The Ladies Man Screen 8 articles

The Ladies Man

1961

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  • One of the stranger chapters in Jerry Lewis's continuing psycho-biography, the most direct and intimidating confrontation between his perpetual preadolescent character and the wide world of sex... An interesting, if not screamingly funny, film (1961), enlivened by some of Lewis's most audacious camera work and a spectacular three-story cutaway set that impressed Godard so much he borrowed it for Tout va Bien.

  • As a tender, teenage cinephile, I was knocked out by the vision of a veritable Pop Art tableau in The Ladies Man, where the camera begins on a girl combing her hair, and then pulls back to reveal a doll’s-house view of an entire dormitory... I knew it instantly: this was cinema! Such inventiveness and brio gave rise to the abstract, highly formal, even avant-garde side of Lewis’ art which the French admired and appreciated.

  • It's a wild, exuberant reflection of Lewis’s diverse comic tones (slapstick, absurdism, blackout sketches), but it is also perhaps Lewis’s definitive take on his cinematic alter ego’s perpetually thwarted priapism.

  • The majority of the gags are aimed at the estrogen overflowing in every room, and only Fellini and Peckinpah can rival Lewis as artists working through their misogyny via their art. Even after its transparency as a movie set is foregrounded when the TV crew crashes its atrium, the boarding home remains a dollhouse of the mind, its screens-within-screens hiding audacious sexual routines.

  • Lewis’s talent for freeform psychic fantasy, which clearly distinguishes his work from the social satire and narrative motivations of Frank Tashlin, reaches a kind of apogee here when he encounters a Bat Lady (shades of Artists and Models) lurking inside a “forbidden” room, along with the Harry James Orchestra.

  • The house where Herbert lives and works is one of the greatest and most influential sets of all time, a colossal doll-house-like cutaway, in cream-frosted colors, that Lewis fills with a choreographed throng of activity à la Berkeley and Tati... In the end, the movie exalts the modest pleasures of everyday people, but, along the way, Lewis reveals the madder music within that they whistle while they work.

  • [The set] was a metaphor for Lewis’s career to date, manifest as a playground for his id and designed such that the very architecture was a gag in itself, a key supporting player in the fantasy of Lewis’s wild personality. It’s part of what makes the movie so genius. The Ladies Man created the ideal conditions for Lewis’s fraught, strange personality to run amok. All the joy of performance, the control-freak sense of form, the at times brutal sense of self-excoriation: It’s all here.

  • As if to let the viewer know that he’s well aware of his own absurd streak even if he can’t quite conquer it, Lewis makes his tendency towards attention-hogging becomes a major component of the film’s last third, worked out with peerless comedic invention.

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