The Nutty Professor 50th Anniversary
Blu-ray Boxed Set
Friars Club Event
[color=rgb(128,0,0);]by Ronald Epstein[/color]
As I sit here and begin to write this Blu-ray review and talk about my experience last evening with Jerry Lewis at the infamous Friar's Club in New York city, I am finding myself still in a state of total elation. Growing up as a child, Jerry Lewis was my idol. I watched his films several times over -- and then some more -- through those childhood years and now as an adult. For me, Jerry Lewis is a comic mastermind who relied on the classic sight gags of the silent film era to keep his audiences howling in delight in film after film.
I will talk about my evening with Mr. Lewis (as well as provide some photos and videos) in just a few moments. First, I want to talk about Warner's new 4-disc release of The Nutty Professor that has just arrived in a deluxe boxed set edition filled with content personally compiled with the help of Mr. Lewis himself.
(Photo courtesy of HTF member Reed Grele)
Only 18 minutes into The Nutty Professor, and I was already laughing aloud at the multitude of sight gags that Lewis created for that film. From the first discovery of Professor Kelp beneath a door, or his attempts to balance himself with a thin booklet placed upon a sinking couch seat -- watching all of this unfold before you, one can't help but think of Lewis' genius of making audiences laugh without uttering a single word. The gags in this film are so brilliantly conceived and executed, that they are just as funny now as they were 51 years ago.
The Blu-ray transfer is quite nice, looking more detailed than ever before, though a bit on the soft side, with evidence of grain still intact. Listening to Mr. Lewis on the film's commentary (which I will talk about shortly), you find that he was very much in tune with the colors he wanted to use for the film. All of that beautiful technicolor imagery is vividly displayed throughout this transfer with excellent color permeation. In particular, I loved the motif used for "The Purple Pit" night club with its befittingly colored back wall that pops with intensity. It's no wonder that scene looks as good as it does, as Mr. Lewis used 5x the normal light output to enhance that purple color. In all, this is a rather satisfying Blu-ray experience, though for some reason it looks a tad compressed.
The Nutty Professor defaults to 5.1 DTS-MA audio, though there is the option to play it in mono. I found the 5.1 experience to be nothing more than passable. Dialogue and most of the film's effect elements are squarely delegated to the center channel while the fronts are more heavy with the music score, which seeps more silently through the rear channels. In no means was this mix considered to be an aggressively immersive listening experience.
For those of you, like myself, who have seen The Nutty Professor countless times, I would recommend watching this presentation with the accompanying lively commentary by Mr. Lewis and Steve Lawrence. There are no dull moments to be heard, as Mr. Lewis (prompted by Mr. Lawrence) gives detailed recollections of every scene and the aspects behind creating the comic moments and lensing it for the screen. He admits that the production department often didn't understand his jokes on paper, but Mr. Lewis readily admits he had it all planned out perfectly in his head and was able to translate it to them. In a scene that takes place in the gym early on in the film (look for a quick cameo of a young Richard "Jaws" Kiel), Jerry explains how a sight gag involving pulling ropes put him in the hospital for several hours, and for which he still suffers from pain today.
(Photo courtesy of HTF member Reed Grele)
When Warner Bros. initially announced the release of this boxed set last February, listing its included contents, members of Home Theater Forum almost unanimously came to the conclusion that this was the first "intelligent" boxed set offering from a studio known to pack cheap "trinkets" into similar ultra-expensive offerings. Here was a Collector's Edition truly designed with the collector in mind. If you are a fan of Jerry and this film, this is a treasure chest brimming with valuable content. I have had the opportunity to look through this content and would like to make some brief mentions of each...
