Saturday, April 4, 2009

Three On A Couch (1967, Jerry Lewis)



This was Lewis' first film with Columbia after a long and auteurist run with Paramount and although he directs and produces, the four cook screenwriting team spoils almost all fun. Jerry is the straight man who plays three underwhelming characters as plotting to seduce three beautiful psychiatry patients of his psychiatrist wife Janet Leigh into happiness so that she will come with him to Paris, because he's an artist. Sure enough, Lewis' buddy James Best hatches this koo-koo scheme over highballs and cigarettes. You know the mood: "I've got it, I've got it!! It's just crazy enough to work!" The dilution of Lewis to the needs of a cloyingly old fashioned and smarmy faux-hip comedy is pretty disappointing. All his movies need is to give him a job and have him do it zanily, not prop up a overly complicated "zany" script.

Identity mixups and disguises are some of the oldest scenarios in comedy. Sometimes psychotic characters who use such manipulations star in horror movies and thrillers. In Jerry Lewis' version of a glossy gentile studio comedy, his characterizations get the short stick while being used in a plot that uses the girls on the receiving end of the farce in the worst way. All the three girls "on the couch" really need is a dreamy guy to suit their gimmicky needs, and Jerry's straight man just happens to be willing to disguise himself three times and juggle dates like he's in an episode of Three's Company.

Kathleen Freeman is a bright spot from Lewis' Paramount days and helps alleviate the goings occasionally. Buddy Lester is "The Drunk" at the big set piece party where everyone who isn't supposed to be in the room together at once is. That's the disparity of comedic resources on hand.

Lewis' screwball auteur pieces had pathos instead of romantic comedy boilerplate, and even if Frank Tashlin hiccuped by giving Jerry a romantic costar once or twice, Jerry's persona driven vignettes still carried the film. Three On A Couch has none of those qualities and all the additional studio system meddling makes the "drama" as superficially cold as any romantic comedy today. When the cover is blown, there are no consequences to the emotional welfare of anyone or twists to the resolution afterwards. All is simply forgiven and reality resets itself, as if we had only given 22 minutes of our time to this nonsense rather than 109 minutes. James Best exists solely to get the ridiculous plot going and doesn't even end up with one of the three beautiful girls Lewis has been tricking. Why not? Would that have been too unbelievable?

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