Is anyone else upset by the ousting of Jerry Lewis by the Muscular Dystrophy Association? Jerry has been doing fundraisers for MDA for decades, and the people he helps are even affectionately called “Jerry’s Kids” so why give him the old heave-ho? Like the old saw, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jerry’s made a few poor choices of words in interviews, but that’s no reason to deprive him of one of his life’s great ambitions. I heard instead they’re going for a younger look, casting people from American Idol and other banal shows to replace him. So I thought, partially for Jerry’s sake, I’d pay tribute to the movie that I think is his best. Not The Bellhop, or The Nutty Professor, but Hollywood or Bust, a picture he made with the legendary crooner Dean Martin.
As I said in the title, this is a gem of a picture. There’s definitely something to be said for comedies that just try to entertain and make you laugh, and Hollywood or Bust is one of the greats in that respect. I’d rank it behind Duck Soup but beside other comedy classics like Abbot and Costello Meet The Mummy, Road to Bali, and Steve Martin’s The Jerk–movies that are zippily funny, never depressing, and at times knee-slappingly hilarious.
To give you a little background info, Hollywood or Bust was made as the last film pairing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They had made quite a few films together ever since they first met as up-and-coming performers in Vegas. Legend has it that in their first live show together, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis got up and did scripted skits for the audience, and no one seemed to like it. After intermission, Martin and Lewis threw out the scripts and simply improvised onstage–and they killed! Sadly, while making Hollywood or Bust, Martin and Lewis were at odds with each other, hardly speaking to one another between takes. Martin I guess wanted to take his career in different directions, and felt held back by the formulaic material he had to work with. Plus, he wasn’t at that time taken too seriously as a musician, which was his goal to begin with. So after Hollywood or Bust, they split, Lewis going on to make solo pictures and Martin to huge stardom. I guess you could say it worked out okay in the long run. I’ve seen interviews with Lewis though where he seems highly saddened that things didn’t work out better with Martin, and I’ve even heard that he’s never sat down and watched Hollywood or Bust because it makes him too sad. It’s his loss (he’s probably the only person on Earth a film this delightful could sadden).
Dean Martin plays a smooth-talking, street smart ladies man who’s no good with money. To fix his money woes, he fixes a raffle for a convertible, assuring that he’ll get the car, only to find that Lewis also has the winning ticket. The man holding the contest has no choice but to make them co-owners of the vehicle. From there, the duo bicker with each other as they decide to head west, Martin to find fame and fortune, and Lewis to meet up with an actress he adores, Anita Ekberg (who plays herself). What follows is a funny, and often beautiful road trip film.
One of the wonderful things about this film is the loving detail that director Frank Tashlin puts into it. You’ll notice right away that this movie isn’t your usual slapdash slapstick film. Instead, Tashlin makes the most of the Vista Vision color photography, often loading shots with as much color as possible. Interesting piece of trivia: Frank Tashlin’s slapstick work won him many admirers in France who were involved in the Cahiers du Cinema (a famous French magazine about cinema), among them Jean-Luc Godard! I was really surprised by how much Godard liked this movie (to find out more, read Godard on Godard).
Another fun thing about Hollywood or Bust is that it throws political correctness out the window, which is somewhat rare in a 50s movie. For instance, even the title–I’m pretty sure–is a double-entendre refering to Ekberg’s features (you might recognize her from La Dolce Vita). The intro to the movie features Jerry Lewis broadly spoofing many different nationalities. It’s all for the sake of humor, so try not to get indignant if you decide to watch this.
And watch this you should. Start to finish this is pure entertainment. Hardly a dull moment. Plus, there’s several songs featuring Dean Martin including a duet with co-star Pat Crowley that’s sure to make at least a few people’s eyes water. If that’s not enough, one of the main characters is a big great dane named Mr. Boscom, who’s involved in a bunch of sight gags.
Hollywood or Bust is one of my favorite films, and if you go into it with an open and receptive mind, it could very well become one of yours too.
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