Martin & Lewis Collection 2 standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 4 Old 03-11-08, 04:35 PM Thread Starter
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Martin & Lewis Collection 2 standard DVD review

I'm going to go out on a limb here and recommend this DVD collection but with a lot of provisos
and qualifications. It contains their last features as a team and if you have a lot of patience
and tolerance, you just might enjoy them as a group.

The movies contained in the box set are "Living it Up" (1954), "Artists and Models" (1955),
"You're Never Too Young" (1955), "Pardners" (1956) and their last team effort, "Hollywood or Bust"

I guess I'll give a little background on my knowledge of Dean Martin
and Jerry Lewis...

Their features as a team and as solo entertainers played constantly
in sydication in the sixties and seventies when I was an adolescent
and teenager. In fact, they were probably the most accessible
team outside of Abbott and Costello. The first thing I noticed was
that they were the first comedy team to work extensively in color.
Previous ones were primarily in black and white (Marx Bros., Ritz
Bros) although Abbott and Costello made two rare Super Cinecolor
movies and Hope and Crosby one Technicolor road film.

I was actually more familiar with Dean Martin since he had a popular
television variety show for a long time. It was the same act that
he used in Vegas with his Rat Pack. Dean didn't rehearse the show
and played it cold, improvising much of the time. He sang a few
songs and did comedy routines with buddies Frank Sinatra and
Sammie Davis Jr. and other guest stars. Dean chain smoked, had
a martini in his hand (actually apple juice) and pretended that
he was slightly intoxicated. He flirted with women and had a stylish
way of singing by dragging out some lyrics. Dean's act was a guy
who didn't take anything too seriously, right down to telling stage
hands to move the cue cards closer while he peformed.

I also saw a number of Dean's movies like "Rio Bravo", "Some Came
Running" and "Airport" and thought he was a pretty good actor.

My first exposure to Jerry Lewis were his later solo movies like
"Which Way to the Front" and I thought he was awful. Painfully
unfunny, desperately overacting and with a bizarre oily hairdo
that was about a decade out of place. Of course he did his
telethons which I couldn't sit through either although it was a worthy
cause. In interviews he was extremelly arrogant. The French thought
he was another Chaplin which mystified me.

Then I saw him in Scorsese's "King of Comedy" and thought
that he gave a very good performance. By curious coincidence,
a had a film collector friend that was selling the personal prints
of director Norman Taurog and he let me borrow them so I got
to see mint Technicolor copies of the Martin and Lewis films for
the first time in the eighties and I was pleasantly surprised that
I warmed up to them after seeing them in a row. The color was
real eye candy ("Glorious Technicolor") and Martin was pretty
amusing and gave some breather for Lewis's antics. Lewis was
inventive at times but best in small doses. There was some chemistry
between them which is interesting since they were an 'accidental'
comedy team. When Martin was an aspiring singer in night clubs
(Lou Costello helped sponsor him and paid for his nose job), he
met aspiring clown Lewis who acted as a heckler while Dino was
singing a song and the audience liked it. Then ended up teaming
and followed this act into features, first in black and white and then
in Technicolor.

One of the main reasons I recommend this collection are the visuals.
A number of them are in VistaVision which meant they turned the
camera on it's side and exposed an eight sprocket wide image.
Then they reduction printed it to standard 1.85 on vertical
Technicolor stock and the result was an image so sharp and
colorful it was almost other wordly. "Artists and Models" is the most
spectacular in this respect. You never saw so many glowing
primary colors.

Now you have to give some time to get used to Lewis's character.
In these films he has a short dry haircut (as opposed to the later
oily one) and acts like a 'boy-man' along the lines of Stan Laurel
and Lou Costello. The difference is, he adopts a weird voice for
this persona which is grating at first but once you become accustomed
to it, nutty. Part of the surreal appeal of this team is the strange
habits of moviemaking at the time. Since Dino was considered a
matinee star, they shaved off all of his body hair.
Hollywood did this with everyone who was a male sex symbol back then.
Lewis on the other hand was a clown so they left on his body hair
which was very disorienting. He often wore his wedding ring too
which made no sense. So you have an adult womanizer who
is hairless like an adolescent and a man who acts like an adolescent
but has a hairy chest and arms. Very strange to say the least.
(A footnote here...Sean Connery was the first male sex symbol
to refuse to shave his body hair off)

Regarding the features themselves, here are brief reviews.

"Pardners" is the weakest of the lot. It's a typical Western
spoof and mildly amusing but no big laughs.

