The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis / U.S., 1960):

The Total Film-Maker as humble servant, which is the joke. "A visual diary of a few weeks in the life of a real nut," extols the studio honcho who admires silliness, and there's the Miami Beach hotel like a vast laboratory. Jerry Lewis in Fontainebleau uniform rattles in the swanky cavern, just one among the crew's "unsung heroes" riding the sustained stream of sweet surrealism. The Volkswagen engine delivered to the guest's room leaves a greasy mark on the creamy door, the misplaced menagerie of pets is replaced handily at the dog track, and so it goes. Elevators like trap doors plus the ringing mockery of telephones, kooks and "ornery creatures" all over the place, still he whistles while he works. Under the aegis of Tashlin and Tati, "a film based on fun" and a foundational work of Catskills illusionism. (Hillbilly vaudevillians are recognized as kin avant-gardists, The Novelites perform "Alabama Jubilee" in a magical interlude.) Camera tricks (a vacant cafeteria counter abruptly occupied, mid-gesture, via jump-cut) and camera angles (the venerable clown car is a limousine), doppelgängers and facsimiles: Milton Berle goes from cardboard cutout to irritated guest-star to fellow bellhop, the wandering spirit of Stan Laurel turns up in the bottom of the pool. Ford is said to edit footage by placing his hand over the lens, Lewis demonstrates with a widescreen full of half-dressed beauties. Magritte's apple is invisible but scarcely silent, a photographer's flash turns night into day, "take the sun whenever they give it to us." A couple of sequences illuminate the Lewis approach: The classical bust molded into a modernist grotesque (cp. Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.) and the maestro's baton in the empty spotlight, pantomime being after all its own symphony. Bonbons for the dieting matron, waxed floors for the eager newlywed, wrong keys for everyone. "There is no story, but there is a moral," Brooks in Silent Movie heeds it. Cinematography by Haskell Boggs. With Alex Gerry, Bob Clayton, Larry Best, Jack Kruschen, and Bill Richmond. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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