Three on a Couch (1966):

All of Jerry Lewis' films are forms of self-therapy, so it follows logically to set his slapstick carnage down psychoanalysis lane. Jerry is an artist who, commissioned to paint a mural (in Paris, natch), has to find a way to take his psychiatrist fiancée (Janet Leigh) along, since she's stuck with three female patients reeling from imploded relationships. Taking his pal's (James Best) advice that a man's love is the best cure, Lewis sets out to romance the three cuties through assorted disguises -- a fitness nut for spunky athlete Mary Ann Mobley, a cigar-gnawing Wyoming rancher for cowboy-infatuated foreign chick Gila Golan, and a nerdy insectologist for Southern Belle Leslie Parrish. The tension between Self and Other, which in The Family Jewels already splintered the Lewis persona into no less than seven shards, returns with milder results here, both Lewis' first effort away from Paramount Studios and the first film in which he received no writing credit (the script is by Bob Ross and Samuel A. Taylor). Leigh bears the blunt of the gray-whiskered sentiments (Best early on enlightens her character on the choice of being either "a woman or a doctor"), and the skittery masquerades (including the inevitable butch drag twirl as the bug-snatcher's sister) are less interesting than Lewis' "straight" role, which evokes the auteur's own splenetic self hopscotching between the elusiveness of order (a gliding dancing interlude) and the lure of chaos (a kaleidoscopically anxious office party where a deluge of guests keeps flooding out of elevators). In fact, Lewis' laborious steering of the women could stand for the filmmaker's comment on the essentially manipulative nature of the artist, a control that extends from the performers to the Tashlin-suffused studio lighting. With Kathleen Freeman, Fritz Feld, and Buddy Lester.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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