Cast & Crew
In 1930, in New York, popular vaudevillian Bill Miller announces at his wedding reception that he is going solo, stunning his partner, Ben Bailey, and his agent, Leo Lyman. Bill dismisses Ben's and Leo's warnings about the difficulties he will face and begins touring with with his bride, singer Mary Turner, at his side. When Bill proves a failure, Leo suggests he hire a stooge, or song plugger, to spice up his act. Bill contacts a music publisher, who recommends Ted Rogers, a bumbling employee he is anxious to get out from under foot. After picking up Ted, Bill shows up late for a rendezvous with Mary, who accuses her husband of putting his career before all else. In the taxi to the theater where Bill is performing, the newlyweds argue in front of a bewildered Ted, then Bill orders Ted to pay the cab fare. Assuming that Ted knows why he has been hired, Bill instructs the young man to take a box seat and begins his act. When Bill announces to the audience that the composer of the hit tune "For You" is in attendance and shines a spotlight on Ted, Ted is confused but gamely tries to sing. The orchestra keeps raising the pitch at Bill's request, however, and Ted's screechy, off-key voice provokes much laughter. Humiliated, Ted runs from the theater, to the disappointment of Genevieve "Frecklehead" Tait, the impressionable young woman sitting next to him. Bill is thrilled by the crowd's enthusiastic applause, as are Leo and Frank Darling, a booking agent, but panics when Frank states that he cannot book Bill without his stooge, whose name Bill does not even know. Bill finally tracks Ted to his mother's house and by offering a substantial pay raise, convinces him to join his act. Bill and Ted begin touring the vaudeville circuit, while Mary, who has quit show business at Bill's behest, stays at home. One night, Bill becomes so drunk that he cannot go on, and Ted is forced to perform without him. Ted is a hit, but refuses to consider agent Sam Heinz's suggestion that he could earn more money and recognition without Bill. Ted then covers for the still drunk Bill when Mary telephones their hotel. Later, Bill and Ted return to New York, where they are scheduled to play the Palace Theatre, the most prestigious venue in vaudeville, on Mary's birthday. At the train station, Ted presents Mary with songs lyrics he has written in her honor, entitled "A Girl Named Mary and a Boy Named Bill," and afterward, Mary beseeches Bill to acknowledge Ted publicly. Ted, meanwhile, is reunited with Frecklehead, who has been following his career and still adores him, and at Mary's birthday party, dances and flirts with her. Bill fails to show up for the party, and by the time he arrives home, having spent the evening negotiating a new contract with theatrical producer Sutherland, Mary is so upset that she locks him out of their bedroom. After Ted urges him to improvise a melody for "A Girl Named Mary," Bill sings through the door, and Mary's anger dissolves. Ted, Bill and Mary then go to a nightclub, and there Ted gets drunk and slaps Heinz after he calls Bill a "third rate ham." The next day, Bill drags a hungover Ted to Sutherland's office and cajoles him to sign the contract without reading it. Mary is disappointed to learn that Bill is not giving Ted billing as he had promised, while Frecklehead accuses Ted of allowing Bill to make a fool of him and refuses his engagement ring. That night, Ted appears anonymously with Bill and is the hit of the show, but Bill still refuses to acknowledge his contributions. Fed up with Bill's selfishness, Mary visits Leo at his office to express her frustrations, then hides when Bill shows up unexpectedly. When Bill starts to discuss the large advertisements he wants for his "solo" act, Leo becomes disgusted and tears up Bill's contract. Mary then emerges and tells Bill she is leaving him. Bill gets drunk that night and denounces Ted when he tries to counsel him about making up with Mary. Hurt, Ted declares he is leaving the act, and Bill goes on without him. Halfway through his dismal performance, however, Bill stops and apologizes to the audience. After Bill finally acknowledges Ted's contributions, Ted appears, yelling at him from the box seats. The two then sing one of their signature duets, while Mary, Frecklehead and Leo watch happily from the wings.
