope with the thought of another human being undergoing pain. Naturally this didn't quite get in the way of the slapstick, which was bountiful and arrived in sketchlike instalments where Jerome, for example does his best to fix the television in a patient's room only to unleash a blizzard when the snow on the screen breaks through. Business like that illustrated Tashlin's accustomed invention with the gags, but it was the cloying schmaltz which might have proved a problem.

This wasn't the sole cinematic outing for Lewis's softer side, but was a real sticking point for so many audiences these days that many only need to hear the name Jerry Lewis and assume they won't like his movies, even the ones with such inspired routines as we found here. But give him a chance, and ignore his odd lack of humour when you saw him interviewed - he was incredibly serious about his work - and you might find you responded to what he was up to. Here the character Jerome channels his good deeds into is suicidal patient Susan, played by Susan Oliver who remains best known now for appearing as a still, painted green, at the end of umpteen episodes of the original Star Trek show.

Susan is a spiky, hostile and weirdly out of sync personality with Lewis's usual world: although he would drive people in the story up the wall with his antics, they would rarely go out of their way to be malicious and spiteful towards him with the intention of hurting him emotionally. Not so with this damaged soul who spits bile at Jerome's appeals to her better nature, not knowing that he is the one paying for her treatment and working his fingers to the bone to raise the funds - he loved her from afar in high school, but it's also worth noting the Barack Obama-ish healthcare for all message inherent in the script: being aware of Lewis's charity endeavours you can tell this was a subject close to his heart. However, there was another woman in Jerome's life, and she's nurse Julie (Karen Sharpe, most familiar as Hollywood superproducer Stanley Kramer's wife), creating a love triangle whose resolution is all too obvious. Throw in the ever-reliable Kathleen Freeman as a battleaxe and Glenda Farrell as the understanding administrator and you had a very female-centric comedy from Lewis; not a bad farewell to Tashlin. Music by Joseph J. Lilley.
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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