The Nutty Professor

The Nutty Professor

That old black magic has me in its spell…

Sorry, poster, but I’m going to reveal the middle of this picture. Really, to talk about Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor without mentioning the Hyde that Lewis’ Jekyll character Prof. Kelp becomes is to try and describe a donut without at all mentioning the hole in the middle; it’s just damn near impossible. Still, it’s not too much of a spoiler, since the film doesn’t entirely hinge on the reveal the way that surprises in films of today tend to do; once it is revealed that the dorky bucktoothed Prof. Kelp transforms into the smooth-talking, completely arrogant swinger Buddy Love, the film then begins to explore the dichotomy between the two characters, as well as mine humor from the situations where the line between Love and Kelp begins to blur, especially when Love begins to transform back into Kelp through his grating voice. In short, The Nutty Professor is admirable for exploring its concept and reaching the right conclusion with its plot, even if it means bringing to life by far one of the most (intentionally) annoying characters ever to grace the silver screen.

As mentioned, Lewis plays Professor Julius Kelp, who is in every single facet and feature the very personification of “nerd”, at least back how it was known in the 60s. After a brush encounter with one of the school’s football stars leaves him embarrassed, Kelp decides to try and beef himself up, which he admits was first out of revenge but is then mostly out of curiosity. To this end, he utilizes his knowledge of chemistry to invent a serum to change him physically, and anyone with even the barest knowledge of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can guess where this goes. Thankfully, The Nutty Professor doesn’t just phone itself in with its concept; it maintains integrity, which is a surprising thing for me to say after listening to Lewis’ obnoxious Kelp voice coming at me half the time. There is a decent exploration of the two personae Lewis takes on, especially with how they both relate to love interest Stella Purdy, a character that seems to exist solely as a romantic foil and excuse for actress Stella Stevens to look sultry and attractive, not to mention befuddled at the screwball antics of Kelp and that scoundrel, that rapscallion Buddy Love. Naturally, she is inexplicably attracted to both men, but only to Love of course because she is attracted to Kelp, even though literally anyone with a right mind would never be romantically attracted to the character of Julius Kelp, for reasons that are completely evident within five minutes of Lewis walking on screen, but I’ll let the film have its fun, I guess. This is supposed to be a comedy, of course, and while I garnered no such hilarity from the character of Kelp pretty much being Kelp, there were a few moments I did find pretty amusing, not to mention the complete scene-stealer that is the Buddy Love persona, no matter how despicably conceited he was.

While his brand of comedy may not necessarily be for me, I still found plenty to appreciate about Jerry Lewis and The Nutty Professor. It wasn’t over the top, but carefully measured instead, and too few films, especially comedies, go that route, so for that alone, this is one to nod your head in approval to. Hell, the ending speech alone is worth the rest of the film leading up to it, and I couldn’t help but smile after it was all over, even if I still didn’t believe Stevens’ character would seriously fall for a guy like this, even with the ending speech still in my head. I suspect this is on here mostly as representation for Jerry Lewis, in particular his solo career, as I have a Martin and Lewis film coming up soon that also made the list, but you know what; I’m okay with that for once. This was a nice little break up from all the drama that the list is saturated in, and that’d be my best advice; to use this as an intermediate film to help section off the films you see if you find yourself too heavy in drama and seriousness. It may not be that believable, but you’ll still smile after watching it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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One thought on “The Nutty Professor

  1. The part in the dean’s office goes on far too long.

    But, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would despite the fact that the whole professor/student relationship is a little creepy, too.

    For me, Lewis’s portrayal of Buddy Love is probably closer to the real Jerry Lewis than most of his other performances. It’s not as nuanced or as wrenching as what he does in The King of Comedy, but it’s in the ballpark in terms of quality.

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