THE BELLBOY


It’s impossible to categorize Jerry Lewis’s movies, and that’s why it’s
always been hard for critics to appreciate him — or even to see his
work for what it is. It has roots in vaudeville and silent film and
circus clowning, and owes much to the antic, animation-inspired cinema of Frank
Tashlin, who directed some of Lewis’s early films, but the influences
are all mixed up in an eccentric blend that has no obvious continuity with any cinematic tradition. He was a genuine radical whose popularity kept his films free from the
controls of corporate Hollywood and gave him the opportunity to follow
his instincts wherever they happened to lead him.  There’s a
resulting lack of discipline in his movies that makes them disconcerting on an
intellectual, aesthetic level — unless, like the French, you find
their conceptual incoherence intellectually and aesthetically
satisfying.



The Bellboy, the first film he directed, remains
unsettling a quarter century after it was made. It embodies a unique
sensibility unmodulated by the cinematic conventions of its day, or
ours. It’s best viewed and enjoyed as a critique of those conventions,
spiced with moments of hilarious visual and verbal comedy — and as the
debut of the most original provocateur ever to function within the nominal
boundaries of the Hollywood mainstream.

2 thoughts on “THE BELLBOY

  1. Excellent appreciation of a badly under-appreciated (in some quarters) filmmaker. I too have a high regard for 'The Bellboy', but I'm intrigued by your use of the word 'unsettling' with regard to it. Why 'unsettling'?
    Terrific blog, by the way!

  2. It's just a question of aesthetic queasiness, I guess — a result of the film's refusal to settle into any conventional form . . . much like the films of Godard ( who was a great admirer of Lewis, as I'm sure you know.)

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