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The Ladies' Man

The Ladies' Man(1961)

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After making his directorial debut with 1960's The Bellboy, Jerry Lewis did an about-face in The Ladies Man, his follow-up. The Bellboy was in black and white, The Ladies Man in bright color. The Bellboy was stripped-down, The Ladies Man extravagant. The Bellboy was shot almost entirely in real locations, The Ladies Man in one of the most lavish, expensive studio sets ever constructed. And The Bellboy cast him as a near-mute, The Ladies Man as a regular chatterbox.

Of course, it's still a Jerry Lewis movie, so the goal remains the same: to execute gags. The Ladies Man just goes about it in a slightly different manner. The massive mansion interior set, with every room pre-equipped with built-in lights and microphones, serves the story in which Lewis plays Herbert H. Heebert. Herbert (don't call him Herbie!) is a just-jilted junior college grad trying to get away from women who nonetheless ends up a houseboy in the mansion, which former opera star Helen Mellenwellen (Helen Traubel) has turned into a boarding house for young women breaking into show business.

Lewis uses his all-inclusive set to smoothly move from the first floor to the second, one scene to another and one gag to the next. Lewis's physical comedy is always dependent on timing, but perhaps never more so than in The Ladies Man, in which dancer Bobby Van choreographed extended sequences that aren't necessarily dances, but which depend on the body movements of large groups of women.

Lewis the writer-director makes the most of the set, and gives the movie a spontaneous energy in the process. Early on, upon discovering he's surrounded by women distraught Herbert frantically sprints through the house, his agony so extreme he soon becomes four Herberts (Lewis and three doubles), criss-crossing on the stairways and landings in a single long shot. Such economy in shooting also aids the very funny sequence in which Herbert brings mail to a succession of over-the-top boarders, including an aspiring actress (Hope Holiday) who asks Herbert to help her rehearse, in scenarios that invariably end with her slapping him around.

The sequence in which meek Herbert reduces a tough gangster (Buddy Lester) into a blithering wreck is one of Lewis's absolute funniest (it all starts with Herbert accidentally sitting on his hat and then trying to fix it). The Ladies Man is also the best example of the priceless interplay between Lewis and a regular foil, Kathleen Freeman, who was in 11 movies with him. As the mansion's housekeeper, her role is to either send sensitive Herbert into a tizzy, even force-feeding him breakfast in a high-chair, or to react in horror at the trail of destruction Herbert leaves (let's just say his dusting technique lacks finesse).

The Ladies Man DVD shares the same mix of extras many of Paramount Home Video's recent Lewis releases have: an audio commentary, a few deleted scenes, screen tests, several promo trailers. The bulk of the deleted footage is puzzling, being a totally straight operatic performance by Miss Mellenwellen. It's hard to even guess where this might have gone in the movie (or why). Nowhere to be found are the cut songs "He Doesn't Know" and "The Ladies Man," nor the cut scenes with Jack LaLanne and comic Marty Ingels, all mentioned in James L. Neibaur and Ted Okada's 1994 book, The Jerry Lewis Films.

Lewis's audio commentary (like the others in the series, with pal Steve Lawrence) offers interesting tidbits here and there, though is a little sparse. Most frustrating is the lack of discussion on the movie's fantasy sequence in which Herbert dances with a taller woman who towers over him and whose clothes suggest a dominatrix. She even wears a cowl when Herbert first sees her. Alas, during this Freudian scene of (apparently) Herbert's symbolic loss of virginity, Lewis and Lawrence talk mostly about Harry James, whose orchestra accompanies the dancers. The most surprising tidbit in the commentary is Lewis's mention of young Francis Coppola being on the set regularly. This makes The Ladies Man, perhaps the most daring of Lewis's movies, the spiritual godfather to Coppola's overly-maligned One from the Heart, which also sought to bring economy to shooting through technology.

For more information about The Ladies Man, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order The Ladies Man, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman