For Reel

The Ladies Man (1961)
January 13, 2016, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jerry Lewis
4 Stars
The Ladies ManMilltown is introduced as “a very nervous little community” in the opening scene of The Ladies Man, quickly followed by a tracking shot of an older woman walking down an empty sidewalk. Suddenly, a man shouts her name and, having been startled, she screams and falls onto a drug store window, signaling the beginning of a Rube Goldberg-like descent into madness that brings the town into a complete frenzy. This sequence perfectly illustrates the manic tone of a typical Jerry Lewis vehicle–the ordinary is disturbed into an ever-escalating hysteria, with improbable events stacked upon each other in a pyramid of neuroses. When the formula works (as it does in The Ladies Man) it is something entirely unique, developing a rich comedic world as specific as those of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. Lewis’ personal rants about the lack of funny women in recent years has cast an eye towards his misogyny, and here is a film that fully considers the complexities of his relationship with women. A heartbreak sends his character into an adolescent state where he becomes catatonic around women. In one scene early on, Lewis throws a fit while sitting in a highchair and being handfed by a woman that could be his mother. As the film progresses, he must domesticate himself under the watchful eye of every feminine stereotype of the time, complete with a convincing Marilyn Monroe impersonator. The devolution into a psychic fantasy in the second half perhaps suggests a thinness in the script–Lewis is no stranger to sequences that play just a little too long, and many of these do. Regardless, The Ladies Man is fascinating throughout, and the dollhouse set is a masterpiece of scale and stylistic artifice, with the open fourth wall and empty mirror frames complicating notions of domesticity and performance.

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