Daniel L. Fapp
Fred F. Finklehoffe
Fred F. Finklehoffe
E. Y. Harburg
Joseph H. Hazen
Joseph J. Lilley
Richard A. Whiting
The reason for the delay is unclear, but many biographers and historians believe that it likely had to do with the film's unusual tenor. This is not a typical, outlandishly comedic Martin-Lewis vehicle. It actually works more as a poignant and sometimes cruel melodrama laced with comedy sequences. Wallis likely felt the tone was not in keeping with the duo's persona and would find trouble with audiences at a time when the team's star power was still climbing to its peak: in 1951, Martin and Lewis entered theater owners' annual list of top money-making stars at #2. In 1952, they would rank #1, and in 1953 and 1954, they were #2 again, all proof of their enormous popularity.
The script by Fred Finklehoffe and Martin Rackin was based on a story by Finklehoffe and Sid Silvers, the latter of whom had worked in vaudeville in the 1920s as a professional "stooge" to Phil Baker, a comedian and accordionist. Silvers would sit in the audience and heckle Baker, but it was all an act to create comedy. In the film, the time period is the 1930s, and Lewis takes the role of stooge to help resuscitate Martin's foundering singing career. The pair's clash of ego had some parallels to the real-life Martin and Lewis, and the result was Lewis's favorite of their films together.
Critics received the film well, though some were surprised by the change in tone. The New York Times commented: "The mixture of slapstick and sentiment that is tossed off in The Stooge is a little bewildering for [Martin and Lewis], not to mention their customers." Trade paper Variety called the film "more subdued" than usual, noting: "The change of pace, mixing as it does schmaltzy sentiment into the fun, will make a favorable impression on those, particularly the femmes, who heretofore have not wholeheartedly accepted the team's uninhibited antics." And The Hollywood Reporter observed that "something new in the way of a solid, well-plotted story has been added to the multifaceted Martin and Lewis antics... Martin is in excellent voice and handles his lines deftly... Jerry does his best job to date... [Director Norman] Taurog does a topnotch job, blending comedy sequences with an often moving story in wonderful fashion, so that the hilarious laughter is always there to break up the more poignant moments."
This was the first of six Martin-Lewis pictures that would be directed by Taurog (though his second effort, Jumping Jacks, was released first.) Years later, Taurog remembered Dean Martin as "a very peculiar guy. He knew his words every morning when he came in. But he did it a la Crosby. He was a lousy rehearser. He'd just mumble his way through a scene until I turned the cameras on. Then he'd be fine. He wanted to get through the scene as quickly as possible so he could get onto the golf course."
Martin and Lewis often played practical jokes on the set. One time, Lewis bound and gag an electrician on a catwalk high above the stage. Taurog resorted, only somewhat jokingly, to giving them lollipops if they behaved themselves, but one day the director got even with his own joke on Martin: as the actor napped in his trailer, Taurog had the trailer towed three miles away, and Martin awoke to find himself parked alone on a beach.
The correct year of release for The Stooge is a little unclear. Some sources proclaim a release date of Dec. 31, 1952, but that might have been simply the premiere, as most sources indicate Feb. 4, 1953, which is when many major newspapers reviewed it.
By Jeremy Arnold
Shawn Levy, King of Comedy
William Schoell, Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin
Nick Tosches, Dino
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Though TV may have preserved Martin & Lewis' act in its purest form, their film career was in many ways the most spectacular. With 16 films in seven years their schedule would have overcome many other performers, especially with the constant stream of other appearances. Even more impressive is that they were able to stay reliably solid, something you can witness on the Martin & Lewis Collection: Volume 1 (Paramount) which has eight of their first nine films and a nice Al Hirschfeld caricature on the cover. Missing is 1950's At War with the Army, produced by the duo's own York Productions; possibly the rights weren't available but you can find the film from several companies that specialize in budget public-domain films. In any case the collection is a great opportunity to follow the first half of Martin & Lewis' career and see some nice films as well. It's interesting that their path roughly paralleled Abbott and Costello's: initial tryouts in supporting roles then a trio of service comedies before moving along to genre parodies. But it's only a superficial resemblence since Abbott and Costello made films that are interesting only in bits while Martin and Lewis' films work more consistently and with greater range--perhaps driven by Jerry's infamous perfectionism or maybe it was just a studio willing to spend a bit more money.
