Back in the Sixties, during his most radical phase, Jean-Luc Godard said
that Jerry Lewis was the only director making progressive movies in
America. Lewis’s work was so strange and subversive that even now it’s
hard to assess it — though one can trace its influence clearly in the
work of Godard, Coppola, Scorsese, Wes Anderson and (perhaps
indirectly) Charlie Kauffman.
The Ladies Man, the second film he
directed, from 1961, is vintage Lewis — a discombobulating blend of
brilliant sight gags, hilarious vaudeville routines, dumb mugging,
cartoonish action and deeply surreal deconstructions of the Hollywood
studio style. Lewis doesn’t make me laugh very often, but when he does,
I laugh really hard. What’s important about his work, though, is its
radical assault on cinematic convention — which still seems brazen
and/or lunatic, depending on your point of view. You might not like his
work — you might even hate it — but if you love movies you need to
come to grips with it.