Image Credit: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett CollectionMy first reaction to this morning’s news that a trio of classic Jerry Lewis comedies is being remade was: Yesss! Then, after a while, my brain started downshifting to Oh Nooo! You see, I’m a huge Jerry Lewis freak. And no, I’m not French. If you’ve never seen Lewis’ manic and masterful string of comedies for Paramount in the ’60s, then you might have a hard time buying into my belief that the guy is a flat-out genius. But these movies weren’t just hilarious showcases for his unleashed man-child pratfalls, deadpans, and doubletakes (there’d be no such thing as Jim Carrey without him), they were the work of an unsung and hugely influential director behind the camera. His daredevil technical trickery has influenced countless directors — not for nothing is there a framed letter from Steven Spielberg framed on the wall of Lewis’ Las Vegas office.
For the record, the three movies being remade are 1960’s The Bellboy, 1960’s Cinderfella, and 1965’s The Family Jewels (see clips below). And, as far as I’m concerned, the first two are untouchable. As happy as I am to see the 84-year-old getting some overdue love and recognition, I’m concerned that these remakes will tarnish fans’ memories of the originals. Then again, I remember thinking the same thing when Eddie Murphy remade 1963’s The Nutty Professor … and that one turned out alright.
Or did it? Back in January of 2009, I interviewed Lewis just as he was about to receive an honorary Oscar. He was thrilled, especially since the Academy had never given him his due over the years. But his feelings were also a little more complicated than that: “It’s about f—ing time” were his exact words. After a while, I asked him about Murphy’s 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor and I was surprised to hear his review.
After calling Murphy “one of the five funniest men in the world,” Lewis revealed that he wasn’t a huge fan of the remake. “When he had to do fart jokes, he lost me,” Lewis said. “As a matter of fact, I told his editor, If he wants any more from me on a creative level, tell him to pull the whole sequence.” Lewis continued: “What I did was perfect. And all you’re going to do is diminish that perfection by letting someone else do it. I won’t go through it again.”
Now, nearly two years later, Lewis does appear to be willing to go through it again. Back in 2009, the deals for the remake rights to The Bellboy, Cinderfella, and The Family Jewels were already in the works. Despite his unhappiness with The Nutty Professor, Lewis was intrigued about getting back into the fray, especially since Will and Grace‘s Sean Hayes was attached to Cinderfella (he thinks Hayes, who played him in a TV movie, was “brilliant”). But Lewis said he would only agree to the re-dos on his terms. “The deal you make, you just have to put it on paper. When it’s on paper, it’s protected like the Holy f—ing Grail!”
So, you might be wondering, why did Lewis finally decide to return to the belly of the beast? Well, for starters, I’m sure he’s flattered. Never underestimate the ego of a man who’s basically demanded creative control in front of and behind the camera throughout his entire career. Secondly, I think he cares deeply about his legacy — and remaking three of the films from his most fertile period will keep his name and legacy alive to a new generation in much the same way Murphy did with The Nutty Professor. All of which is fine. After all, they’re his films to do with what he wants, not ours. All I ask is that Hollywood handle these gems with care. They mean an awful lot to some of us.
What do you think?