For Reel

Who’s Minding the Store? (1963)
January 13, 2016, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Tashlin
4.5 Stars
Who's Minding the Store?In a scene from Frank Tashlin’s Who’s Minding the Store?, an unsuspecting Jerry Lewis waits behind a department store counter as he hears a faint rumbling that grows steadily in volume. Tashlin cuts between the vacant hallways and Lewis’ confused mugging as he anticipates the worst. Finally, a parade of female consumers charges through the doors, taking both everything off the racks and stripping Lewis of his own clothes. This scene is an appropriate point-of-entry in discussing both Lewis and Tashlin, utilizing their combined fascination with how consumption habits have a dehumanizing effect. Look for more evidence in the brilliant finale (an echo of this earlier scene) in which Lewis wrestles with a vacuum cleaner run amuck, literally consuming anything within reach. Ironically, Who’s Minding the Store? was partly financed by lucrative product placement deals, anticipating today’s trends of both lampooning this type of advertising while simultaneously benefiting from it (Tashlin’s method is less narcissistic than the way product placement is used for laughs in contemporary films such as The Night Before). If the film is largely overlooked due to the fact that it was released the same year as Lewis’ oft-touted classic The Nutty Professor, it is nonetheless a masterpiece of this type of transgressive comedy, distinguished by both the imaginative gags (including the aforementioned vacuum setpiece) and the talented supporting cast. As Lewis’ object of interest, Jill St. John excels as a woman who both challenges gender roles and uses her sexuality to motivate Lewis at every opportunity.

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