The Errand Boy (Jerry Lewis / U.S., 1961):

The skeleton of Hollywood, half fakery and half magic. "What's your pleasure?" Financial concerns at Paramutual Pictures, the honcho (Brian Donlevy) needs an efficiency-expert stooge and spots one from his window, pasting up a billboard for the "Directed by Jerry Lewis" card. The lad from New Jersey bursts into the conference room, is knighted gofer and scampers off to take the medium apart and show you the pieces. Lewis' hunt for the absolute gag pushes on—some lead to expected resolutions (the door that mustn't be slammed is slammed), others are set up so the punchlines flutter away like butterflies (the slapstick threat of an enormous jar of jellybeans carried up and down a wobbly ladder). The spazz swept into the screen, the modernist's nostalgia (Godard's Une Femme est une Femme), "it doesn't pay much, but at least the hours are lousy." He takes over a flapper's number with his sing-along squawk, and spoils dailies by meeting the camera's eye in the middle of a deep-focus soiree. (As the Teutonic auteurs witnessing the wrecking of their mise en scène, Fritz Feld and Sig Ruman present impassive and hysterical versions of the reaction shot.) Sycophants and starlets and dummies and assorted clock-punchers, pull the string on the Samson painting and the temple comes crashing down. Singin' in the Rain for the dubbing joke (and there's Kathleen Freeman emitting electronic squeaks after riding through a car wash in a convertible), Fellini in Intervista remembers the beam of light beckoning the hero to a premiere. "You liked what you believed," or is it vice versa? Communication and drowning as art's opposite poles, so it goes with Lewis' limpid formalism: Room for the twinkling bathos of fantoches, then a closing reminder that the search for comedy is the search for the self. With Howard McNear, Kenneth McDonald, Dick Wesson, Renée Taylor, Felicia Atkins, and Del Moore. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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