For, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: In my third year of reviewing movies for the Deseret News, Jerry Lewis’ final widely-released slapstick vehicle came to Salt Lake theaters. I reviewed later films in which Lewis made appearances, of course, but ‘Hardly Working’ was the only theatrical ‘Jerry Lewis Movie’ I was able to write about  (aside from a column in 2004 when a set of his older movies came to DVD). But don't look for it; that film has never been released on DVD. I have a column posted at the Deseret News about Lewis' death last weekend at age 91, and below is my ‘Hardly Working’ review, published April 4, 1981.

Jerry Lewis is on the big screen again, in his first new film in more than a decade.

And whether you look upon that as good or bad news reveals whether or not you are a Lewis fan.

But even the die-hard fans that stand at the front of the line on opening night will have to admit afterward that “Hardly Working” is not up to some of Lewis’ early efforts. On the other hand, neither is it as bad as his last few films.

“Typical” might be the best word to describe this lukewarm addition to the long string of Lewis farces. There are some guffaw-getting jokes, but the editing and direction aren’t tight enough, and that old Lewis pathos gets in the way too often. As a result, it drags between gags.

“Hardly Working” has Lewis as a circus clown who finds himself out of work when the Big Top folds. He goes to live with his sister (Susan Oliver, who also co-starred with Lewis in his 1965 film “The Disorderly Orderly”), her husband (Roger C. Carmel) and their precocious children while he tries job after job, looking for one that suits him.


              Jerry Lewis, center, in 'Hardly Working.'

In episodic fashion, Lewis bumbles his way from service-station attendant to disco dancer to glass-factory worker to curio-shop clerk to Japanese chef to bartender — all with predictably disastrous results. Then he seems to find his niche as a mailman, until he falls in love with the daughter (Dianne Lund) of his boss (Harold J. Stone, who worked with Lewis in 1967’s “The Big Mouth”).

Some of this is funny stuff: the scene in the curio shop and some of the service-station moments, as well as a couple of sight gags that deflate Carmel and Lewis’ fellow postal workers.

But “Hardly Working” has several things working against it. Not the least of which is Lewis himself, as director/co-writer.

Some (though decidedly not all) of Lewis’ worst, most self-indulgent films have been those he has directed himself. Trying for the Chaplin mold, Lewis added awkward, embarrassing moments of pathos to pictures like “The Patsy” and “The Nutty Professor,” which often overshadowed the many bright spots. Lewis-philes — and there are many — tend to overlook them, and in fact “The Nutty Professor” is thought to be his masterpiece.

But I much prefer the “straight” hilarity of such pictures as “The Errand Boy,” “The Bellboy,” “Don’t Give Up the Ship” and “The Disorderly Orderly.”

Two of those were directed by Lewis, but before 1963. After that, he seemed to hold the gags too long and often there were painfully slow moments. Overall, the films seemed to get progressively less funny, with “The Family Jewels,” “The Big Mouth,” “Three on a Couch,” “Which Way to the Front,” etc.

“Hardly Working” is more of a return to going for the laugh but some of the sight gags and reaction shots just seem to go on forever. And the finale seems pointless.


                     Jerry Lewis, 'Hardly Working'

Lewis may also have undercut his own intentions by using a pre-credits series of clips with some very funny sight gags from his early films. That is the funniest thing in the movie. The second funniest is a series of outtakes over the end credits (a la “Being There” and “Smokey and the Bandit II”).

There are some funny moments in the film but somehow the heavy, 55-year-old Lewis doing some of these dumb, silly things didn’t strike me as funny as the young, skinny Lewis doing the same. And it might not have been as obvious but for those pre-credits clips.

“Hardly Working” bills Lewis as “The Original Jerk” in the newspaper ads, and the comparison to Steve is an apt one. The silly “Wild and Craziness” of Martin has always seemed to me to be directly derived from Lewis.

“Hardly Working” was shot independently in Florida a couple of years ago, then released in Europe last year. Europeans, particularly the French, have always hailed Lewis as a modern-day Chaplin, and “Hardly Working” did great business over there.

Even more interesting will be two upcoming films that Lewis will act in, but not produce, write or direct. After shooting a serious film (that has comedy in it, of course) with Martin Scorsese that has Lewis taking second billing to co-star Robert De Niro (something called “The King of Comedy”), Lewis will star in an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s surrealistic novel “Slapstick.”

In the meantime, “Hardly Working” is OK family fare; Lewis has stuck to his clean formula shtick. So don’t worry about taking the little ones along.

Actually, you may just want to send them.