I’ll be damned, it’s a Jerry Lewis movie I could tolerate.
In this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde parody, Lewis plays “Julius Kelp”, a nerdy, clumsy college professor of chemistry. When one of the football stars stuffs him into a locker – and he is rescued by another of his students, the pretty Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) – Kelp resolves to Improve Himself so he can fight back. But when his initial plan to join a gym doesn’t pan out, he decides to tackle the problem chemically, devising a tonic that instantly transforms him into a suave ladies’ man with a better haircut, better teeth, and a boost of confidence. Or, rather, a boost of ego.
In this new guise, Kelp presents himself as “Buddy Love” and starts hanging around the night club frequented by students, bossing around the bartenders and commandeering the piano. He also aggressively pursues Purdy, who is strangely attracted to him despite finding him rude, conceited and lecherous. Also he has a strange habit of running away unexpectedly (the effects of Kelp’s tonic are temporary and this is the only way he can think to cope when they wear off). Purdy keeps pining for Kelp – but the rest of the students become fans of “Buddy Love,” pressuring the Dean (Del Moore) to invite Love to perform at the student prom – the same prom at which Kelp will be serving as chaperone. Now what?….
In my last review of a Jerry Lewis film, I lamented that there was no plot as such – it was just Jerry Lewis Doing Stuff. This is more like it – this has a plot. It’s a ridiculous plot, and there are holes you can drive a truck through, but there’s still much more of a framework story to hang Jerry Lewis’ schtick onto. That alone was a vast improvement for me. But even better – Lewis isn’t playing another screaming, mugging manchild like he did in both The Ladies Man or Artists And Models, which was honestly a relief. He takes on two different characters instead – both larger-than-life caricatures, to be fair, but both also blessedly different. Kelp’s original persona is even a bit….likeable. “Buddy Love,” by contrast, was almost aggressively boorish – but he was supposed to be; he’s supposed to be Kelp’s unbridled id in a sense.
There was one unfortunate side effect to Buddy Love’s persona – this film came out shortly after Lewis had a contentious split with his creative partner Dean Martin, and many people (myself included) suspected that Lewis was basing his “Buddy Love” persona on Martin himself. Lewis insisted repeatedly that this was not the case, however; it was instead a reflection of Lewis’ own “bad boy” side. And now that I think about it – Martin’s own suave ladies-man persona was more a construct of their films, one that Martin ultimately came to resent, and now I’m wondering how much of a hand Lewis had in those characterizations as well.