Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960)


(director/writer: Jerry Lewis; cinematographer: Haskell Boggs; editor: Stanley E. Johnson; music: Walter Scharf; cast: Jerry Lewis (Stanley/Himself), Alex Gerry (Manager), Bill Richmond (Stan Laurel), Bob Clayton (Bell Captain), Jack Kruschen (Paramount Executive) ; Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Lewis; Paramount; 1960)

“Jerry at his rawest and most creative.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Jerry Lewis’s debut as director. He creates an experimental film with “no story, no plot” that consists of vignettes that end with a blackout, each getting seemingly stranger than the other. It’s about the misadventures of a bumbling bellboy, in the ritzy Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, named Stanley (Jerry Lewis). The bellboy is named in honor of Stan Laurel, the director’s friend and idol. There are cameos by Milton Berle and Walter Winchell. It’s Jerry at his rawest and most creative, taking risks that for the most part work and dazzling us with some perfectly timed sight gags while under restraint from his usual frantic antics. Maybe the reason I liked Jerry so much here is because his bellboy character remained mute throughout most of the film. Jerry claimed the black-and-white film, made in 28 days for a modest budget, came about because Paramount needed a summer-release in a hurry. The film turned out to be an enormous box office hit enabling Jerry to continue directing his own films.

An actor pretending to be the producer of Paramount announces this as a silly film based on the diary of a nutty bellboy and that it merely exists for the audience’s enjoyment. Walter Winchell follows with a narration. Then there’s the marvelously funny lobby scene of at least 20 bellboys in line waiting orders from the bellhop captain (Bob Clayton, Miami TV news and weather guy) and are so anonymous that no one is sure whom he is summoning as they eagerly step forward only to hastily retreat in line and go through repeating that reaction numerous times. Stanley whistles while he works and loves his job even though the other bellboys, most of whom are grown men but are still called ‘boy,’ can’t imagine why he would like such a menial job. Eager to please his bosses, who take advantage by having him do various extra-curricula tasks without him complaining, as Stanley is seen lugging a heavy car engine up to a guest’s room, he alone sets up theater seats in a huge hall for the showing of a movie and does it in a matter of minutes, and is asked to rush to the airport to retrieve an important guest’s briefcase left in the cockpit and then decides to takes the plane on a joyride–departing heroically to a throng of silent bystanders. Jerry plays himself as a movie star visiting the hotel with his large entourage and acting self-important, delivering as Stanley a message to Milton Berle who freaks out later when the real Jerry appears, and there are a few homage pantomime skits with Bill Richmond playing Stan Laurel (almost a complete look-alike). Other funny bits include an overweight dieter finishing her hotel visit slimmed down only to have Stanley deliver her candy before she leaves and she regains all the weight she lost, Stanley conducting an orchestra with no one in the hall, and Stanley detrimentally using his flashbulb camera just when golfer Dr. Cary Middlecoff is about to putt for a shot that will determine if he wins the tournament.

It’s goofy, irreverent and anarchistic, a salute to the pantomime comedy of Chaplin, Keaton and Tati but also shows that Jerry can make a film that’s not sugary and sentimental–one that has a bite and puts him up there in the stratosphere with the greats of comedy. Jerry’s bellhop is a grown-up with a child’s innocence, who aims to please but can’t get his act together to act like an adult as he veers between being the dedicated and mischievous employee. Watching this post-Dean Martin comedy, has me thinking maybe the Parisians who worship his films really have something in calling him an auteur; that is, if this is a true sample of his work.