Martin and Lewis' initial films tested the waters. Their debut was 1949's My Friend Irma, based on a popular radio show that followed the misadventures of Irma (Marie Wilson), a ditzy blonde given to malapropisms and general kookiness. Of course that's a little hard to maintain next to Jerry Lewis even when he's a bit subdued. Wilson and a few supporting players were brought over from the radio show for a story about trying to make a fortune off Dino's singing ability. The result is a pretty standard comedy for that time so it's really only Martin & Lewis' appearance that this is even remembered today. They couldn't have spent much time working on it since sections are clearly pulled directly from their nightclub act. Also of note is John Lund playing Irma's scheming lowlife boyfriend Al to the hilt. My Friend Irma Goes West (not an actual Western, fans would have to wait a few years until Pardners) appeared just eight months after the first film but oddly ignores the plot of the entire last half hour of the previous film. This time Martin & Lewis have larger roles and it doesn't hurt that Corinne Calvet was tossed in as a sexpot film star but the result is all too obviously rushed. All the outdoor Southwestern scenes are done in front of projection screens and again chunks come from Martin & Lewis' act, including a great bit where Lewis tries to conduct Martin's backing orchestra. Boyfriend Lund is toned down and Lewis does a dubious Indian impersonation but at least the film shows Martin & Lewis weren't just a one-time hit.
At War with the Army followed (missing from the set as described above) and then in 1951 That's My Boy, one of the low points of either performer's career. They're no longer supporting players but now up front and center though unfortunately trapped in a story about Lewis trying to please his football hero father with the help of quarterback Martin. A kind of Harold Lloyd retread, That's My Boy is painfully heavyhanded while rarely working as comedy and never as drama. It's the kind of film where a psychiatrist appears just long enough to explain the blatantly obvious father-son friction then promptly disappears. Some viewers might get a kick out of seeing Martin (age 34) and Lewis (25) play teenagers and others can't help but wonder whether in 1951 quarterbacks also returned punts and kicked the extra point or the studio just wanted to give Martin more screen time. The film has the look of a cheap television production with everything lit in full glare, clumsy camera movements and sets that feel like they'll tumble apart if an actor turns too suddenly. Inexplicably it was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award as best-written comedy and inspired a one-season TV show.
But put all that behind you. Martin & Lewis hit the proverbial pay dirt with Sailor Beware (1952) where the fellows somewhat unintentionally end up in the Navy and then try to win a silly bet. It was based on a play previously filmed three times but now adapted by Three Stooges scripter Elwood Ullman with additional dialogue by Abbott & Costello's regular gag writer John Grant. There's nothing tired about the resulting film because it shows Martin & Lewis to full effect in a nice mix of both verbal and physical humor. There are some nightclub bits again but also routines built out of the circumstances, one of the most memorable being Lewis' attempts to swab the deck of a submarine while unaware it's submerging. The plot itself is pretty much irrelevant but allows a wide variety of situations: a physical exam, a kissing contest, cramped ship's quarters, a Hawaiian luau. Martin sings at his most Bing Crosby-like and even makes an explicit reference to it. Add a cameo by Betty Hutton (who starred in a previous version of the film, 1942's The Fleet's In) and an early appearance by James Dean who has one line of dialogue and it's easy to see how Martin & Lewis earned so many fans.
The duo followed this success with a couple of slightly more routine but still entertaining films. Jumping Jacks (1952) places them in the paratroopers and features more military hijinks. Imagine Jerry Lewis dealing with a rough drill sergeant or trying to pack a parachute and you've got the general idea. Note that Dino's character is named Chick just as Bud Abbott was in a couple of films. The Stooge (1952) had been filmed two years earlier but withheld from release, perhaps because producer Hal Wallis reportedly didn't much like it. The film isn't in the usual Martin & Lewis mold since it's mostly a drama with comic bits and curiously the story reflects the duo themselves though it's not clear how much of that was deliberate. Martin plays a singer/performer during the 1930s who decides he should be a solo star instead. When his act bombs, Lewis helps out as an enlisted stooge and they're immediately popular but Martin still considers this a solo act and pushes Lewis' character into the background. The film captures show business self-obsession and drive clearly without becoming cliched. Both main characters are believable: Martin arrogant and star-addled, Lewis charmingly loyal and unconcerned about money. Most of the comedy is performed within the storyline, usually in wonderful routines the two do on Broadway stages, and for a touch of period authenticity all the songs but one are actually from the period. (Originally issued as Martin's first 10" album but interested fans can find them on a CD called Dean Martin Sings.) The Stooge isn't All About Eve or A Star is Born but it's certainly been unfairly dismissed over the years.
