The Big Mouth (1967):

After getting handed a map from the dying mobster he's literally reeled in, vacationing schmo Jerry Lewis runs amok in Sea World, with a bunch of diamond smugglers on his ass. Spazzing professors, Fu Manchu masterminds and context-free cameos (Col. Sanders?) follow, yet Lewis the auteur keeps the comedy in a continuous state of breakdown -- indeed, with its insistent fragmentation, water imagery, and purposely maladroit staging, the picture could be a Yank cousin to Godard's Pierrot le Fou. Also like that film, Lewis seems intent on harpooning the narrative: gags stretch like taffy, the simplest of transitions is made to glare, and characters freeze into tableau vivant so a lawyerly narrator (last seen scampering off in his undies) can explain plot points. Accordingly, a pervasive bleakness ("nobody cares") hangs over the proceedings, so that Lewis' gangling schmuck, who has trouble crossing the lawn without getting nearly drowned by sprinklers, is always one step away from hysteria. Whether undermining the validity of tough-guy machismo (one hood regresses into a canine state, while Lewis favorite Buddy Lester's speech crumbles to garbled mumbling) or linking Jerry's spastics to Kabuki (both equally rigorous manipulations of reality), the movie is often brilliantly unfunny -- elaborate unfunniness has always been an integral part of Lewis' modernism. Ultimately too uneven and underdeveloped, it nevertheless boasts at least one fascinating concept near the end, with Lewis pulling a primeval doppelganger out of the ocean, a sinister self that, shot and torpedoed, refuses to vanish. With Susan Bay, Harold Stone, Del Moore, Leonard Stone, and Charlie Callas.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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