The Nutty Professor (1963):

The film’s centrality in the Jerry Lewis canon has less to do with its drudging semi-acceptance by American reviewers than with its pervasive prodding of self and performance, with incantatory cinema mechanisms evoking the tensions of the auteur’s psyche. The formalism is on right off the bat, chemicals mixed across the Paramount widescreen leading up to an explosion and the introduction of Lewis’ weakling larvae, Professor Kelp, the fallen door amid the rubble doubling as doormat -- or is it a coffin’s lid? The premier university doofus, strangled voice choked past buckteeth, he sinks into sofas and gets stuffed into closets until trying to bulk up at the gym, where the camera seizes a cause-and-effect gag around an unscrewed pulley station for a split-screen setup, without the split-screen. Lewis’ Tashlinesque distortions include supersonically squeaking shoes and a cut from a soft-focus Stella Stevens close-up to the writhing jazziness of The Purple Pit -- Mamoulian’s P.O.V. traveling shot is also here for the Jekyll & Hyde metamorphosis, though Lewis’ has always been his own most effective effect, and the rest of his mise-en-scène flows accordingly. Kelp’s lab cocktail unleashes gooey, malevolent hepcat Buddy Love, habitually seen as a Dino dig, yet closer to a one-man Rat Pack and, since crystallized, to Lewis’ surly, paradoxical id, arrested klutz and vengeful lounge lizard battling for illusory wholeness. "My poor dada," baby Lewis gurgles in his oversized crib as toady father cowers to hulking mother, but the matter is less Freudian than Faustian, of raging hipness at the cost of emotional truth -- a mask, to be dissolved before the faculty and the whole world at the prom dance, Lewis’ be-yourself confessional moments later tweaked by Stevens’ fadeout pocketing of two flasks of newly-bottled "Kool Tonic." Not as disjunctive as The Ladies’ Man and The Patsy, but still rich psych-thrashing from an obsessive artist who can’t resist literally stumbling onto his lens for the curtain call. With Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman, Med Flory, Norman Alden, Howard Morris, and Buddy Lester.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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