The Adam Sandler brand of dumb comedy is widely viewed (by cinephiles) as a plague on contemporary movie culture. However, after watching Jerry Lewis "The Nutty Professor", I can confidently say that there has been and always will be an audience for that kind of humour. It's a sad truth but thankfully, smart comedy is also still being made. Of course, silly humour can be satisfying when done right, but usually the jokes are so broad that it eventually outstays its welcome. In the case of "The Nutty Professor", it's most definitely the latter.
You're probably already familiar with the plot of this film, due to the 1996 Eddie Murphy remake. If you've managed to avoid it however, then here's a quick rundown. The title character (played by Jerry Lewis) is a nerdy professor who is clumsy and socially inept. He gets no respect from his students and his love life is non-existent. After being locked up in a closet by a bully one day, he's aided by a kind, attractive woman from his class (Stella Purdy, played by Stella Stevens). Smitten by her obvious interest, he begins to wonder what it would be like to be her man. Unfortunately, he feels unworthy of her so he uses his brains to devise a solution. He ends up creating a potion that will transform him into a smooth, confident stud. There's one big side effect though. His alter-ego Buddy Love is an arrogant jerk. As you can probably tell, the film aims to send the message that inner beauty is what matters. Unfortunately, the film compromises that message by some curious filmmaking choices throughout.
Firstly, Lewis' performance as the professor is grossly extreme. We're meant to root for him but he's made out to be such a complete (and often annoying) dope, that it's hard to attach yourself to the character. In fact, I'd prefer to be around Buddy Love, flaws and all. Still, even that character has its issues, which relates to my other major complaint - the writing.
The writing certainly leaves a lot to be desired, mainly due to some troublingly archaic representations of male-female relationships. In particular, the first meeting between Stella and Buddy is bizarre. She's a headstrong girl who clearly isn't flattered by his courtship, but she still manages to end that night cooped up with him some dark, lonely hideout! As I mentioned earlier with regards to the professor, the film's characterizations are very broad and hence, Buddy is played as quite the obnoxious creep. I swear, if it weren't for the Motion Picture Production Code, I would have been worried that a rape was about to occur. In the context of this patriarchal world though, it seems quite normal for a girl to submit herself completely to the domineering man. Perhaps I'm applying too much of a modern perspective, but it's something that really irked me thoughought (even in her relationship with the professor).
Great comedies tend to reveal some amusing truths about human behaviour and society (even at their most slapstick). Sadly, this film is too far removed from reality to realize its full potential. Jerry Lewis is clearly a talented physical comedian, but the nonsensical material he gave himself (he's the co-writer) does him a great disservice. This professor is definitely nutty, but he's also a bit unbearable. Clearly, the film has failed its purpose. The remake is better. There, I said it.