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As some of you may be aware, I’m no longer that much of a fan of Jerry Lewis – though I did acquire the Paramount 10-disc set of his vehicles recently; growing up I watched a number of them (and also a lot of his teamings with Dean Martin) on Italian TV – and, not having checked out the latter in ages, I was wondering how they held up. Since I can easily lay my hands on the films released on DVD, I opted to give another look to one which, for some reason, has yet to appear on the format and which had certainly been among the first I became acquainted with all those years ago.
I’ve watched scores of films over the years set inside a circus (and should be getting to one more, THE BIG CIRCUS , presently); many comic stars had tried their hand at this exciting and evocative milieu – so it was natural for Lewis (and Martin) to get in on the act as well. Jerry, of course, wants to be a clown but has to go through the ropes first – therefore, we see him as a lion-tamer(!) and, with Martin in tow, sweeping the tents, washing the elephants and as an ice-cream vendor, etc. – inadvertently, he even does a tightrope routine on a bike(!). Soon enough, his antics are getting more laughs than those of the company’s star clown who, naturally, is jealous of all this attention – thus becoming mean in Jerry’s regard, and is generally so soused that he becomes unfit for work! Another clichéd turn-of-events is the fact that the circus (owned by Joanne Dru) would be impoverished if it weren’t for a star attraction in the form of trapeze artist Zsa Zsa Gabor; for this reason, she acts like a diva and, worse for Dru (who, surprise surprise, is attracted to Martin), holds him under her thumb! Helping Dru out is old-timer Wallace Ford – who purports to give the boys a hard time but, predictably, emerges to have a heart of gold underneath; also on hand are Sig Ruman as the veteran lion-tamer and Elsa Lanchester as The Bearded Lady!
Martin (and Lewis) gets to sing a couple of resistible tunes, one of them to a bunch of caged animals!; the soundtrack, then, includes his hit from the previous year “That’s Amore” (first heard in THE CADDY ) and the Paramount standard “Lover” (from the superb Maurice Chevalier/Jeanette MacDonald musical LOVE ME TONIGHT ). Anyway, at the bat of an eyelid, Lewis is awarded the spotlight of star clown (without having really demonstrated any outstanding comedic skills), while Martin – who introduces a spot of gambling to aid the circus – takes over the joint when Dru decides to call it a day. Eventually, Lewis and Martin also quarrel over the circus’ customary show at an orphanage – which Dru returns to compere…but, all’s well that ends well, as Dino has a change of heart and turns up to sing for the finale (following Jerry’s attempts to put a smile on a crippled girl’s face).
As can be seen, the formula is typical Martin & Lewis: songs, girls, sentiment and Lewis’ love-it-or-hate-it shtick; if anything, it’s certainly colorful and mildly entertaining along the way – but hardly a classic of screen comedy and, while clearly a popular title in the Lewis canon because he gets to don the clown make-up (the film, in fact, was re-issued in a shortened version entitled JERRICO, THE WONDER CLOWN!), not one of the better outings from the team.
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