"Artists and Models" is the funniest and may be their best movie.
It was directed by Frank Tashlin who was a former Warner Bros.
animator. When he moved into feature films, he basically made
live action cartoons. "The Girl Can't Help It" is probably the best
example of this. A completely off the wall spoof of Rock n' Roll.
He directs this movie in the same manner. Shirley MacLaine (Warren
Beatty's sister) co-stars in one of her first movie roles and she's very cute
and sexy. Since she was a dancer she gets to strut her stuff in
a few scenes and also show off her body. MacLaine could sing
("Sweet Charity") but is intentionally off key for laughs here.
The only problem with the film is it's much too long and has too
many plots going on simultaneously. It starts as a spoof of the
comic book industry and government investigations and
somehow ended up as a Cold War spoor with Russian spies.
Eva Gabor ("Green Acres") pops up as a femme fatale in the
latter part of the movie. It made me laugh and I had fun
watching it. The funniest gag was when Lewis pushes some
armored knight statues at the villains but rather
than fall on them, they walk down the stairs.

"Hollywood or Bust" was their last film but one of their best.
Even though they were barely on speaking terms by this point,
you can't tell in the performances. It's a nutty road movie with
the funniest bit of Dino singing a song while they travel across
America and there are starlets waving to him in skimpy outfits
on every location. The theme song works in the words "Cinerama" and
"VistaVision". At one point Dean and Jerry are running amok on
the Paramount lot and you'll see lots of plugs for VistaVision
on the walls of buildings and other inside joke gags. Lots of
cultural references in this title.

"You're Never Too Young" is really strange. Jerry disguises himself
as a little boy escaping from gangster Raymond Burr (Perry Mason)
who can barely keep from cracking up in some takes. At the girls
school that Dino teaches in (a laugh in itself) they do the old 'follow
me' bit and the girls try to mimic Jerry dancing. I did laugh out loud
at that rediculous, old hat schtick.

"Living it Up" is a remake of "Nothing Sacred" and an old cliched story
of someone who thinks they're dying but they're not. They even did
a Honeymooners episode with that plot. It's still pretty funny with
Dino as the most incompetent and lazy doctor you can imagine.
When he misdiagnoses Jerry with fatal radiation poisoning he
quirks "I shoulda paid more attention in class when I attended
medical school". Jerry asks him how he could be so inept and
graduate. "Who says I graduated?" asks Dino.
You get to see them running amok in New York of the fifties and it
was fun to see some of the location photography of the city back
then even though the interiors were sets in Hollywood.

Anyway, that's my review of this box set. If you're a fan of the team,
it's the best presentation out of seeing them on gigantic VistaVision screens
fifty years ago. If not or you're not familiar with them, start with "Artists and
Models" and "Hollywood or Bust" to see if you can handle Lewis's crazy antics and
Dean's laidback act and if you can, you'll have a good time. These films are very
'fifties' and play like a time capsule of the era which is fascinating by itself.

After their break up, Martin continued to play in light comedies and some dramas
along with a lot of television work. Lewis began directing his own films as a solo
act and some of the early ones were pretty good (i.e. "The Bellboy") but as time
went on he got increasingly indulgent and overacted to the point where they
were unwatchable. And he changed his hairdo as previously mentioned.
He tried a number of times to establish himself on his own
TV show but it didn't register with viewers. As I said, he was funniest in small
doses and needed someone to play off of, if not Dean then another straight man
which he never found. I guess Lewis's most notorious effort was the unfinished and
unreleased "The Day the Clown Died" which was about a clown who entertained
children on the way to the gas chamber in a Nazi concentration camp. I heard
rumors that a bootleg DVD was floating around but I've never come across it
personally. Lewis did his own slapstick pratfalls which caught up with him as
he aged and gave him excrutiating and chronic backpain which he took steroids
to alleviate which affected the way he looks now.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 03-13-08 at 10:49 AM.
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post #2 of 4 Old 03-11-08, 11:21 PM
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Re: Martin & Lewis Collection 2 standard DVD review


Thanks for the review. I find it interesting that I'm not the only one that was not a big fan of Lewis. I remember growing up and always hearing how great Martin & Lewis were. So I figured everyone was enamored with them. I never got it, did not find Lewis funny at all. Martin was great.

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post #3 of 4 Old 03-12-08, 02:35 AM
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Re: Martin & Lewis Collection 2 standard DVD review

This may be a set I will have to own. I remember back in the 60's myself... hardly ever missed one of their movies and always loved them. I remember these and the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope movies as well. For some reason I never got into the Abbott and Costello movies, but did watch a few.

Thanks for the review!

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post #4 of 4 Old 03-12-08, 03:43 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Martin & Lewis Collection 2 standard DVD review

Thank you. They used some of the writers from the Hope/Crosby road films for these features
which is why they have a similar structure and lots of inside Hollywood jokes and references.
For example, when Dean and Jerry are driving through Las Vegas in "Hollywood or Bust", they
pass a Casino advertising Martin and Lewis as the entertainers for that place.
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