* No Apologies is a brand-new HD feature that features live-audience content shot at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, but more importantly, shows Jerry Lewis behind-the-scenes at work, discussing his partnership with Dean Martin, and talking in-depth about how The Nutty Professor was conceived and lensed. (approx. 20 minutes)
* The Nutty Professor: Perfecting the Formula seems to be SD content ported over from a previous release and features a very plump Jerry Lewis looking back on the film. It features some storyboards, bloopers and interview clips with Stella Stevens. (approx.15 minutes)
* Jerry Lewis At Work begins with one of Jerry's most iconic moments (heading up a boardroom) from The Errand Boy. Mr. Lewis explains how he joins the ranks of "greats" known to be the most difficult and demanding people to work for (with good reason). Author James Neibaur gives a history of Mr. Lewis at work, mostly concentrating on films, The Delicate Delinquent and Cinderfella. Most surprising for me was Jerry's idolizing of comic Stan Laurel, and how he attempted to bring him over as an comic editor for his film company. There are some rare home movies included in this documentary. (approx. 30 minutes)
* Various Deleted Scenes which include Professor Kelp picking bowling balls and mistakingly reaching for a kid's head (looks rather unconvincing) as well as a rather funny cameo sequence with Gary Lewis who gets ID'd by bartender Buddy Lester.
* Various Bloopers and TV Promo sequences with Jerry and Stella Stevens.
* Jerry at Movieland Wax Museum footage taken shortly after the release of the film, with commentary by Son Chris Lewis
* Early Screen tests of Jerry Lewis (in primitive Kelp makeup) and Del Moore, as well as an excised sequence of Kelp calling his father
* Original Film Trailer
* Cinderfella on DVD with Bloopers and commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
* Errand Boy on DVD with Bloopers, Promo Spots, Theatrical Trailer and Select Scene Commentary by Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence
For the past day I have been listening to the audio CD of Phoney Phone Calls recorded by Jerry Lewis between 1952-1972. Many of these calls were staged by Mr. Lewis during down time between takes on various films he was doing. Others seem to have been done in front of a live audience. There are a total of 12 different tracks, and I think you'll be surprised by how funny and inventive (totally improved) these calls are.
Rounding out the wealth of extras in this boxed set are three publications. The first is a 48-Page Storybook book. Second, is a 44-Page Cutting Script complete with Jerry's personal notes. Lastly, you'll find the recreated "Being A Person" book. It's 96 pages of drawing and quotes inspired/written by Jerry Lewis and drawn by his personal illustrator. It was originally distributed to members of the cast of The Nutty Professor when the director heard of general conflicts among the crew.
The Paramount licensing deal with Warner Bros. has proven to be a huge benefit for collector's everywhere when treated with such a wonderful Collector's Edition as this one. No cheap trinkets. No box of junk. Simply one of the greatest comedies ever made and a wealth of intelligent material geared towards those of us that love Jerry Lewis and his work. This will probably be one of the best releases of the year.
The Friars Club Event 6/5/14
To repeat myself from the start of this article....Jerry Lewis is my childhood idol. It has been a life-long dream to personally meet Mr. Lewis and I always felt that dream would never be realized, given the fact that time was, perhaps, running out.
To have received a special invite from Warner Bros. to the Friars Club this week was that dream nearly coming true. To even step foot into the legendary Friars club, where so much comic history has taken place, was overwhelming enough. I was led up a long, elegant circular flight of stairs to the third floor where I entered a very small room with Jerry's special chair (which he bought himself as a gift for his 87th birthday) and a microphone. I was one of about a dozen people within this setting that would have the opportunity to photograph and interview Mr. Lewis.
I felt my heart seemingly stop at I looked to my side and saw Jerry being walked down the hall towards our room. "Oh my God, that's him!" immediately went through my mind. My childhood hero was a mere couple feet away from me, as he sat in his chair and addressed the line of photographers and press. Former CNN talk-show host, Larry King, was several steps behind.
We were told in advance that Jerry has difficulty with his hearing. That was apparent throughout our interview. However, it was also very clear that he was still sharp as a knife and had his wits about him.
Jerry Lewis: On The State of Comedy Today
Jerry Lewis: Phony Phone Calls
Jerry Lewis: On The Carol Burnett Show
Where Did You Get The Idea For The Nutty Professor?
(Ron Epstein asks question at 1:16 thanks to BroadwayShowBiz.com for footage)