The more humorous Scared Stiff (1953) is the collection's other standout. A remake of Bob Hope's 1940 The Ghost Breaker (itself based on a play filmed twice in the silent era), this is easily the set's best-looking film due to director George Marshall and cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (Inherit the Wind among seven Oscar nominations and one win). They seem to have decided to work as if this was a straight-forward mystery with a touch of noir (most of the ghost story parody is wisely kept towards the end) so there's a visual richness to the rainy streets, foggy ship decks and moist tropical jungle that recalls classic Hollywood. Just as important Martin & Lewis are given a strong supporting cast with Lizabeth Scott as the woman in distress, Dorothy Malone as a loose showgirl, George Dolenz as an unreliable lawyer and Carmen Miranda as ship-board entertainment (her last film appearance). The songs are some of the best in the series, even novelty numbers like "Enchiladas" and "Bongo Bingo," and Dean gets one top-notch romantic ballad. Martin even opens the film with a performance of his earlier hit "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" which was recorded the following year by a young Mississippi guy named Elvis Presley. The song was originally intended for Cinderella but never made the cut and while Martin and Patti Page both had hits with it in 1950, Elvis based his version on what he saw in Scared Stiff.
The Caddy (1953) also boasts strong songs, this time from the great Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. Martin's signature "That's Amore" was introduced in this film but "What Wouldcha Do Without Me?" and "The Gay Continental" (the latter performed by Lewis alone) are just as memorable. There's the usual comedy setup; this time Lewis as a superb golfer with such stage fright that he can't play in tournaments so he pairs with the untutored talent of Martin so they can win enough money to save the fishing business of Martin's family. Oh, don't worry whether that makes much sense because again the story isn't quite the point. There are echoes of The Stooge in the way that Martin's character heads for the high life to romance Donna Reed and pushes Lewis away as merely his caddy but it never overpowers the film. After all there's an extended sequence of pure slapstick at the opening where Lewis accidentally demolishes much of a department store and he's given other comic routines to avoid growling watchdogs, deal with the low ceiling of his bedroom or simply follow his fiance home. Martin & Lewis may have been coasting through The Caddy (and their personal relations were really starting to fray at this time) but not many people could coast this productively.
The Martin & Lewis Collection features the films in the solid transfers we've come to expect. The one exception being That's My Boy which is a bit soft though since the original film wasn't very nice looking it might not much matter. There are no extras except for an occasional trailer and while nobody expects full audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries a set like this definitely deserves at least a written overview of the team's history. Let's hope that Volume 2 follows soon since it should include Martin & Lewis' masterpiece Artists and Models as well as such strong contenders as Hollywood or Bust and Living It Up.
For more information about Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, go to TCM Shopping.
by Lang Thompson
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Though filmed in 1951, it was held up release till 1953 because Paramount was unsure of its box office appeal due to its extensive dramatic moments.
The film opens with the following written statement: "New York-1930. This story is about some names in the bright lights on the Great White Way-and a certain Dim Bulb." The picture was copyrighted twice by Wallis-Hazen, once in 1952 and once in 1953. The copyright notice, as listed onscreen and in copyright records, was 1951, the year the picture was completed. Reviews and modern sources note that co-story writer Sid Silvers was a former vaudevillian and stooge for accordian-playing comic Phil Baker. According to a February 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, James Allardyce, who authored the play At War with the Army, which was the basis for a 1950 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis film (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), had been assigned to write the screenplay for The Stooge. Allardyce's contribution to the final film, if any, has not been confirmed.
In July 1950, ParNews announced that Mara Lynn had been cast in a leading role, but she did not appear in the picture. Modern sources state that shortly after the press preview in October 1952, Martin made a recording of the film's songs, which was then released as his first ten-inch album. In the film, the song "Who's Your Little Whoo-zis?" is referred to as "For You."