THE PATSY ( 1964). Director: Jerry Lewis.
It's probably not the best idea to begin a comedy with the crash of an airliner (although most of it occurs off-screen). However, this inauspicious opening scene sets up the premise of the movie, in which a schnook bellboy named Stanley Belt (Jerry Lewis) is chosen as the new successor of a famous comedian who died on the plane. The late man's entire staff decide they can not only stay together as friends and co-workers but also change somebody's life for the better by creating a new star. Unfortunately, they have their hands full with Belt, who has no discernible talent and is stupid -- if sweet -- as well. This is a winning comedy from Lewis (who also co-wrote with Bill Richmond) with a fine cast of great character actors and several memorable sequences, including a bit with Jerry getting singing lessons from Hans Conreid in a parlor full of valuable antiques -- uh oh! The Chaplin influence is obvious in a bittersweet flashback to an embarrassing prom night, and in a funny sequence when Lewis dines out with Ellen Betz (played with warm graciousness by a lovely Ina Balin). Another highlight is when Belt really bombs during his opening night monologue at the Copa. Numerous guest stars include Hedda Hopper, who wears a hat that doubles as a huge table umbrella, and Ed Sullivan, good-naturedly spoofing his many famous mannerisms as he intros Belt on his show. The supporting cast includes Everett Sloane, Phil Harris, John Carradine, Keenan Wynn, Nancy Kulp, and more. Last film role for Peter Lorre.
Verdict: One of Jerry's best. ***.