Cracking Up (Jerry Lewis / U.S., 1983):
(Smorgasbord)

The camera is kept below the neck as a figure ponders a suitcase full of suicide paraphernalia; the noose implodes the building and a shotgun discharges at a TV set, which shoots back. The deconstruction of the gags is august, purified -- Jerry Lewis slips and slides on a squeaky red floor for the credits, hat tipped for Tati (vinyl furniture engulfs him) plus Marcel Marceau (who "sings" the main title theme), the tumult of the world summed up in the hermetic office/studio. Jerry lies on a couch to declare himself a pathological misfit to psychiatrist Herb Edelman, from a lineage of klutzes stretching to 15th-century France, his ancestor's babbling choked by the sight of Francine York's corseted cleavage before employing off-screen space to build a water-closet in about a flat minute. Back in the present, Lewis signs up with an anti-smoking program, getting belted by Dick Butkus whenever a cigarette gets lit; one punch sends him sailing across the floor, legs akimbo for the Godardian freeze-frame and intertitle ("Make a wish"). The museum passage, to be appropriately modulated into animation twenty years later in Joe Dante's Looney Tunes masterpiece, contemplates the highbrow and (as opposite to or) the lowbrow, a bank robbery triggers a Michael Kidd number for the surveillance camera ("New York, New York" as instrumental brassiness), and Jerry is propelled into the skies and shticky, parallel incarnations as Himalayan guru and Southern-fried copper. The open structure reaches back to The Bellboy, though the redoubtable airplane sequence ("I think I'll have the non-toxic lunch") shows the auteur beating his Zucker-Abraham-Zucker pupils at their own game. Still, filmmaking to Lewis is above all an art with friends -- Milton Berle in drag and huskily dubbed, Zane Buzby's sublimely droning waitress, Sammy Davis, Jr. lingering for the outtakes. A twilight Smorgasbord, serenely avant-garde, and the culmination of the development of Lewis' cinematic language, capped formidably by a cyclical reversal of cosmic order: the universe turns back to chaos as man at last reaches enlightenment. With Foster Brooks, and Buddy Lester.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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