Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown (2017)

Gregory Monro’s documentary offers a scattershot overview of Jerry Lewis’ life and career, with a heavy emphasis on the funnyman’s peaks while carefully avoiding the controversies and failures that he generated. Lewis was the son of entertainers who put their careers before his childhood needs, and an emotional low point occurred when his parents managed to miss his bar mitzvah because they had stage engagements. The film notes that Lewis’ meteoric success in the late 1940s when he was barely out of his twenties created friction with his father Danny Lewis, a singer who never achieved stardom.

Lewis, of course, gained stardom in partnership with Dean Martin, but the film plays up their film and television triumphs while downplaying the tension that ultimately ended the act – Monro places the blame on the interference by outsiders while ignoring Martin’s well-documented frustration that his place in the act was being diminished by Lewis’ ego and hunger for control.

Monro highlights Lewis’ classic efforts as director-producer-writer in films including The Bellboy, The Ladies Man and The Nutty Professor, as well as rarely-seen appearances by Lewis on French television, where he playfully overcomes the language barrier through mime and nonsense behavior. But Monro but does not cite Lewis’ notable career nadirs, including a failed TV variety show and his mysterious unfinished debacle The Day the Clown Cried, nor is there a great deal of attention to the tumult in his private life.

Those who appreciate Lewis will find this production skimpy and too deferential. But for those who are unfamiliar with his work, this is a somewhat satisfactory introduction.