The Nutty Professor (1963 & 1996)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in One-Man Show | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: The tame original has mild sexual content, while the riley remake has swearing, crude humor, and a bit more sexual content.

A short time after Joseph Levitch (Jerry Lewis) and Dino Crocetti (Dean Martin) met in the 1940s, they developed a highly popular stand-up act and toured nightclubs nationwide. The duo branched out in the decade that followed, making 16 movies together. When the 60s rolled around and the group split up, one looked to concentrate on music and the other on directing. Many believe Lewis’ double-headed role in The Nutty Professor sought to prove that he no longer needed Dean Martin and could make a successful film by himself. As we should have already known, he was right.

In this split-personality flick, Nutty3Lewis plays Professor Julius Kelp, a four-eyed, buck-toothed, squeaky voiced, clumsy scientist, who is always saying the wrong thing (“Just don’t do something, sit there”) and enrages the school administration (Del Moore) with his experiments. Growing tired of being pushed around and unnoticed by sexy student Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), Kelp invents a potion that will create an attractive alter ego. After his colorful transformation we get a first-person shot as Kelp staggers past the stunned public. We don’t know what to think until we see the sharp-looking, cigarette-toting swooner named Buddy Love. He’s a self-proclaimed “world’s greatest everything” who will beat up a barroom brawler and seamlessly check his hair to make sure he’s not all mussed up. He’s also rude and crass, asking Ms. Purdy to “wipe the lipstick off and let’s get started.” After singing tunes like That Old Black Magic, I’m in the Mood for Love, and A World That Swings, Love doesn’t seem an imitation of Martin, but of fellow Rat Packer Frank Sinatra. The charade all leads to a senior prom, where both Kelp and Love are expected to attend.

Lewis tried to revive the classic personalities for many years – rumors of an animated sequel are still out there – and it finally arrived 30 years later with director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty) and star Eddie Murphy. Murphy plays Professor Sherman Klump, a nerdy looking but extremely intelligent scientist specializing in DNA and genetics. Klump gets similar harassment from the administration (Larry Miller) and transforms into the confident and egomaniacal Buddy. This time the loveable and meek scientist changes not only his personality, but also his rotund body type (requiring computer effects).

Ms. Purdy is back, this time as anNutty2 interim professor (Jada Pinkett Smith) instead of a pig-tailed blonde student. The original’s Purdy said she didn’t care about looks, but the sly ending seems to suggest otherwise. The remake has a much more endearing female character that sees Klump for his intelligence and inner beauty, though he cannot. The parents in the remake provide a similar improvement. “We’re not all supposed to be the same size; we’re supposed to be different,” Papa Klump says. “Like Oprah, she’s losing all that weight but there was nothing wrong with her. She was fine; Oprah was a fox.” Trying to one-up Lewis, Murphy not only plays Klump and Buddy, but his “fab-a-luss” mother, father, brother, and granny – not to mention a Richard Simmons character (“I’m a pony”). Though Murphy earned a Golden Globe nomination for the incarnations, Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson’s Oscar-winning make-up deserves at least some of the credit. These brief scenes put Murphy’s comic skills to the test and seem to be a physical re-creation of his stand-up routines in Delirious. Much of the dialogue in these scenes is raunchy, low-brow humor (farts, poop, sex, fat), but it’s extremely funny. So much so that they stretched it into a feature-length sequel (The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) with fewer laughs and Janet Jackson as a love interest.

While the remake presents similar modern-day surroundings (a nightclub with Dave Chappelle), the original encapsulates the “swinging 60s,” where everyone wore bright-colored suits (designed by Edith Head), spoke a specific lingo that included “gas, too much, pad, dig, and wild,” and often gathered at swinging hot spots where swingers could smoke, drink, make out, and dance. The humor of the original includes far more slapstick gags (like Pink Panther honcho Blake Edwards) than verbal wit (like The Lady Eve honcho Preston Sturges). People get hit by doors, a marching band plays when Kelp opens his watch, Kelp gets injured during a workout, others get injured when he goes bowling without glasses, a meeting between Buddy and the school dean leads to theatrics, Kelp dancing at prom attracts attention, Kelp fails to sneak in the hallway, and (my favorite) Kelp enjoys the soothing sounds of hangover.

Lewis and Bill Richmond wrote the film as a parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Richmond also helped out with Lewis gems such as The Ladies Man, The Errand Boy, and The Patsy (Cinderfella and The Stooge are also enjoyable), but none have stood the test of time as well as The Nutty Professor, in which Lewis acts as director, producer, writer, and star. Despite the commercial success of his films, no other actor/director has seen such critical divide as Lewis. While American critics labeled him an idiot, European auteurists voiced nothing but praise. “French critics see more in Lewis than mere comedy,” wrote Andrew Sarris, “… the French are confusing talent with genius.” Though the dialogue is poorly recorded and plot is a bit flimsy, The Nutty Professor is entertaining and underrated. In 2004, more than 40 years after its release, American critics finally caved as the National Film Registry selected it for preservation in the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Nowadays kids will recognize Lewis as “that telethon guy” or maybe will see a resemblance to Hank Azaria’s Professor Frink on The Simpsons, but hopefully time will treat Lewis as well as it did Chaplin and Keaton.

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