For Reel

The Bellboy (1960)
March 27, 2016, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jerry Lewis
3.5 Stars
The BellboyJerry Lewis’ first film as a director begins with what feels like an apology from a phony Paramount executive, who explains that the film has a plotless nature and is simply a series of gags strung together. This explanation is a rare moment in Lewis’ filmography in which he attempts to explain his process to the audience and indulges the desire to defend his sensibilities—it is not just a preamble for the film to follow, but the marked birth of a new screen auteur. The Bellboy has the feel of flipping through a comedian’s notepad of half-sketched ideas, but it is peppered with a handful of wondrously surreal touches–a flashbulb that turns night into day; a restaurant window that looks out into a hotel swimming pool. Importantly, Lewis also plays with the medium of film itself as a means of setting up a joke. On more than one occasion, he uses offscreen space as a punchline. When the eponymous bellboy (Lewis) is tasked with setting up hundreds of chairs in a theater, it is accomplished in less than a minute. Later, he attempts to be seated at a restaurant, only to find a previously empty bar overcrowded in the time it took the camera to pan. Lewis’ genius involves this very play between his screen persona and the medium itself–as a comedian, Lewis is a performer who not only knows he’s being watched and laughed at, but one who knows the eccentricities of the framings and edits happening around him.

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