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This two DVD set contains severely edited episodes from The Jerry Lewis show, an hour long variety show that ran on NBC, from 1967 through 1969. Although it would be preferable to have complete unedited episodes, having this material available for the first time in decades, is still a plus for Lewis fans.
Though he may be more known today, for his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association(MDA), Jerry Lewis was one of the brightest stars in comedy during the 50's and 60's, and is one of the few legends from the golden age of Hollywood, still with us. Lewis and partner Dean Martin, rose to stardom in the 50's with a string of hit buddy comedies, with Jerry, the string bean thin goofball, serving as the foil, to the handsome, suave Martin. After the pair split up, Lewis was hugely successful in vehicles that showcased his madcap comedic style. By 1967, Lewis's feature film career had slowed a bit, and this would also be the year he would begin doing the MDA telethon. At the time, many stars, including Jerry's old partner Dean Martin, were hosting variety shows. So Jerry's foray into the arena, was not particularly unusual.
The Jerry Lewis Show consisted of comedy sketches, and musical and dance numbers. As the episodes in this collection run around 22 to 25 minutes long, about half of each episode's content has been cut, including most of music and dance numbers. What typically remains, are a couple of sketches, featuring Jerry and his guest(s) that week. While hardy the best situation, watching Jerry interact with various guest stars, is still interesting and fun. Featured are personal friends, past co-stars, and a cross section of stars from the era. Lewis might have been difficult to work with, but there isn't much evidence of that here, as almost everyone seems to be having a good time.
Janet Leigh, co-starred with Jerry in several films, and seems very well acquainted with his antics, in a sketch where the pair are explorers trapped inside an Egyptian tomb. Jerry does some pretty impressive physical comedy, impersonating a ventriloquist dummy, in a sketch with Ben Gazarra and Henry Corden. Sexy Barbara Feldon, has suicidal thoughts, in a sketch featuring Jerry as the Chicken Yum Yum delivery man. Representative of the kind of musical/comedy numbers that were left out, is a sketch with a western theme, featuring Joey Heatherton and Laurence Harvey. It's too bad, there isn't more like this. Pantomime is a lost art these days, but something that Lewis had a flair for, and incorporated into his comedy. Featured are a version of Jerry's classic typewriter bit, as well as some other Lewis performances.
Playing wacky characters is an integral part of Lewis's comedic style, and numerous personalities from his films are adapted for the TV series. One of Jerry's most successful characters, is based on his Professor Julius Kelp persona, from the Nutty Professor. This character makes several appearances, with one of the funniest, being a sketch involving Jerry as a kleptomaniac. Lewis's career was built on outrageous, bumbling, goofy shtick, however that kind of excess really does not play well, for a man in his 40's. But Jerry being Jerry, he still tries to make it work. His character Sidney Portnoy, incorporates many of these goofy traits, and most of the sketches featuring Sidney are not very good. Don Rickles usually kills, but his appearance as Sidney's cousin is a flop. Jerry gets into some questionable areas, as when he plays the heavily stereotyped Asian police inspector, Sam Lichee. The writing often comes up short. A spoof of Bonnie and Clyde, with Jerry and Audrey Meadows is a miss. A sketch in a haunted mansion, with Frank Gorshin playing an assortment of ghouls appears to have promise, but ultimately flops.
While not all of the over five hours of material is hilarious, it does provide an interesting look at the past. The incomplete episodes are a disappointment, but image and sound quality are excellent, for a program forty years old. The only extras are a pretty extensive photo gallery with captioned photos, (hope you are a fast reader!), and a set of six collectable cards.
Jerry Lewis is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but he was a huge influence in comedy. That Lewis is not more well- known, is probably due in part, to the fact that many of his films are either discontinued on DVD, or have not yet been released on DVD. A few years ago, many of Lewis's classic films finally found their way to DVD. Hopefully someone is working on getting the remainder of Jerry's catalog released as well. This would include Boeing Boeing, Way Way Out, Three On a Couch, The Big Mouth, The Geisha Boy, Hook Line and Sinker, and Which Way To The Front, just to name a few. It is really quite remarkable how badly Lewis's work has been neglected.