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The Nutty Professor (1963)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that despite being ranked highly in the Hollywood-comedy pantheon, this 1963 feature is not as fast-paced, f/x-bloated, or bathroom-humor risque as the later Nutty Professor remake movies starring Eddie Murphy in multiple roles. While younger kids will like the silliness, older kids and adults might better comprehend the humor here (and the mid-20th-century references to beatnik-jazz clubs, "swingers," and The Lost Weekend). Heavy drinking, cigarette smoking, and rude behavior are made to look glamorous, at least initially.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
At a California college, nerdy chemistry professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a genius at brewing dangerous potions but a clumsy weakling in everything else. After being bullied by one of his own students, Kelp wonders if he can secretly formulate a chemical concoction that will grant him strength and assertiveness. Result: bucktoothed, bespectacled Kelp temporarily changes, unrecognizably, into a clubgoing hipster ladies' man, piano-playing crooner, and all-around alpha male who renames himself "Buddy Love." But while hugely popular, this new personality is also sullen, rude, egocentric, hard-drinking, and manipulative. Buddy begins a pushy courtship of a pretty co-ed Stella (Stella Stevens) in Kelp's class, who is both attracted and repulsed by this sharp-dressed, charismatic scoundrel.
Is it any good?
Even critics who hate Jerry Lewis movies praise THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, if grudgingly, as a high point for the director-star. In other knockabout comedies, done both with and without comedy partner Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis made a hit with audiences -- especially kids -- by (mis)behaving like a grating, hyperactive child. This film, while delivering a handful of broad slapstick bits, is less frenetic and more thoughtful and character-based, with some surprisingly nuanced psychological insights (compare-contrast with the Eddie Murphy version) as cartoonish Kelp experiences nightlife as the impossibly "cool" and abrasive Buddy Love.
Some commentators interpreted Buddy Love as a venomous caricature of Dean Martin, but it seems more like an on-target spoof on the whole early-60s male ideal of the hip dude, right outta the Rat Pack and the Playboy Mansion. Indeed, close your eyes while Buddy bosses women and insults men and you can imagine Frank Sinatra smugly delivering those same lines (and songs). In 2008 Jerry Lewis lent his voice and characters to a more kid-targeted, computer-generated cartoon sequel-update on DVD, also called The Nutty Professor (rated PG).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Jerry Lewis twisted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for surprisingly profound character comedy -- for once the Mr. Hyde equivalent wasn't an apelike goon but a smooth, suave, "swinger" -- not a nice guy but superficially more appealing than Jekyll. Ask young viewers what they think of this movie compared to the later Eddie Murphy remake and its sequel. Do most women really go crazy for the bad-boy "Buddy Love" poseurs of the world or appreciate the Kelps/Klumps?