The Nutty Professor (1963)

The Nutty Professor (1963) ⭐️⭐️

DirectorJerry Lewis Cast: Jerry LewisStella StevensDel Moore 

I had vague memories of this film from watching it a veeeeery long time ago when I was a kid… and I have to confess I remember liking it. Then of course came the remake with Eddie Murphy and the common response to that was “what a terrible film” and “what an insult to the original”, which obviously cemented the idea in people’s consciousness that the Jerry Lewis version from 1963 was comedy gold. Well, I’ve got to tell you: the truth is so far from it!The story is obviously a take on “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, nerdy looking and bullied chemistry professor invents a potion that transforms him into a completely different person with no inhibition, a deep good signing voice and acting “cool” like no others… Or at least that’s what the film thinks.

The fact that this is written and directed by Jerry Lewis probably tells a lot more about the man himself than any of his other films (unfortunately he wasn’t known as a kind and nice man, despite the persona he was putting across his films).He clearly thinks himself as a strikingly good looking and cool man, because that’s the part he’s playing. When he walks down the streets people stop and look at him as if they saw a God! All a bit weird. He sort of pulls it off because he’s a good actor, but to be honest when you stop and think about it for half a second you cannot avoid thinking how ludicrous it al lis. But more important, watching a professor trying to seduce one of his students, behaving like a womaniser (and a bully too) and telling girls they don’t need to study is not just very uncomfortable with today’s sensitivity, but actually rather creepy and ultimately not that funny.

The film half redeems itself at the very end when Jerry Lewis basically makes a speech apologising for behaving so badly… However after that he does end up marrying the above-mentioned student, so clearly it doesn’t even understand how wrong that was. Of course, this is 1963 and it was a different time, so let’s just try no go beyond that and beyond the fact that it is a pretty slow one too. There are a few amusing scenes in the first half of the film (mainly dealing with the “nutty professor”) but just not enough to make up for the creepy shamefulness that it the rest of the the film in my humble opinion.

One of the few saving graces is Jerry Lewis who despite being hateful as the “cool” one is actually really good at playing the two sides of his character: that scene at the end where the effects of the potions run out and he slowly morphs in front of a crowd from one to the other as he’s making his speech, shows some real acting skills. That scene and those few amusing bits at the start just barely lift this to 2 stars, having said that I wound NOT recommend this to anyone with young kids. Never before my wife and I were so close to turning this off.

It shows how memories of something from childhood can be deceiving.

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