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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just saw the Jerry Lewis movie "Hardly Working." I must saw, I was
completely floored. I was instantly reminded of Chaplin's "Limelight."
Some would say this is an outrageous comparison, but I don't think so.
They are both films wherein great aging clowns take a bitter and
poignant look at themselves, and at their lives spent as clowns in the
midst of a changing audience and landscape.
Lewis' film is an abject fantasy about what would happen if he could no longer be a clown. Here is a middle-aged man who has spent his whole life as a clown, and realizes he has no other skills, there is nothing else he can do. So he takes a bunch of odd jobs where he enacts the clown role by default, hilariously causing havoc and chaos everywhere he goes.
But the genius in the film comes from its "serious" parts. The way he cries when he finds out that he lost his job as a clown, his depression when humiliated by his brother-in-law or mean bosses, etc. There is a strange spirit of defiant anger that runs throughout, from the grotesque depictions of people in the world and their banality and small-mindedness, to Lewis' occasional bouts of defiance towards authority figures. It's all about how humiliating and absurd it is to live in the world and have a job, and about all the little moments that make life unbearable.
In this world of unspeakable awkwardness and grotesqueness, women and girls are his allies, and boys and men his enemies. Women and girls laugh at his jokes, seek to help him, find him endearing, and want to grow up to be like him, whereas men and boys find him to be a pathetic loser and try to oust him at every turn. From the young son of the woman he's dating ("You're happy to see HIM??") to his sister's husband, to his many bosses, males are out to get him, threatened by his affinity with women and animals and jealous of his ability to evade the rules.
When he finally quits his job at the post office (it's the only job he can hold; as one of the character states, "no one loses a civil service job unless he wants to"), it's because he has been asked to "take care of" some rabbits that have ended up in the post office, ostensibly by destroying them. The film thus begins with an act in which his partner is a kitten, and ends with him rescuing rabbits.
In one strange scene in the film, he suddenly stops being klutzy and does everything right when he is being watched by a superintendent. Before this he could not touch anything without making it fall over, now he is perfectly in command of himself. There are more "serious" moments, such as when he is gracious and adult when evaluating the performance of his boss. The tables have now turned. Instead of being the lowest scum of the earth, kicked around by everybody, he is now his own boss. And he proves it by delivering the mail dressed as a clown, freeing the rabbits, and quitting his job.
The film ends with him going back to being a clown, and his journey into the abject world of random jobs remains as a dream, a nightmare. It's as if his perfect performance at his job at the post office was a way of suddenly saying, "All right, the farce is over now. I'm really a professional clown, I'm Jerry Lewis, I'm a physical comedian with full control over my faculties, see, I can do this job if I want to." It's like that moment in the dream where you are just about to wake up, or that moment when the actor takes off his makeup and reveals himself to the audience as his true self. But in this case he is taking off one kind of makeup the clown he's playing in the film, which is a "non-clown" who's a regular personand putting on another kind of makeup, his "literal" clown makeup, in which he can finally be himselfJerry Lewis!
So we have to wonder: who is Jerry Lewis? Is it the actor-writer-director Jerry Lewis we are looking at, or are we simply watching a character in a movie? We see both at once, and that's the genius of the movie. It's an actor watching himself, watching his whole career and also watching the end of a career. As in the move "Limelight," the wrenching sadness we feel is in knowing the history of his earlier work, and how the ugliness of the world he is depicting is a world in which he can no longer thrive, as a clown from another era who is losing his audience to newer tastes, younger entertainers.
Some of the sight gags in the movie are brilliant and get quite surreal, as in one where he delivers mail to a Goodyear blimp and ends up taking the blimp for a ride, and another where a housewife offers him a beer and the Clydesdale-drawn Budweiser truck drives by and tosses him a six-pack. But in spite of its rampant silliness, the movie is strangely subversive and sad, and is Jerry Lewis' comic and reflective tribute to his own brilliant career.
I saw this when it was first released, in a theater filled to the gills
with rabid Jerry Lewis fans (of which I am one) who were all ecstatic
to be seeing a new Jerry Lewis movie after all those years. The opening
montage of scenes from his earlier films was greeted with cheers, and
this giddy enthusiasm carried over for the rest of the film. (The donut
scene was a particular favorite--everybody there totally "got" it.)
Good spirits and joyous Jerry Lewis fandom abounded in that theater
that night, and I had a wonderful time.
Whenever I see this movie now, I recall the feelings I had when I first saw it that night. Maybe you had to see it in that context and that frame of mind to truly enjoy it. Anyway, I'm still a huge Jerry Lewis fan as I have been all my life, and I enjoy all of his movies from the highs of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES MAN to the lows of WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT? and HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER. Now if I could just see THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, my life would be complete.
I saw it as a kid and I have fond memories of it. I was 12 years old at the time and it fit perfectly into my world at that moment in my life. Things were so simple at that age and there was no major reality that I had to deal with; the movie was perfectly tuned for an adolescent! I won't watch it again as I may change my mind.
