Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Cinderfella: Too Much Lewis

WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS! “Cinderfella” (1960), a gender reversal version of the classic fairytale, has the distinction of being the only Jerry Lewis film I’ve seen. As a child, I thought the movie was a lot of fun; as an adult, I notice the lows more than the highs. Dealing with the positives first: Judith Anderson. From her first scene to the last, she is a model of controlled acting and a welcome contrast to Lewis, whose constant mugging and spastic movements are all over the board.

Her slight redemption at the end is touching and one of my favorite moments of the movie.

The gorgeous Anna Maria Alberghetti. She is luminous and yet completely natural as the Princess. I found myself wanting to know more about her character and what would make her choose a complete goofball like Lewis. Even though he is obnoxious as hell, she makes you believe that she has fallen for him.

What can be said about Count Basie?

As the bandstand set rotates, it is hard not be impressed by its size AND the incredible music that Basie bestows upon the production. I give credit to Lewis on the selection of music for the film, as it truly elevates the entertainment value.

On the negative side, we are forced to endure watching Lewis’ overdone mugging to enjoy many of these musical gems.

Lewis attempts throughout to make us believe he is unintentionally hilarious AND a tragic melancholy victim. He fails at both.

Comic bits that start out as amusing quickly descend into a journey of boredom, continuing on way too long.

As the Producer, it seems like Lewis couldn’t make the tough decision of editing down his own performance into something that would have held the patron’s attention better.

Because he plays a blundering fool for the majority of the movie, his sudden change into a quiet and brooding romantic lead at the picture’s end is extremely jarring.

What makes it so sad is that there is so much to love here. Visually, it is a feast of color and composition. Lewis’ entrance to the ball, which is the perfect pairing of comedy and dance:

Anna Maria’s dance with Lewis; she is so good in this number that I am able to ignore Lewis, as he shamelessly attempts to steal the scene from her with his momentary body spasms that he felt added comic value.

The famous clock at midnight:

The race to get home before the transformation is completed:

I am not sure that the kids of today would be able to enjoy this movie as much as I did in my childhood, since their attention spans seem to be even shorter. As an adult, it falls into the “almost” category for me.

Interesting trivia about the film; this movie used the Chartwell Mansion in Bel-Air two years before it become famous as the Clampett residence in “The Beverly Hillbillies”:

Norman Rockwell created the art for the film’s publicity:

The art shows Ed Wynn as the Fairy Godfather (another gender reversal). On one hand, it feels like there is too little of Wynn, On the other, his style and Lewis’ feels like overload to me. Not a good pairing. The three-sheet poster which used Rockwell’s illustration: 

See more vintage movie and television photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

It's refreshing to hear someone say that finally. I haven't seen a Jerry Lewis movie since the 70s but I always for call people gushing about how funny he was, not the least of which was Jerry himself gushing about how funny he was. Personally, I never really got it. I'm not a fan of Jim Carrey's spastic characters either but at least he pulled off 5% more humor than Jerry did. It's a shame to see what happens when an ego and its power get larger than common sense. A comparable Talent of the time, Don Knotts had a much better grasp on playing a wacky character yet returning to a grounded person when the scene required it.

Daveland said...

Good comparison! Knotts in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” is one of my favorites.

Nanook said...

What a great comparison, indeed. A quote that so brilliantly sums-up Jerry Lewis is, from none-other than Moe Howard (of Three Stooges fame)... "If Jerry Lewis wasn't so egotistical, I'd say he was a great comic". To which Tom Bergeron replied: "There are a lot of people who agree with you on that point". Regrettably, yes; Lewis was his own best audience.

Dave, thanks for this great series of images. Back in 1960, the film was most-likely shot with Eastman 5250 Fine Grain Color Negative film; and then released by Technicolor, using dye-transfer prints. Presume these images are from the negative, rather than any release print. In spite of a [somewhat] long history of projecting films (in a former lifetime), I am continually amazed at the beauty of the image harvests we have today in the form of Blu-ray & UHD "prints" - almost all taken from something other than Technicolor IB prints - which audiences would have seen in the original run of each film.

What would now be considered non-PC was the industries name for skin tones back in the days of Technicolor - whether originated with a 3-strip Technicolor camera, or Eastman Monopack... "Technicolor tan".

Daveland said...

Nanook - You just can't argue with Moe! The images in the post are screen grabs from the DVD, which really begs for Paramount to do a good restoration for Blu-ray/UHD!

DBenson said...

There's an interesting commentary on this and other Lewis DVDs, usually Lewis teamed with Steve Lawrence for some reason. One of the stories: "Cinderella" was made to be a big Christmas release, but Paramount suddenly had a hole in their summer release schedule and wanted to move it up. Instead, Lewis knocked out "The Bellhop" in a few weeks to keep "Cinderella" a Christmas release.

Lewis really wants you to notice how hard he's working on all fronts. It's not always funny but it is always fascinating, like big old musicals with dazzling numbers tied together by worthless "book" scenes. Wonder if his idol/mentor Stan Laurel ever cautioned him on it -- Stan and Ollie were highly precise performers, but everything looked whimsically accidental. The skill and hard work were concealed; you believed it when they took forever to just get hats on their heads.

It's a standard thing for comedians to present themselves as pitiful, not realizing how incredibly wonderful they are. Chaplin himself dabbled in it. Lewis wallowed. In "The Errand Boy", "The Patsy" and "The Stooge", Lewis plays a Comic Genius who doesn't know he's a Comic Genius; other characters have to make speeches about it. With Dean Martin, there were multiple stories hinging on Dino finally realizing he didn't deserve a buddy so wonderful as Jerry; that relationship overshadows the obligatory girlfriends one or both may have. "The Ladies' Man" is a variation where a houseful of beautiful girls must learn they've taken dear, indispensable Jerry for granted. And "Cinderella" is ultimately about the stepmother picking the wrong boy to win the princess, not seeing that Jerry is really the lovable one.

Don Knotts was a comic actor as opposed to a clown. Give him a decent script and he'll give you a better-than-decent performance; he was there to serve the story, even if the story was a paper-thin vehicle for him. Interesting to watch him when paired with Tim Conway, a clown and clever improviser for whom scripts were secondary. They made it work somehow, with Knotts's comic but grounded characters giving Conway something to hang on to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Dave.

I guess I'm like you, I thought Lewis was funny when I was young, and completely unwatchable now that I'm not young.

I'll take Don Knotts and Tim Conway together or separately, any day over Jerry Lewis.

Thanks also to the other commenters, much appreciated.


Daveland said...

I really need to get out my "Mr. Limpet" DVD and watch it again! Glad to know I'm not alone in my opinion on Lewis.

DBenson - I had listened to the commentary; couldn't figure out why Steve Lawrence was on there, too, but it was still enjoyable to listen to, other than Lewis droning on about how wonderful he was.