The Errand Boy

PLOT:

Paramutual Pictures decides that they need a spy to find out the inner workings of their studio. Morty Tashman (Jerry Lewis) is a paperhanger who happens to be working right outside their window. They decide that he is the man for the job and hire him on the spot. He bumbles his way through a series of misadventures, reporting everything back to the corporate executives.

REVIEW:

In all the classic films that I’ve seen, can you believe that I have never come across Jerry Lewis? The other day, I came across The Errand Boy on television and started to watch it, but I was overruled. Of course, this means, I automatically added it to my Netflix queue until I got around to moving it up to a higher number. Well, guess what made it up the list this week?

What is this about?

Hired to spy on the employees of a major movie studio, well-intentioned but disaster-prone Morty Tashman wreaks havoc on Hollywood as he wanders into a string of mishaps at the Paramutual Pictures lot, looking for infractions to add to his report.

What did I like?

Jazz. Today is International Jazz Day, which somehow slipped by me. Luckily, there is a nice jazzy soundtrack to go along with this film. Now, it isn’t the likes of Basie, Ellington, Miller, etc., but it is some nice big band sounds that you would expect from a film of this era. The scenes in which it is used fit seamlessly, especially the one where Jerry Lewis’ character is mouthing to the music. It just goes to show what a great score or musical cue can do for a film, especially when there are long sections of the film that have no music at all…more on that later.

***correction. It has been brought to my attention that the pantomime scene that Lewis uses big band music for actually features “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” by the Count Basie Big Band (how could I have not picked up on that!!!). So, I was mistaken****

Clean. Here is a novel idea, comedy that everyone can watch and enjoy. I can’t think of any comedies these days that can pull this off. For some reason, comedy now has to be risqué, offensive, and sex driven. Perhaps I’m just in the wrong time period, but is it too much to pine for some good, clean comedy? Not to get on a soapbox, but to see a clean comedy, even for a classic film such as this takes me aback.

Genius. I have never seen anything with Jerry Lewis in it, except for occasional bit of his Labor Day telethon. Most, if not all, of my knowledge of Lewis is from parodies of the guy on Animaniacs and similar shows. I have to say that watching him for my first time he is a true comedic genius. Many of today’s comics owe this man. As I sat and watched him not only do physical comedy, but also deliver funny lines, there was nothing left for me to do but bow down to this man’s greatness.

What didn’t I like?

Hollywood. A bit of a surprise, actually, that a film that takes place at a Hollywood studio has little to no star power. The cast of Bonanza makes a passing cameo, but that’s it. Now, it should be said that this doesn’t take place at a real studio, but they could have still made for some interesting situations to have a John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, etc. show up, or a character that is based on them.

Music. As I mentioned earlier, there are stretches in the film where there is no music. I’m not talking about scenes where Lewis is doing his thing, but, for example, where he is driving through the lot. It seems to me that rather than having painful silence (possible film pops in the original version, but we don’t get that anymore, unfortunately, thanks to the restoration process), some light traveling music, if you will, would have worked much better. Maybe I just need to get over my not liking silence, though.

Little Clown. There was this really cute with a little clown hand puppet that brought the film back up when it seemed as if it was going nowhere. A little while later in the same storeroom, or whatever that was, the little clown was nowhere to be seen, but a southern talking puppet replaced him. The gag of someone back there using these things to talk to Lewis’ character is great, don’t get me wrong, but two things kept going through my head. Who and why were they doing this? Unless I missed something, this was never answered either.

Talking to some of my friends  that are more familiar with the works of Jerry Lewis than I am, they all said that The Errand Boy is probably one of the best films to introduce the audience to his works. Will this be the start of many more Lewis films that I watch? If they all are as manic and entertaining as this, then yes. I found myself smiling at nearly everything about this film. The few complaints that I have are minor and I really am questioning why I didn’t watch this when it was on TV the other day. Do I recommend this film? Yes, emphatically so! If for nothing else than to see what comedy is without all the raunchiness it has devolved into these days. Give it a shot, why don’t you?

5 out of 5 stars

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