Those who have eagerly awaited some of Jerry Lewis' post-Dean Martin classics being released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time will have a special Valentine courtesy of Olive Films as 1958's "The Geisha Boy," 1958's "Rock-a-Bye Baby" and 1965's "Boeing Boeing" get a 2/14/12 release. It's hard to imagine that these films have not been made available on DVD prior to now! Of course, Lewis still remains a love it or loathe it proposition for many modern era film goers--but there is no denying his legacy and impact on the contemporary comedy scene. Oftentimes content to play the fool, Lewis displayed an innocent appeal on-screen that engaged a sense of silliness in us all. But he had genuine heart too, and his good-natured screen persona created some indelibly beloved characters that stand in contrast to his more complicated personal life. These films are an interesting cross section of Lewis' film catalogue as we see him doing what he does best but bringing additional elements of seriousness to the table. Made of a certain time and place, these films offer great nostalgia value for those that love Lewis--but also an opportunity for new viewers to discover Lewis in his prime.
"Rock-a-Bye Baby" provides Lewis with some of his more inspired and insane comedy bits. Were it content to be just slapstick silliness, it might be one of my favorites but (like The Geisha Boy) the film is also filled with its share of smaltzy sentimentalism. These lightweight concoctions want to tug on your heartstrings, but (in my opinion) rarely develop anything quite real enough in characters or plotting to really engage my emotions. Taking its original idea from Preston Sturges' classic screwball romp "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" and then stripping away every element of that film's story to make a zany Lewis vehicle--this one is highlighted by Lewis hamming it up with three infants. Lewis plays a small town schlub whose former flame (a solid Marilyn Maxwell) becomes a big movie star. When finding herself in "trouble," she resorts to Lewis as a baby surrogate so that the triplets don't end her blossoming career and reputation. Put Lewis together with the babies and you've got comic mayhem.
Some of the wackier bits involve Jerry overacting a storm inside a broken television, a rock and roll contest of lunatic proportions, and (of course) a perpetually sleepy Lewis trying to attend to the multiple nocturnal needs of the infants. In addition to the unrequited love that Lewis displays for Maxwell, there's a secondary love story featuring her younger sister (an early Connie Stevens). Add in a few irresistible musical interludes, and the film has a little something for everyone. But make no mistake. As always, the primary draw is to see Lewis play the lovable clown. I don't know that in the slapstick shenanigans he breaks much new ground, but he's certainly committed to the lunacy. Suitable for family viewing, I know many people who think this is one of his best. KGHarris, 12/11.