2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, Disney's El Capitan Theatre
It was with anticipation and dread that I entered the El Capitan for a screening of The Nutty Professor (1963). The anticipation was because I was going to see a movie I hadn’t seen since I was a kid and never on the big screen. The dread was because Jerry Lewis is unpredictable in interviews and no one wants to see the clay feet of their idol. There was also some regret because I was missing Kim Novak introducing Bell, Book and Candle (1958) down the street at The Egyptian (damn it!).
As it happened, Jerry was affable, witty and more or less candid in his interview with Illeana Douglas. He spoke of how in the early days with Dean Martin, his character “The Idiot” wasn’t translating to the screen so he was afraid of holding back his partner. That bit of humility was stretching it but most of what he said rang true.
By 1963, Jerry Lewis was an established director. The saving grace of The Nutty Professor, for those not fond of “The Idiot,” is Jerry’s Buddy Love character, one of the greatest creations in movie history. Unlike the myopic Professor Kelp, pink-shirted Buddy is a finger poplin’, take charge kind of guy. I don’t believe he ever says “ring a ding ding,” but the riff on Frank Sinatra is unmistakable. Buddy is someone who always gets the girl or at the very least, some girl. In this case it’s co-ed Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), more vampy-looking than any girl I ever went to school with.