'The Nutty Professor', or, The Strange Case of Dr. Kelp and Mr. Love

Jerry Lewis' update of the Jekyll and Hyde story into the case of a nerd and his stallion alter-ego is still excellent after 50 years.

The Nutty Professor,

Director: Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Kathleen Freeman, Med Flory, Norman Alden, Howard Morris
Cast: Jerry Lewis
Length: 397 minutes
Studio: Paramount
Year: 1963
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
US Release date: 2014-06-03

In the current film fan environment, Jerry Lewis is often thought of as something of a joke. And not in the way he would have intended. Ask most people these days what they know about Lewis and they’ll probably mention the annoying, nerdy, high pitched voice he often employed for many of his characters, the slapstick performances he gave during years of Muscular Dystrophy telethons and, more often than not, the oft-repeated (and true) cliché that “they love him in France.”

There’s a new Blu-ray out, true believers, that proves that Lewis is not just a joke from a bygone era. The Nutty Professor is a remarkably silly movie, yes, and the title character does employ that same nasally nerdy voice that people often associate with Lewis’ many characters, but if there is any single work that could successfully re-educate film fans on what Jerry Lewis can do, this is it.

For one thing, The Nutty Professor was not only a starring vehicle for Lewis, the comedian, it was also co-written and directed by the star and shows, intentionally and deliberately, two drastically different sides of him.

Lewis came up with the idea for The Nutty Professor years before he was given the opportunity to make the film. He openly thanks Robert Louis Stevenson for the inspiration of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which a kindly, reserved doctor by day takes a strange potion to become a monster by night. Instead, Lewis brings us Doctor Julius Kelp, a young, socially inept college professor who is every bit as likely to fall flat on any attempt at courting the ladies as he is to cause a major explosion in his classroom due to his absent-minded mishaps.

And while these misadventures are often very funny, they can also be quite annoying, as Lewis’ Kelp character is the very embodiment of Lewis’ high-pitched, obnoxious nerd character with the funny faces and teeth Austin Powers might recoil from. There are moments in the first half-hour of The Nutty Professor during which the film hardly feels quite worth it. Kelp is an extreme caricature of the stereotype nerd, a cartoon character as opposed to a believable human being. Lewis, as director, however, knows exactly when to rein this in and employ a little something critics used to call “character development” to show just who this Kelp character really is.

Sure, the Nutty Professor himself is stuffed into a closet by his students and pushed around by a gym instructor, but Lewis, for all his comedy timing, imbues within Kelp a certain forlorn humanity that the audience can easily relate to. Kelp seems to realize that he is an inept cartoon character and he desperately wants to change from his skinny, short, shy, nerdy, bespectacled and weird persona into someone talented, cool, tall, in-shape and successful with the ladies. Thus, much like Dr. Jekyll before him, Dr. Kelp creates a formula to turn himself into just what he wants to be.

This new person is, of course, “Buddy Love”, who is everything that Kelp (and most people’s impression of Lewis) is not. Love is confident and sexy. He’s able to sing and play jazz piano for the wildly impressed crowd and he is simply a knockout to the ladies. Jerry Lewis? Yes. Jerry Lewis most assuredly pulls this transformation off perfectly and as much as we start to believe Kelp as a more realistic geek (once his character is developed), we can believe Love as the ladykiller side of Jerry Lewis.

The only problem is that Buddy Love is also remarkably obnoxious, especially as compared to the misunderstood and sweet Julius Kelp.

This is quite a setup for what turns out to be a very funny and well-made film. Lewis directs The Nutty Professor with an amazing balance between the surreally comedic, the realistic, the science fictional and the deeply touching. There are also many scenes of absolutely screwball comedy and even one or two moments of horror… yes… horror. Amazingly, once the film really finds itself after just a few minutes, this balancing act really works and The Nutty Professor is a great, great success as a classic film comedy.

Paramount’s new 50th Anniversary Edition of The Nutty Professor is absolutely packed with extras, including a funny and informative commentary with Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence, four documentaries, promos, trailers, deleted scenes, bloopers and screen tests. If that’s not enough for you (and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting more), the ultimate collector’s edition version (which isn’t really that much more expensive) also includes as extras, three more Jerry Lewis films on DVD, The Delicate Delinquent (1957), Cinderfella (1960) and The Bellboy (1960) along with an audio CD called Phoney Phone Calls 1959-1972.

You can guess what is on that last disc, but you won’t be expecting what you hear. Physical copies of the storyboards, portions of the script and other more physical extras help fill out the box.

Still, there are those who think they know exactly what to expect from Jerry Lewis in any film. To a partial extent they might be right, but no final judgment could or should be made without a solid viewing of The Nutty Professor which shows Lewis at his most multi-talented (to date). The writer is Jerry Lewis. The director is Jerry Lewis. The star is Jerry Lewis. Buddy Love is Jerry Lewis. Julius Kelp is Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis is The Nutty Professor.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.