For Reel

Which Way to the Front? (1970)
March 27, 2016, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jerry Lewis
3 Stars
Which Way to the FrontIn the decade between The Bellboy and Which Way to the Front?, Jerry Lewis directed a film almost every year (in addition to starring in other films, like those of Frank Tashlin) and was on a career high after his unceremonious split with Dean Martin. Depending on who you ask, those ten years are either a remarkable feat of sustained brilliance or a blight on screen comedy. Detractors of Lewis would do well to steer clear of Which Way to the Front?—the humor plays as even more desperate than usual, with Lewis’ performance as Kesselring insisting upon thirty minutes of sustained yelling. And yet the picture also contains many of the idiosyncrasies that make Lewis a unique figure in not only 1960s comedy, but screen comedy in general. Somehow, Lewis bridges the gap between his fascination with consumerism and the second World War—in the film, he plays Brendan Byers II, a playboy who volunteers for the army before being classified as 4-F. His rejection sends him into catatonic fits, and to the supercapitalist his participation in the war becomes a commodity valued higher than any other. Whereas Chaplin and Lubitsch made their Nazi parodies as the war was unfolding, Lewis’ satire involves setting the war in 1960s America (the title card reading 1943 plays like a gag), where civilians claw to be made pawns in a political context. Furthermore, that a group of rejects ultimately kills Hitler not only predates Tarantino’s fantasy in Inglourious Basterds, but puts a ribbon on what Lewis was after with the final scene of The Bellboy—he appeals to the underestimated working man, who has the potential to contribute brilliance if only his voice is heard.

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