Auteur Jerry Lewis does it all. He plays inept Bo Hooper haplessly
from job to job. Lewis' sense of timing as a director is phenomenally
The scenes of Lewis' fussing with the donuts, the wacky "my ring is caught
in your mesh" gag, and the lumbering appearance of the Budweiser
are the three longest and most drawn-out scenes in "comedy"
Director Lewis is trying to give us time to savor our laughter; it really isn't necessary.
I absolutely dare you to watch this movie from start to finish. So bad it changes your concept of space and time. Then again, if you like seeing Jerry with big fake teeth pretending to be a wild Japanese cook at Benihana's, then you might genuinely like this movie. If so, shame on you. Absolutely awful.
I've never been lucky enough to see Lewis' legendary "The Day The Clown Cried", so this one will have to do as the worst movie I've ever seen.
First off, don't watch this expecting it to be "INSERT OVERRATED CLASSIC HERE." Having said that-- This movie marks the return of a basically decade-long absence of Jerry Lewis from the big screen. The only problem I really have with the movie is the cheap, late 1970's look to it, which you can get past. There were tons of moments that made me laugh out loud. It's just Jerry Lewis goofing around. If you like him, you'll probably like this, if not then don't bother. A good film overall though and makes for a pleasant viewing experience compared to almost anything today's movies have to offer. This movie sadly isn't on DVD, but if you get ahold of it, it's a nice movie that the whole family can enjoy.
Hardly Working (1980)
1/2 (out of 4)
Bo Hooper (Jerry Lewis) is a life long clown who finds himself out of work after the circus goes out of business. He ends up moving in with his sister and brother-in-law until he can find a job. He's able to get one job after another but he is quickly fired because he just isn't too bright. He eventually lands a job at the post office but his boss (Roger C. Carmel) hates him and that hatred grows even stronger when the boss finds out that Bo is dating his daughter (Susan Oliver).
HARDLY WORKING turned out to be the first Jerry Lewis film in a decade because THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED ended up never getting released. This "comeback" film had all sorts of problems including the production being shut down for several months because not enough money could be raised. The result on film is pretty bad on a number of levels but one of the biggest is the fact that the comedy just doesn't have many laughs that actually work. The production issues also how because the first half dealing with the brother-in-law is completely missing in the second half.
The first portion of the movie is basically just one poor skit after another. We see Lewis attempting to do various jobs with all of them ending in disaster. This includes one sequence involving him working at a gas station where he ends up destroying a car. The second portion of the movie gets away from the skit platform and deals with the romance with the girl. The problem is that these two different types of movies don't mix well together but the bigger issue is the fact that there aren't many laughs. The comedy is very forced but the direction by Lewis is less than impressive.
Roger Ebert really trashed this movie and called it one of the worst American films he ever saw. I wouldn't go that far but there's no question that Lewis was trying to recapture a former magic and it just doesn't work. The start of HARDLY WORKING has clips from previous Lewis movies as if he was trying to show people how funny he was at one time. Sadly there are very few laughs here and in the end it's quite forgettable and rather sad.
Circus Clown Bo Hooper knows no 'normal' jobs and finds himself out of
work when the small circus he works for shuts down in mid season. With
that as a premise, all his failures since being out-of-work make sense.
He's totally and completely lost. The story does end happily in spite
of all the obstacles as he finally sees light at the end of the tunnel.
One of the things that made this enjoyable to me was that Bo's first failure, at the gas station, involved two people who are related to his final boss.
This movie is enhanced by the fact that Jerry Lewis 'plays it straight'. He makes no funny noises or funny faces and all the mishaps are believable with the premise that he knows NOTHING about regular jobs in the real world.
This Jerry Lewis project does not ring with the sound of success. This film
is way below the high standards that the legendary star/director has set for
comedy flicks. The plot is quite simple and most of the sight gags are over
done. A bumbling idiot has trouble keeping a job. He has tried being a
circus clown, gas station attendant and even delivering the U.S. Mail.
Unlucky in the working world, but lucky in love. Go figure.
Also in the cast are Susan Oliver, Harold Stone and Stephen Baccus.
Until MASTER OF DISGUISE, HARDLY WORKING was the worst comedy I had ever seen. In fact, I think MOD may have been a remake of HW. I eagerly went to see this in a theater upon its initial release, thinking it would be a return to form for the master comic. Man, was I ever wrong! Painful to watch, embarassing to contemplate. Watch it on a double-bill with MOD. And then be prepared to commit suicide from sheer despair.
Watch this one only its first five minutes, a fast-paced and genuinely funny montage of clips from Lewis's earlier comedies. Then, if you dare, settle back and get ready for a jaw-dropping compendium of unfunny gags, rip-offs from earlier movies (an entire set-up is lifted from Lewis's The Bellboy), and product placement ads galore.
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